Original NLA List Nov. 13, 1997
Among much else, Glenn Young states the following:
" research is showing that a large percent of our population in adult literacy programs do have central nervous system disorders that do affect their ability to learn to read"
I'm curious about that from a couple of perspectives:
1. If (and I'm assuming, here) the large majority of that population has not been formally diagnosed, then on what basis can we make such a claim?
2. If LD is a form of neurological malfunctioning, then why would it be more unevenly distributed among particular classes of persons than more evenly distributed across the general population?
Also, as Glenn seems to imply:
"Since the difference between those with LD and those who are not reading due to lack of access, previous training or whatever, is that those with LD are not reading or reading well, due to a disability issue - as the definition states - a presumed disorder of the central nervous system"
Is there a great divide between those with and without LD or are learning disabilities part of a broader continuum as a subset of learning differences, which, in turn, might be viewed as a subset of multiple intelligences linked ultimately to various societal and cultural interpretations and forms of knowledge.
As a non-specialist, let me step outside this Socratic question posing and venture forth into a speculation.
My personal theory:
There is a complex relationship between physiology, psychology, and the social construction of knowledge. In a society where demands for literacy are pervasive, at least some of those who lack extensive reading and writing skills may experience that lack as a personal inadequacy that may induce shame, low self-regard and other negative emotions. Such emotions have a physiological impact which not only seem to, but actually create "central nervous system disorders." Those disorders will be intensified or abated depending on the various coping or supportive strategies people are able to enact. Thus, they are not innate, but socially constructed and deconstructed as people negotiate the terrain between their own psychology and the culture. To the extent that we are able to create empowering learning environments that draw on the creative potential of learners we will be better able to support people to maximize their own developmental capacities in part through literacy, however minimal gains may seem on any 'objective" standardized tests. I, then, agree with much of what Glenn says in the following:
The key to addressing the needs of adult learners with learning disabilities is to look at it from a disability view and not a teaching view - therefore, teaching becomes one of many means that are brought to the table to address the needs, and depending on the capacity of the individual, teaching to read becomes either a major, moderate or limited part of the approach to help the person become functional. The use of other tools, such as "accommodations" - meaning alternative methods of gaining and using information - books on tape, oral instruction, use of reading machines, etc. become the lead means of gaining inform, rather than relying on reading only. "
What I like especially is Glenn's interpretation of literacy as one intervening variable among others in helping people to expand their life capacities. Where I might differ is that I don't see this applying simply to LD students, but as a more generalized objective of adult literacy education. Thus, perhaps in some ways, opposites do meet; Glenn, seemingly as interpreting "learning disabilities" as an innate physiological malfunction, whereas I look at knowledge and felt "inadequacy" more as a psycho-cultural phenomenon and by doing so achieve a certain personal agency over such a labeling that in some compelling ways characterizes my own struggle and sometimes failure to learn.
Perhaps Glenn identifies more freedom through the diagnosis. If so, I can respect that, but let's keep an open mind.