Reading and the Brain

book and candle“The potentially dyslexic child may have his disability agnified by exclusive reliance on the whole word method.”  1966, Dr. Leon Eisenberg


“In recent years there has been a great tendency to attribute special learning disabilities to a number of youngsters whose difficulties are not very special, not very specific, and not very clearly related to neurological deficiencies… if the problem can be defined out of education into the realm of medicine, educators can then remain relatively complacent about their efforts to correct the problem.  With such a medical excuse, it is posible to ignore the educational limbo to which most such children are consigned.”

1971, Dr. Bruce Balow


“It is possible that the (learning) disability is specific to the methods that have been used in teaching.  Cases of reading disability in classes using the whole-word approach might be different if the class had been taught with the phonetic or linguistic approach.”  Dr. N. Dale Bryant, 1974

“The assumption that instruction is adequate is probably false when it is made regarding conventional whole-word, meaning emphasis instruction…. Learning disabled children are those who must be taught by the best reading methods available if they are to succeed…. therefore, teaching disabilities is a more precise term than learning disabilities for the cause of reading failure.”

1974, Dr. Barbara Bateman

“By assigning a label, educators attempt to shift the responsibility from teacher to learner. If one assigns a child a label, the implication exists that there is an inherent lack in that child.  That is, no teacher would be criticized for not teaching a dyslexic to read.  What we are faced with is not a child who is lacking, but a teacher or school that is lacking.”  1975, Dr. Richard L. Allington

“After more than a decade of analyzing children’s learning difficulties, we are forced to look to the role of the schools as an important causative factor.”  1976, Dr. Cecelia Pollack


“The existing school system is irrational, ineffectual, authoritarian, inept, smug, defensive, and undereducated.  I suspect that ineffective teaching and poor methodology cause about 90 percent of the reading disabilities in our schools.”  1977 Dr. Carl L. Kline


All of the above from the classic by Rudolph Flesch, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read: A New Look at the Scandal of Our Schools
It’s still one of the best book on the topic that I know of, which is kind of a shame. That means that as a nation, and particularly in the educationese field, there really hasn’t been much progress.

I think reading this book and Jane Healy’s books, especially Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence and Endangered Minds: Why Children Dont Think And What We Can Do About It


school gates of hellI don’t exactly buy into a conspiracy about this, although the textbook and workbook writers, publishers, and sellers certainly do not make money from kids who don’t need 12 graded readers and dozens of workbooks  in each grade before they are reading proficiently.  I think good, idealistic people have been deceived.  I also think that Old Deluder is not at all bothered by the fact that the people of the Book increasingly are unable to read or understand that Book.


I also suspect this is related to the television issue, which we have blogged about before (herehere, and here). It needn’t even be as dramatic a link as television directly altering brain patterns, although we know that it does and that alone ought to scare us to death.  We are and have been performing a massive experiment on our kids’ BRAINS for the last sixty years or more.  What are we thinking?  Have we seen any evidence at all that this was a safe, harmless thing to do?  And, sorry, but NO.  Content doesn’t matter as much as you think.  I mean, yes, obviously it can make a bad thing worse, much worse, but the most innocuous content doesn’t make an inherently brain altering activity any less brain altering.

But forget my warnings, which just sound like Henny Penny shrieking that the sky is falling to people who love their electronic child distractors. It could simply be the obvious fact that children who are doing one thing are not doing something else with that time. Children who are watching television for three hours a day are spending three hours a day doing something other than mucking about in puddles, scrambling through the bushes, sliding down hills, tramping through mud, skipping, hopping, and climbing, shimmying up trees, playing in the sandbox, going backward down the slide, listening to stories, building up their vitally important ability to picture with their mind’s eye things said to them in words, and playing Poohsticks.

Include an hour a day for video games, time spent at the computer, and time in the car being transported from one extra curricular event to another, and it all adds up to less and less time spent on the vitally important activity of making mudpies. If we truly understood how important this play time is, we’d be as likely to let a day pass without letting our children be the little mudpuppies God meant them to be as we would to let an entire day pass without feeding them.

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  1. Fatcat
    Posted February 3, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I have a homeschooled dyslexic child. He does read extremely well but his spelling is really bad. He’s got 2 more years of school and since he’s already done all the high school math except calculus and all the high school science, we are going to concentrate the last 2 years on becoming a better speller/writer. He’s brilliant, but there is some kind of a glitch there. It’s plain as day to those of us who know him. We’re in awe of his memory, his vocabulary, his math and reasoning skills, but he can’t write us a note. It’s real. He’s played in the dirt as much as he wants. He’s messed up the house as much as he wants. I have been know to let him keep his buildings out of books, old video tapes and other household objects blocking the living room for a couple of weeks, until he’s done playing with them. I’ve limited his screen time. My other 2 kids are great spellers and writers.

    With my boy, I tend to think that it’s either just one of the ways people are or his 2-4 week early birth, depending on how you calculate or the fact that I didn’t know I was pregnant until he was 14 weeks along and I had been on medications for pneumonia. Whatever the cause, we are just looking for ways to build a bridge over the glitch or a road around it.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted February 3, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      The book does acknowledge a true dyslexia- a glitch is what he calls it. The author and the researchers he cites just object to the rampant over diagnosis – and believed that the looksay method was increasing those who tested as dyslexic.

  2. Fatcat
    Posted February 3, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Yes, I do believe that we are rampantly over-diagnosing our kids and keeping them in front of screens way too much. I think if my boy had been in school he would have had so many labels and so many behavioral issues, but we were fortunate enough to bumble into homeschooling when he was in the first grade, because we didn’t want his brother going to the local middle school. :0)

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