Learning, Disabled

Joanne Jacobs asks: "Do Schools Create Learning Disabilities?".

According to a Federal Department of Education official quoted in a Cato institute publication on homeschooling, the rate of dyslexia in a population falls as the age at which reading instruction is institutionalized rises. Later is better. While early education confers benefits, early institutionalization damages children.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins observes that children have to be gullible to survive. Before civilization reduced the number of sharp edges children encounter, children did not have time to learn, on their own, the accumulated knowledge of their parents. Which plants are edible? Which insects are venomous? Which non-human mammals attack? Evolution has shaped young children to attend to their parents (especially their mother). Young children will work their hearts out for the love of their mother. Reading instruction goes down like dessert if the infant, basking in the warmth and security of mom’s lap, follows the moving finger across the printed page. Strangers cannot substitute. Subject that same infant to a roomful of crying strangers and to the shouted commands of an apparently angry strange adult ("SHUT UP! SIT DOWN! LISTEN!: 'A', 'B', 'C'…") and you lose that child for a very long time.

The Hawaii DOE counts about 10% of its student population in special education. The largest categories of special education are "emotionally handicapped" and "specific learning disability" (meaning the students have trouble learning to read and compute. Notice that these disabilities occur in the subjects with the least ambiguous measures).

Is there a Math teacher alive who, upon revealing his/her occupation, has not heard the response: "That was my worst subject"? Why does this happen? Basic Math fluency requires no more than normal language ability and a fascination with puzzles like crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. Why then do we see widespread Math aversion?

I know three people who actively dislike classical music. Their parents compelled them to study piano when they were small.

From Karl Bunday’s site: “It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly (“Autobiographical Notes,” in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Paul Schilpp, ed. (1951), pp. 17-19 © 1951 by the Library of Living Philosophers, Inc.)

We hold this truth to be self-evident: that no men other than monozygotic twins are created equal. Parents roll dice when they put their kids together and some kids come up snake-eyes. Evolution shaped the human brain. Unless current instructional methods work equally well with humans, dogs (your cousins), and nematodes (distant cousins), variations in genetic endowment influence variations in brain structure and function, and so variations in learning ability. Politicians can do little to change that. The next generation’s genetic endowment is not a policy variable. As a wise Israeli politician once said: “No solution? No problem.”

Instruction acts on a individuals from a range of genetic endowments. Differences between teachers, schools, school districts, and countries, in the instructional methods which they apply, strongly influence differences in instructional performance (as measured by aggregate statistics of student performance on standardized tests of Reading and Math). Policies which give to individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction place control in the hands of people who know those children best and who are most reliably concerned for their welfare. While there will always be a bottom 10%, that 10% level of performance responds to policy variables. The Singapore 5th percentile score (1996 TIMSS 8th grade Math) is higher than the US 50th percentile score. The range of curricular methods available to parents is a policy variable. Open enrollment between numerous small independent school districts, tuition tax credits, charter schools, school vouchers, subsidized homeschooling, and (my preference) Parent Performance Contracting expand the range of instructional options available to parents.


Smile said...

Even if a child has plentiful sleep each night, it can be noted that they're quite tired by the middle of the public school day. By the time they are ready to go home, they're exhausted. I've seen that the lower elementary child learns best in a relaxed environment that can readily adjust to the individual child. As they grow in ability to endure longer demands of structured situations, the upper elementary child still learns best by a 'caught' rather then insistent 'taught' method. When enjoyment levels go down, the ability to learn goes down with it. What child prodigy is proficient in something hated or to be endured?

The public school isn't set up for the best interests of the students but for the staff, union, and other adults involved, including parents. For all the talk of education and children, one would think these to be the most important factors of any and all decisions or policies. Sadly, this is glaringly not the case. Throughout the country we see layoffs, budget cuts, and contract disputes. In spite of skyrocketing unemployment and economic woe, we see a push for salary increases on a sliding scale of increase for the duration of the next three years. It's the general public that actually funds the schools. Without respect for this and education/children, we see a continued push for pet projects and selfish desires. A true commitment to education/children is something that is done not just in word but in constant deed, simultaneously. Assuming logic, even the most basic economic disadvantage cannot be overcome in the public school way, as we see it now. If individual families conduct themselves this way we see the same dismal results: If there is a disregard for the children and various responsibilities but one continues the shopping sprees, gambling, drugs, vacations, toys, the so called important things will suffer. All the rhetoric does nothing to prove a due diligence for education when the bottom line actions show a continued focus on something else. The public school continues to underline their lack of caring for the main purpose while the the public continues with a lack of trust and we see this huge PR problem. The public school only resents the public rather then fixing the problem.

Though a sacrifice, the investment in children, carried out in ways that work for children, is worth it. There are all sorts of ills that show up in the public sphere that could be eliminated by this sacrifice. The phrase, I will care how much you know when I know how much you care, applies.

Smile said...

What is more important, teaching all the things that aren't in dispute or insisting the disputed things be included? The answer will show whether there is genuine commitment to the quality of education in a sustainable way as pertains public education. When in public one comports themselves in ways that are conducive to the comfort of all. We know this innately but fail to apply it in the public school system.

Fzample: God as our creator has been removed from the allowed concepts of our public school system, erring on the extreme. We don't see a corresponding rise in quality education. MK, you speak of evolution and of dogs and nematodes as cousins. You have the ability to get the same point across without the controversial and unproven references. If these things that are in dispute are left out, will it prohibit a student from becoming a quality educated member of the public or even a scientist? Of course not! If one has an opinion that it would be inhibiting it is because a belief has taken precedence over education. This is where all the social tweaking comes in. Beliefs tend to run deep and we all have them. Because a 'belief system' has taken over the public school system we see a continued lack of focus on quality education. The public school system has become a complicated indoctrination of preferences, money changers, and beliefs rather then a means of quality education. If we remove the offending beliefs and focus on education exclusively, we'd simply see the trust, cooperation, and quality of public education levels rise in a dramatic and sustainable fashion.

Though I might agree with some concepts, I'd be willing to leave my belief system at the door of the public domain and choose education. If education was the exclusive point, the public would be a willing participant in greater and generous funding. This is understood but the beliefs are most important, so we see the unrelenting 'take it by force' mode. We'll see a continued and greater resistance to this forcing.

It appears that education isn't actually the true concern. It's the type of education, the type of scientist, the type....well, I've made my point and proverbially, talk is cheap.