Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Diss, Diss, Diss - lexia


I compulsively sort out my papers. I find it relaxing. I take a pile of papers on my desk and go through them methodically and, maybe, find one or two I can throw away. Lest I be accused of some un-natural vice, I confess that this urge only happens occasionally.

Somehow I had mis-placed a very interesting article, “Dyslexia: a label to get you off the hook?” for about 18 months. Shame really. It's quite an interesting article and theory. Shuffling my papers reunited us.

I thought I would try to remember when I first heard the term, dyslexic. I think it might be in the 80's – maybe late 80's. I tried looking this up on Google but got nowhere. I did find that there are a lot of good folks trying to sell you aids guaranteed to help you overcome this affliction. There's clearly money to be made in dyslexia.

Not only money but also a lot of kudos. This is the main thesis of the article in question: dyslexia has become the educational lexicon replacement term for lazy, bone-idle, inattentive, gormless little nerk chiefly because it allows parents to medicalise Little Jimmy or Joanie's lack of academic progress and, therefore, gain extra advantages in the exam system.

I know this doesn't sound exactly earth-shattering and probably doesn't rival nuclear proliferation or climate change (another perhaps equally spurious label) as a threat to Western democratic society, but it does highlight an important sociological trend I have long identified and often regretted.

A few academics, St John-like, assert that dyslexia as a medical or psychological condition just doesn't exist. The insist that some children just don't read very well and for a variety of reasons, many of which are their own fault. The difficulty here is that parents believe that reading is an inherent pointer of native intelligence and, ergo, if their child is having difficulty reading they cannot be unintelligent, so they must have some medical problem.

Wrong on both counts.

Reading is not really allied to intelligence. Understanding and being able to make out what is read needs a lot of intelligence, just reading the words does not. Likewise, unless there is a problem with eyesight or some other physiological difficulty, there is no reason any child cannot learn to read adequately.

But, reading requires concentration and application. In my experience, these are what are lacking in “poor readers”. Children who have never been exposed to reading rather dislike it. Children who would rather watch television than read a book are in the majority. Children who clutch at the dyslexic straw are really quite clever.

At a stroke, they have satisfied Mum and Dad that it isn't really their fault that they are not doing very well in school, gained a life-long advantage over the rest of the population and ensured that they will be looked on with pity and sympathy for the remainder of their days. Good call.

I spent some time working for a Social Worker who was dyslexic. Most of what she wrote was gibberish, but her reading was really very good.

You figure.

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