Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"It's not a low IQ--it's a learning disability": Reading Murray's piece on the limits of educational reform, I was reminded of one exception to America's religious devotion to the idea that all kids can become geniuses. And that is huge growth of the "learning disability." Every semester I get a stack of confidential letters describing all sorts of diagnosed learning disorders, along with requests to make accommodations for these students. They need extra time on exams, permission to record lectures, etc.

Educators seem to be more comfortable recognizing limits if they are understood as disorders. We are told that these students are not dumb; they are smart, but just face extra obstacles.

Maybe people don't like "dumb" because it sounds like forever, and labeling it as a disability enhances our compassion for the person, and it gives hope that eventually we'll discover a cure. The medicalization of IQ might be the only palatable way to confront the reality.

On a related note, every year for the past decade I hear more and more noise among faculty that we have to come up with better ways to improve the "critical thinking skills" of students. In my view, this is the acceptable way of saying that too many of our students are too dumb to be enrolled in our courses. The dishonesty and self-deception in education is embarassing.


    Meddling Envirokooks Unleash Plague of Giant Man-Eating Lizards
    Once people on the islands of eastern Indonesia lived in peace with Komodo dragons, gigantic lizards that can recognize individual humans. They left the dragons deer parts after hunts, and tied goats to posts as sacrifices. In turn the semidomesticated dragons mostly left them alone. But then, Virginia-based Nature Conservancy was called in by the government to tell the villagers how to conduct their affairs.

    Deer hunting and goat sacrifices have been banned. Now that the villagers are no longer allowed to feed them, the ten-foot lizards have adapted by eating children instead.

    Dogs used to keep the dragons away from homes. But these have been banned too, for being an "alien species."

    A 9-year-old named Mansur was eaten alive in broad daylight in front of his family. But Marcus Matthews-Sawyer, who works for a local subsidiary of Nature Conservancy, sniffs that the kid had it coming, because he "shouldn't have crouched like a prey species in a place where dragons live."

    Widodo Ramono, the subsidiary's policy director, makes the priorities clear:

    We don't want the Komodo dragon to be domesticated. It's against natural balance. We have to keep this conservation area for the purpose of wildlife. It is not for human beings.
    As Ingrid Newkirk might put it, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy is a giant lizard's lunch.

  2. Not everyone with a learning disability is dumb. Many are in fact quite smart.

  3. Anonymous10:19 AM

    "Not everyone with a learning disability is dumb. Many are in fact quite smart."

    That isn't the argument here. Do try and keep up.

  4. I was a visiting professor at Central Michigan U last fall, teaching statistics courses.

    I got one of these letters in each of three classes of about 30 students. My impression, after talking with colleagues, was that this was a usual number.

    If these letters truly represent learning disabilities among introductory statistics students, then that is an enormous rate.

    So what is more likely: (1) The rate of learning disabilities in colleges students really is about 1 in 30, or (2) Learning disabilities are being over diagnosed so that kids don't drop out of school (and that school loses tuition dollars).


New study: High rate of underweight black newborns due to genes, not racism

A new study finds that several gene variants in African-Americans help explains why they have underweight newborns twice as often as whites...