Book Review: Our Labeled Children

Our Labeled Children:  What Every Parent And Teacher Needs To Know About Learning Disabilities, by Robert J. Sternberg and Elena L. Grigorenko

As someone who read one of the author’s thoughts on creativity I thought it would be worthwhile to see what he (a noted popular psychology writer) thought about other subjects.  Much to my pleasure, I found that he had co-written a thoughtful work on learning disabilities and the complexity of how they are handled by contemporary society.  As someone who knows some kiddos who have been labeled as having learning disabilities and as someone who narrowly escaped such a fate as a child despite considerable native intellect, this book is clearly one that has a personal resonance to me.  Quite intriguingly, this book not only pursues a particular point–one that I support to a high degree–but it also manages to thoughtfully wrestle with the problem of consequences and logistics in the way that diagnoses represent a minimax solution on the part of many parents and how they have considerably unfortunate consequences for educational institutions as well as parents and, of course, the children themselves whose diagnoses often become self-fulfilling prophecies of decreasing learning and difficulties in achievement.

This book of about 250 pages is divided into four parts.  The first part of the book looks at what learning disabilities are, who has them, and what has been done about them in four chapters (I).  The authors look at the inconsistency of how learning disabilities are diagnosed, with large amounts of both poor and disadvantaged students (especially bilingual ones) and wealthy students whose parents seek advantages for them being somewhat over-represented among them (1), what is at stake (2), how difficult it is to really identify students with learning disabilities (3), and issues regarding accommodations and special services (4).  The second part of the book looks at the science of reading disabilities (II) by discussing the cognitive (5), biological (6), and genetic (7) bases of reading and reading disabilities among children, all of which presents a complex picture.  The third part of the book discusses learning disabilities in school, the courtroom, and society (III), providing a look at how it gives a better ticket in school (8), if not in adult life, and how difficult it has been to understand the vagaries of learning disabilities in the court system (9).  Finally, the last part of the book discusses what needs to be done (IV), looking at the lottery that everyone wins and loses (10), after which there are notes and an index.

The authors’ approach to learning disabilities can be briefly summarized as follows:  everyone has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to our abilities, and that these become noticeable or critical only when they relate to a social context that values some abilities and does not particularly care about others.  The fact that resources for education are so limited and that providing special services to adults in the workplace so limited means that a great many children are harmed in not being educated to the extent possible by virtue of resources being spent (some of it fraudulently) in dealing with those who have reputed issues in certain areas, some of which are created to give children an edge by having untimed tests, and some of which represent a wide variety of difficulties in reading and understanding and communicating that people have.  The fact that the diagnosis of learning disabilities tends to reduce the content that is learned and therefore tends to exacerbate the gaps that existed already and to make them difficult if not impossible to bridge later on.  All of this only points out the fact that most interventions when it comes to public education tend to make things worse and not better, something the author points out when it comes to the declining difficulty of content of reading material in contemporary elementary schools even for ordinary students.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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