While I cannot comment on a report that claims there is no easy definition for dyslexia, I do agree that learning difficulties and ADHD labels have been helpful to poor teachers looking for an excuse.
Mr Hitchens has gone a lot further than I would, but the fact that many teachers rely on labels such as dyslexia to avoid full responsibility for a child’s lack of progress is hard to dispute:
I doubt there has ever been a society so easily fooled by pseudo-science and quackery as ours is. Millions of healthy people take happy pills that do them obvious harm, and are increasingly correlated with inexplicable suicide and worse.
Legions of healthy children are drugged into numbness because they fidget during boring lessons, and countless people are persuaded that they or their children suffer from a supposed disease called ‘dyslexia’, even though there is no evidence at all that it exists.
A few weeks ago I rejoiced at the first major cracks in this great towering dam of lies. Dr Richard Saul brought out his courageous and overdue book, ADHD Does Not Exist.
I also urge everyone to read James Davies’s book Cracked, on the inflated claims of psychiatry since it sold its soul to the pill-makers.
Now comes The Dyslexia Debate, published yesterday, a rigorous study of this alleged ailment by two distinguished academics – Professor Julian Elliott of Durham University, and Professor Elena Grigorenko of Yale University.
Their book makes several points. There is no clear definition of what ‘dyslexia’ is. There is no objective diagnosis of it. Nobody can agree on how many people suffer from it. The widespread belief that it is linked with high intelligence does not stand up to analysis.
And, as Parliament’s Select Committee on Science and Technology said in 2009: ‘There is no convincing evidence that if a child with dyslexia is not labelled as dyslexic, but receives full support for his or her reading difficulty, that the child will do any worse than a child who is labelled dyslexic and then receives special help.’
This is because both are given exactly the same treatment. But as the book’s authors say: ‘Being labelled dyslexic can be perceived as desirable for many reasons.’ These include extra resources and extra time in exams. And then there’s the hope that it will ‘reduce the shame and embarrassment that are often the consequence of literacy difficulties. It may help exculpate the child, parents and teachers from any perceived sense of responsibility’.
I think that last point is the decisive one and the reason for the beetroot-faced fury that greets any critic of ‘dyslexia’ (and will probably greet this book and article). If it’s really a disease, it’s nobody’s fault. But it is somebody’s fault. For the book also describes the furious resistance, among teachers, to proven methods of teaching children to read. Such methods have been advocated by experts since Rudolf Flesch wrote his devastating book Why Johnny Can’t Read almost 60 years ago.
There may well be a small number of children who have physical problems that stop them learning to read. The invention of ‘dyslexia’ does nothing to help them. It means they are uselessly lumped in with millions of others who have simply been badly taught.
It also does nothing for that great majority of poor readers. They are robbed of one of life’s great pleasures and essential skills.
What they need, what we all need, is proper old-fashioned teaching, and who cares if the silly teachers think it is ‘authoritarian’? That’s what teaching is.
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