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.