Obstacles to Literacy - Learning Disabilities Discussion

From LiteracyTentWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

[LearningDisabilities 461] Re: Causes of Low Literacy Among Adults -Response by George Demetrion Glenn Young gyoungxlt at comcast.net Thu Jun 8 04:33:57 EDT 2006


I feel this discussion has gone on for decades and I'm glad to see that you are finally including LD as a causal factor in the low literacy rates .. However, you present things in what I would call a very unscientific approach. Among other things, you confuse symptoms and events for causes. So the list you present as "causes" but , you do not really give them. For example you state that

C. States that have an exit exam requirement may have added to the drop-out problem. Teens who are already behind flunk the test, and even though there are multiple chances to re-take it, the resulting discouragement often causes them to give up.

The failure to perform well on the state tests is not a cause of low-literacy it is the result of low-literacy

Another point you raise is that

One cause of low literacy is that the ladder of what functional proficiency consists of has been raised.

The definition of literacy is always changing, but it it is not the cause of people having low literacy skills, its may be a basis for statistics but not a causal agent of if someone can read or not.

But it is a major point - What is the base line for what is literate? Where should we start to compare literacy and against whom? Do we only measure literacy against the rates of middle class children of the 1960's? Do we measure when "literacy" meant the ability to sign your name?" We can actually argue strongly that literacy in general has risen sharply in the US over the past 75 years, and in some populations at a revolutionary rate that is almost unparalleled in world history. So for example in 1940 the mean grade completion rate for whites was 8th grade and the mean grade completion rates for Blacks was 4th grade (US Dept of Ed Stats). By 2000, the mean grade completion rate for whites was 12.7 and for Blacks 12.8. This shows a huge increase in literacy skills and an major revolution of education success for Blacks since the removal of Jim Crow and segregation. ... so to argue that the literacy rates are falling begs the question, from where do you start to measure ...

We tend to only focus on the failures in society and not on the successes, and in fact the African American success in education since Brown V Education has been staggerly successful. But the media and all end up focusing on the 1/3 failures rater rather then the 2/3 success. This is in fact based in the history of racism you mentioned .. We should be working to eliminate this racism rather the re-enforcing it. The Black education success since 1940 has been amazingly successful and we should be saying so loudly.

But back to the point about "cause." The problem with your list and how you present the issue of low-literacy is that you do not answer the basic question ... Why do some people in the environments you describe learn to read and others don't. Clearly, not all children who are poor fail to learn to read. Clearly, not all children of low literate persons remain low-literate. Clearly, not all immigrants fail to learn English, or fail to learn to read in English (or are failed readers in there native language) Clearly, not all children in foster care or from abusive homes fail to learn to read .. etc. And the answer is not that those who do find good teachers. There are not that many good teachers, and still many learn to read, etc.

While all the factors of hunger, lack of family success, lack of expectation, changing cultures, etc, impacts the focus on reading that is needed, but it in its self is not a "causal agent" for lack of reading. If it was, then all persons in these environments would not learn to read, and that is clearly not the case. In fact the majority of people in these environments, over time, do learn how to read. They my not read well, nor give reading much value, (and will all the other forms of information available now, reading is far less important then it was some 25 years ago - remember, you can listen to all the great classics on at Boarders books, you can get your news from TV or Radio not just newspapers etc.) - but they can and do learn how to read

In addition ... there is the question of the economy ... and we are in a current economic phase where if you are not in the upper half, reading is of little value ... and since the path ways to the upper half is rapidly closing (lose of industrial jobs - hour glass economy, etc) the need to read is lessening for those who feel that there is little need since they will always work at fast foods or be day laborers ... So the "ticket out" that literacy use to be (and actually for only a very brief time) is not really there as much. So ...

In addition, you fail to look at the immigration issues in terms of generations - It is a clear pattern from 250 years of major immigration into the US, that the first "wave" often fail to learn to read English, but it's their children who do so ... Look at the Italian immigrants of the 1870's verses the rate of Italian/Americans now or even in the 1930's. Also, the Jewish wave too place in the 1900's and most of them did not learn English or English well (thus the huge number of Yiddish news paper and theater) ... and one generation later, there were quotas against Jews in colleges ... etc (something similar was and is being experience by South East Asian and Chinese immigrants on the West Coast. If it wasn't for quota in the California College and University systems, and it was based on tests alone, all the incoming Freshman class would be East Asian origin.) And we are clearly in phase of "first wave" with up wards of 25 million new immigrants to the US (depending upon who gives the data) So the lower rates of literacy in the new immigrants is normal ...

However, back to the question ... why do some successes and other in the same environment don't?

I think you were more right then you understand when you start with the lingering impact of poverty ... but not for the reasons you stated. The impacts of poverty are in fact the known causal agent of Learning Disabilities, and those living in and multigenerational living in poverty are more likely to have LD then those who don't. I would argue, and I think the research support this, that the main cause of persistent long term low-literacy in the US is in fact Learning Disabilities.

There is a great deal of evidence to make the statement that LD is caused in large part by poverty and it also is the main reason persons stay poor. I will not go into great detail here to explain what should be common knowledge about brain development and how pre and post natal issues of trauma to the brain is the known cause of LD (Or as the term was once used and is the best actual term to describe what is going on in the brain - MBD or Minimal Brain Dysfunction) Let just say that Marian Wright Edelman, the head of the Childrens Defense Fund stated as much as a decade ago that living in poverty alone increases the likelihood of LD by 30 percent.

So all those areas you described of environmental issues, are in fact causes of LD, and that the answer to why some persons in those environments do not learn to read, is not just failure of the schools and lack of focus by the family, but in fact brain damage developed by the poverty issues. Why do not all persons in poverty have brain damage -- well that maybe the case, but we don't know enough yet to state that clearly. But we do know that exposure to lead and other toxins, that are still widely present in poor neighborhoods is one of the leading causes of LD. In addition, prenatal drug and alcohol use (pretty dominate in some poor communities) are also among the know causes of LD.

What we need to understand is that while there is general agreement that LD is present in 10 -15% of the population (NICHD research confirms this rate) that is is not a flat line rate ... it is not consistent in all strata of society. It is by far overly represented in low-income populations, and its causes is not mainly genetically based, but mainly environmentally based.

Since the wave of immigrants that are coming to the US are coming from very poor countries without proper per and post natal care and where infant malnutrition is frequent and that the trauma of war is current, and that there are less controls on toxins in the environment ... (all of these are know causes of LD) that there would be a much higher rate of LD in this new wave of immigrants then in some previous waves. And the research conducted so far on this wave of immigrants has found very high rates of LD (4 year study that is the basis of the new New York State screen for LD in Spanish) So it is not just that the immigrants are coming from less "literate societies" it is that they are coming from societies that are ripe for development of LD. And since we always seem to measure LD based on reading ... (mistake) and these people may not read ... well we tend to not provide the LD diagnostics ... but write it off to lack of desire or lack of tradition for reading (both not valid reasons)

So George, you continue to confuse symptoms with causes. But you including LD at all is progress and now if we can get you to look at the research on brain development and the causes of LD ... you may see more of what I am talking about.


Glenn Young 505 East Braddock Rd # 608 Alexandria VA 22314 703-684-1750 gyoungxlt at comcast.net

[LearningDisabilities 462] Re: Causes of Low Literacy Among Adults-Response by George Demetrion Lucille Cuttler l.cuttler at comcast.net Sat Jun 10 03:29:03 EDT 2006

Thank you, Glenn, for the clarity of your response. I agree with you - totally. You are a gem - brilliant and sharp, able to cut to the point. To add any more words would be redundant.

Experience of more than 20 years has confirmed that explicit direct instruction, presenting the structure of English systematically and sequentially, brings about desired results. Lucille Cuttler

[LearningDisabilities 464] Response - Causes of Low Level English Literacy Among Adults RKenyon721@aol.com RKenyon721 at aol.com Sat Jun 10 12:03:27 EDT 2006

I am posting this message for George Demetrion.

Hi Lucile,

You might be right, though I haven't seen the evidence in relation to adult literacy to back up that claim. Also, with regard to adult literacy, would you define "desired results?"


George Demetrion

"Experience of more than 20 years has confirmed that explicit direct instruction, presenting the structure of English systematically and sequentially, brings about desired results." Lucille Cuttler

[LearningDisabilities 466] Re: Causes of Low Level English Literacy Among Adults - Response by George Demetrion Woods woodsnh at isp.com Sat Jun 10 23:56:11 EDT 2006

I appreciate Glenn Young's well reasoned arguments about the causes and consequences of low literacy levels. Glenn's assertion that a cause of LD is poverty is particularly interesting to me in light of the fact that when when making a diagnosis of LD, the evaluator must rule out poverty as being a cause of a student's poor performance. I would be most interested in hearing Glenn's ideas on the appropriateness of current special education laws and regulations as they pertain to the definition of LD.

Myself, having experience working with dropouts in prisons, I am troubled by Glenn's assertion that poor test performance and consequent dropping out is a result of low literacy, not a cause. George Demetrion's argument about the causal factor of dropping out of school has merit, I feel. When students are in school, their literacy skills increase. Maybe some develop more slowly than their peers, but they do learn and progress. When they drop out, literacy skill development, at least the sort addressed by schooling, stops, and dropouts fall farther behind their peers who continue school. If you put this individual back in school and keep him or her there, the skill development will resume. This meets the requirements for causation.

Still, we should know better than to argue such points. Arguing over whether something is a cause or a symptom is one of those Cartesian traps, like the nature versus nurture question, in which participants will spin their mental wheels and make no progress towards an answer. George is wise to state that dropping out is both causal AND symptomatic of low literacy levels. Tom Woods Community High School of Vermont

[LearningDisabilities 467] Re: Causes of Low Level English Literacy Among Adults - Response by George Demetrion David Rosen djrosen at comcast.net Mon Jun 12 07:07:42 EDT 2006

Tom, Glenn, George and others,

Another way of looking at this is to re-frame the problem. Perhaps "causes of low literacy" could be described as "obstacles to strong literacy." Many of the causes George has described, such as learning disabilities, moving from school to school in the early grades when reading is taught and thus missing a critical piece of instruction, and others, are obstacles. Whereas "illiteracy" and even "low literacy" may be viewed by some as pejorative labels, obstacles (not barriers) are generally viewed as difficulties or challenges to be overcome or removed. The obstacles are individual, family, social and political. Individuals, to the best of their ability have to have the will and make the effort. Families need to understand and support the individual making the effort. As a society we need to understand the obstacles and have the political will to make legislative and policy changes to remove the obstacles to learning, and where learning disabilities are involved, make the accommodations already required by law.

David Rosen djrosen at comcast.net

[LearningDisabilities 468] Re: Causes of Low Level English Literacy Among Adults - Response by George Demetrion Glenn Young gyoungxlt at comcast.net Mon Jun 12 16:16:27 EDT 2006

Thank you for the comments, and you raise two significant points. So I will reply in two parts

Point I ... The old style concept of LD as being based in "expectations of achievement" led to it mostly excluding poor people and often people of color since there was little social expectation of them achieving. This model is mostly discredited (Google "Rethinking Learning Disabilities", as well as IDEA 2005) This was the concept developed in the early 1960's designed to help middle class (and upper class) persons gain services without having to resort to calling their children Mentally Retarded (MR) or as having Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD). So in the definition of LD it states that

The learning disabled have difficulties with academic achievement and progress. Discrepancies exist between a person's potential for learning and what he actually learns.

The learning disabled show an uneven pattern of development (language development, physical development, academic development and/or perceptual development).

Learning problems are not due to environmental disadvantage.

Learning problems are not due to mental retardation or emotional disturbance.

Even with this definition ... It was misinterpreted ... It did not say that LD was not caused by poverty, but that the learning problems were not due exclusively to the lack of stimulation or access to education opportunities ... Therefore it was misinterpreted to saying you could not be poor and LD ... Which was and is ridiculous.

It also resulted in children with identical profiles being called different things - the poor African American child would be called MR and the white middle class child would be called LD. The services and expectations for each of these children would have been very different. Law suits in the 1970's were brought and the overt racist nature of the LD definitions were found to be exactly that by courts, and the "environmental disadvantage" issue was reduced and explained to mean ... Not just ... But not to exclude someone because they are poor ...

It is somewhat shocking to me that a school or any programs is still excluding a person from the LD definition simple because the are poor ... If that is what you are doing ... You are doing something very wrong and need to do a lot more research into the meaning of the terms ... And more current research.

In addition, all the recent research especially from NICHD and elsewhere has shown this "expectation" model to be very unreliable and a false premise. The research showed a number of things that was counter to this model including that it was not just a disorder of white middle class boys in the suburbs, but one that was based in neurological disorders and that these disorders were based not so much in genetics (which was need to justify the classist model) but was caused by insults to the neurological systems ... Including lead poisoning, fetal malnutrition, untreated childhood fevers, etc All the things that middle class families were not suppose to have ... SO therefore the models of definition have been changed in both schools and in Voc Rehab, to focus on actual performance, and the failure to respond to interventions, and a real focus on neurological impairments ... Not race or class backgrounds.

So it is very important that everyone gets with the newer understandings of the roots of LD and the causes of LD and not to maintain the models and the head set that was developed to meet the needs of white middle class parents in the 1960's. The past bad practices has led to extensive gender bias and class issues, where research found that 50 plus percent of persons on Welfare (mainly poor women) were found to have LD previously unidentified in schools (based on the old concepts) and that extensive amount the people in adult ed also have this unidentified LD (again, not identified in schools) and that there is more resent research in immigrants that show high rates of LD in this population as well but not identified in schools based on both language and "expectation"

So ... It is really time to get rid of the old racist and classist models and go with what we know LD to really be ... Neurological disorders based on insults to the nervous system.

The second point ...

Your second point also shows a failure to understand a major concept of research --- You can not generalize from the outliers. You can not generalize from your our personal experience. You can not generalize from a few examples of success. You have to look at what happens to the whole of the population.

What research has charily shown us is that low literacy is not some thing that develops later in life (except in rare cases of brain injury) ... It develops early in life and continues and it has consequences all throughout life. (Thus the continued effort to support "head start", and trying to get all children in to pre- pre- schools) So the failure to pass high stakes tests at age nine or at age 16 is very predictable in many cases by age 3 or 4 (without intensive interventions) Being kept back one grade is a clear predictor that the child will drop out ... Etc. This we know from solid research.

Can a person gain literacy skills later in life? Maybe, maybe not depending upon extensive factors, including access to resources, intensity of interventions, skills of the provider, intelligence capacity of the consumer, etc. (People in prison are actually more able to re-engage, since they have food, housing, work etc, all taken care of, they have not child care responsibilities, etc. and have lots of time available to focus learning, which most people do not) ... However, research has clearly shown that most people who drop out of school do not return and that of those who try to return, later in life fail, most fail, and fail miserably. And it is rare and rare in deed that people drop out of school and come back later in life to achieve great things (and when they do they are outliers, and not the norm and you can not generalize from the outliers) (Adult ed programs, which only serves about 5% of those who need skills, have a 20% drop out in the first 2 months, and those who stay only tend to gain a grade a year in reading skills) Less then 10% of those pass the GED a year So, what research show is that at best adult ed successes with about 1/2 of one percent of those who need the services.

Once again, however, we come to "class issues". Low literacy skills should not be correlated to low-intelligence. We know that people who have low or no literacy skills can be highly intelligent and have extensive knowledge of "their world" Their intelligence is not measured in literacy terms however ... But in the knowledge of how to advance in their settings. (The old story of the Ghetto IQ test, where the question is when was Mother's day" and the correct answer was the first of the month since that is the day that the checks came in the mail) SO we have to be careful about not stating that low-literacy skills is the same as low-intelligence, or event lack of skills.

And we also need to understand that we need to change our views on how people learn and gain skills .... We continue to attempt to use 16th century technology (a bit improved, but sill invented in the 16th century) to try and give people knowledge in schools and adult ed programs. We spend so much time in the early years trying to teach people to read and if they do not, we put them in special programs to focus on teaching them how to read ... And they spend lots of time there ... But we fail to give them the knowledge so they can remain competitive ... So they not only have low-literacy skills, but they soon develop "information deficit disorder" and it is this information deficit that makes the less and less competitive, and leads to more and more disengagement ... And eventually exiting of school and disconnect with "knowledge".

But this is a new age ... People gain knowledge through all forms of media, computer games to audio cassettes, to movies etc. Hey, almost all of Shakespeare has been made into movies by now ... Let people watch it if they can't read it. Same is true so many books on tape. Go to Borders and you can get most of the classics as well as today's best seller, and then the Reading Services for Blind and Dyslexics will record any book needed. Not only that ... There is lots of software that will speak the words on any computer program ... Lets use that for all kids, not just the few who actually get good services from special education.

In closing I want to again state that a good deal of the failure of schools to help keep people literate is that they are using mostly the 16th printing press to try to compete with the 21st cent. technology. Also, there we are using expectations of the understanding that literacy is important- when for most people it is not - without incentives. If you think that you are going to work in a fast food restaurant all your life ... It make economic sense to drop out at 16 and get two years salary and experience, rather then waiting another two years and graduating and then going to work at the restaurant ... People need to see schools as a ticket up again (which they do not now, unless you got the money to go to college, etc,) So a lot of low-literacy can be dealt with by stopping information deficit disorder by using modern technology, lets get all children very early education opportunities (this will also increase the success of those with LD early on and encourage them to stay engaged) Also, lets guarantee that all people who get through high school will have free college education, etc and we can increase school retention and increase literacy skills of all people.

SO ... As the old saying goes ... You can not fix illiteracy with a degree in caring.

Glenn Young 505 East Braddock Rd # 608 Alexandria VA 22314 703-684-1750 gyoungxlt at comcast.net

[LearningDisabilities 470] Re: Causes of Low Level English Literacy Among Adults Anita Landoll amlandoll at yahoo.com Tue Jun 13 18:01:05 EDT 2006

Hello everyone,

I think George (and others) are providing us with good information about low literacy within the adult population. Maybe the words "contributing factors to the problem" might solve the difficulty that people are having with the word "causes". In some areas, an additional problem has been large employers that continually hired numbers of factory workers without high school diplomas. The student would drop out of school and find ready employment. Then when the factory closed, the employee was left with no job and no high school diploma. Some communities currently have large numbers of unemployed persons without diplomas or GEDs because of this problem.

Anita learntoreadnow

Personal tools