It occurs to me that we really need a word to describe the very broad range of school-age kids who are not only about to be diagnosed, but could be diagnosed, might be diagnosed, are skating around the periphery of possibly one day being diagnosed, with learning disabilities. I think everyone who’s working with this issue in some way implicitly understands, although no one is really describing it in verbiage or prose (I suppose that’s what I’m doing), that the thing we really need to be studying is that periphery. We as a society are spending a whole lot of time and energy treating it as a boolean thing, an on-off thing, thus we remain fixated on two questions: Does this kid have it, and what do we do about it. Thus, the periphery question — what the heck is it, anyway? — receives scant attention.
We treat it as if everyone has come to some kind of agreement about the boundary line. We question it and argue it the way you might question or argue “is it freezing?” Or, to reflect reality more precisely in the analogy, “are the water pipes under your mobile home frozen?” We act as if: It either is, or it isn’t. As I’ve often observed, though, everyone with a heartbeat could be fairly thought of as LD, in one way or another.
This is a big mistake we’re making. To treat this as an objectively measurable thing, is to give currency to the unjustified notion that all the persons involved, or all of the experts anyway, have achieved agreement on the definitions. If not on definitions of cause, then at the very least, on definitions of symptoms. Well, that is a boolean thing if nothing else is; they have or they haven’t. And, the more I learn about this, the more it comes off as a clear and obvious negatori. No, the “science” is not “settled.” They do not yet clearly know what they’re discovering. They don’t know what it is, let alone what causes it.
To study the “does he have it or does he not” and make these sweeping pronouncements about what the child’s potential might be if he does have it, presumes that this unification of the establishment ideas & methods has been reached, and hardened into a clear workable orthodoxy. To study the periphery cases, acknowledges the possibility that perhaps this is not so, and that our scientific efforts are not quite ready for such a thing.
And there are a lot of periphery cases.
As I’ve often noted, I would have been diagnosed easily, perhaps several times, were the “sciences” that are so trendy today similarly hip & stylish some forty years ago. That much is almost certainly true; what is positive is that I would have been included in the profile of these “is he in or is he out” cases. Therefore, if I was studied, my teachers would have been studied as well.
The method to my madness is: I think we need to start building a profile. We have to build a profile of the parents and educators who push for the diagnosis to be made.
The questionable-LD-child’s profile is started with a gradual realization on his part, that the class (or activity) is a dreadful bore that is not his cup of tea, and he begins to think in un-soldier-like ways, to take little ten-second vacations from reality in order to keep the machinery of his mind moving. These eventually stretch into several-minutes-long vacations from reality, during which he is called upon to do something and fails to leap into action the way the “control” child would. You might say, in the video-game of the classroom, he hasn’t yet figured out where the triangle, circle, square & X buttons are quite yet, and therefore can’t navigate through the “fight sequence.” But that is his perspective. From the teacher’s perspective, he has been “caught daydreaming.”
As anybody understands, if they’ve gone through the experience of learning such a “fight sequence” on a new controller, the solution is as simple as simple can be: Take your licking, figure out the fucking buttons, and play again. The first time you’ll have to do it by rote. “Okay, I’m supposed to press this shape then that shape then that one” and that translates to “the one at three o’clock then the one at high noon then the one at nine o’clock.” It’s the wrong thinking process…but that is okay. The next fight sequence, or perhaps the one after, your brain will be all properly wired and you can understand the story while you’re responding appropriately…a case of machine programming man. That’s how it works.
School should be the same way; start off doing the right thing by way of the wrong thinking process, and the next iteration through, shift to the right thinking process. That used to be exactly how it worked. But, somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that boys-caught-daydreaming is an exceptional, out of the ordinary occurrence, which must mean we think of “lifeguard mode” as the ordinary and more commonplace situation.
Know what this tells me?
Our boys are sneaky little shits and they are way smarter than their teachers.
Wait, that’s sexist. The girls are smart and sneaky too.
Just watch kids. Watch them waiting to buy movie tickets; watch them waiting for a subway, or riding on it. These kids can’t wait for a goddamn thing, anywhere, anytime. Out come the cell phones. I’ve said it before once, and again, and I’ll say it again, it’s the “not a single lifeguard worth a damn” generation. They haven’t been taught to passively wait for an event demanding instantaneous action, the necessity has not been created and so the skill has not been developed. But the necessity has been created to pretend…so they’re geniuses about that.
Overall, they are. What we’re dealing with around the periphery, are the kids like me. We’re lacking the talent of “sneak and snap.” We get a little too distracted, a little too lazy, a little too enmeshed in this “other” thought process we have going on, and we get this bulls-eye painted on our backs because the teacher starts to recognize: These kids, over here, are with-it and taking part and those kids, over there, can’t be counted-upon for jack shit. Teachers can’t help it, it’s just the way they think. Always has been.
What has changed, is the job of teaching. Back in my day, the teacher’s job was to gavel the classroom to order just like a judge, and keep it in order. Signals would be sent to the (perceptibly) daydreaming kids that their daydreaming was a bit too thick, their performance was too thin, and they needed to up their game. Know how that was done? Embarrassment. Oh, yes, I could write a whole thesis about my personal experiences with this, but it is a bit off topic; what is germane to the immediate discussion is, that the embarrassment did take place, and trust me on this — it didn’t turn into this crazy endless hamster-on-a-wheel thing where parents and teachers spend years and years arguing and arguing about the same ol’ shit, wondering what to do. The kid fixed the problem. Oh, yes he did!
This is how the “lifeguard” skill is developed: Harsh consequences. Why do we feel compelled to watch a coiled snake, for as long as we have to, when the snake isn’t moving? Let’s face it, it’s because snakes bite and the bite of a snake can really hurt you. Without that, there’d be nothing to watch. And this is why it’s the “not a lifeguard worth a damn” generation. All of the negative consequences, packing any weight at all, have been systematically removed. Embarrassment is a no-can-do. It is grounds for punitive action against the teacher, and it is for the most part against district policy.
I understand this from talking to the teachers. I also understand, further, that the teaching job has been shifted around a bit, and this “maintain order” thing isn’t quite so much a central part of it. The job of teacher has been transformed into something much more equivalent to the job of a university professor: Stay up to date on the academic materials and institutional policy, form the syllabus by whatever means, walk through it and grade the papers. The rest of it is up to the kids, and we’ll remove any ones that aren’t up to the job and put them in a “special” class.
So: The kids are expected to behave as if they have paid tuition in the class, when they haven’t. Much as the residents of public housing are expected to maintain the property and the structure upon it, as if they are engaged in a personal, investment-grounded or fiduciary participation in which they aren’t really engaged. In both scenarios, the outcome is the same. Things turn to shit. And, in both scenarios, the establishment has formed a blind spot with regard to the true epicenter of the problem, therefore the problem goes unsolved.
We are not really seeing a “skyrocketing” diagnosis rate of LDs; what we are seeing is more like a “collapsing” of the rate of mainstream participation. It’s crumbling and dissolving into a dysfunctional gooey mess before our very eyes, because we’re expecting kids not to act like kids. Actually, the adults act very much the same way; business meetings, the PowerPoint presentation is a bit too long and boring, and the presenter himself doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, so up comes the e-mail client.
But, somehow, in the grown-up world, we treat that as a divided responsibility, the way we treat most other things in the grown-up world. The guy IM’-ing during the business meeting might have a shitty work ethic, or be possessed of bad etiquette, or distracted and unaware that he’s much less subtle than he really is — OR — the presenter needs a few tips on how to prepare a better presentation.
With the kids, our approach is far less balanced and we reach for the medication a whole lot quicker. The teacher is somehow infallible, as is the class material. Oh, it would be nice if that was due to a new-found respect for adults and authority; at least, there would be something healthy about that.
But no, this is about the institution being infallible and the individual consistently being at fault, because the individual is smaller than the institution.
That’s not just unhealthy. It is lethal. It is certain to eventually kill off however much of society we have, if we take the passive approach and allow it to continue. For a civilization is nothing, if not a coordination among individuals, and if you don’t respect the individual you cannot expect the civilization to endure.
Teachers need to go back to teaching; the old-fashioned, get-good-at-herding-cats, kid-teaching. If Teacher 1 continues to “find” all these kids in her class with LDs who “need” to be diagnosed, and Teacher 2 isn’t seeing anything similar, and the trend continues year by year, we need to start noticing. We need to profile the teachers whose presentation and drill-sergeant talents are not up to par — so that they can get “the help that they need.” We need to start taking a more balanced approach, the way businesses (sometimes try to) do with their less-than-productive overhead-projector business meetings. The education is communication, communication is a two-way street, both parties involved have responsibilities and therefore both parties labor under a prospect of potentially under-delivering.
That is what we are currently missing. One kid gets that bulls-eye on his back, the fact that some other kid doesn’t have it, is conclusive evidence that “there’s a problem” with the kid. Once we reach that realization we don’t go back & revisit it ever again. That is what we need to start doing, because perhaps it’s a matter of one kid letting us know, sooner than the other one, that the system’s all cocked up and has fallen into a state of disrepair…and of course, if that’s the case, it impacts everyone. Yes, the supposedly-normal, supposedly-successful, supposedly-high-achieving kids as well. They’re being taught to fake it, and when they carry that into “real” life, it won’t be helpful to them or to anyone else.