Education

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Adam Butler/PA Wire/AP
British MP Graham Stringer

Is Dyslexia a Myth? British Politician One of Many Who Say Yes

January 15, 2009 11:57 AM
by Cara McDonough
British MP Graham Stringer says dyslexia is not a real learning disability but an invented excuse for poor teaching. His remarks incited angry responses, but he’s not alone.

Poor Teaching’s the Problem, Says MP

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Backbencher Graham Stringer, MP (Member of Parliament) for Blackley, said this week in an online opinion column that the learning disability dyslexia, which causes problems with reading and writing, should be consigned to the “dustbin of history,” reports the BBC. “The education establishment, rather than admit that their eclectic and incomplete methods for instruction are at fault, have invented a brain disorder called dyslexia,” said the MP.

If dyslexia really existed, he said, then countries as diverse as South Korea and Nicaragua would not have been able to achieve their nearly 100 percent literacy rates. Instead of current teaching methods, he said that he believes children should be taught how to read and write using a system called synthetic phonics.

Naturally, his comments, which he shared in a column on the Web site Manchester Confidential, have evoked several responses, some of them from angry parents and educators. But is he alone? The theory that dyslexia is a made-up disability, or is at least misunderstood, is not a new one, especially in England. In fact, a documentary assailing dyslexia as a “myth” aired on British TV in 2005.

But advocates for those with disabilities balk at such statements.

The British Dyslexia Association has issued a statement expressing concern “that an MP does not recognise dyslexia, which affects 10% of his constituents, even though his government have taken steps to make sure dyslexic children and young people with dyslexia are recognised and supported.”

And Kate Griggs, founder of the dyslexia charity Xtraordinary People, said: “His position is just so wrong from all the scientific evidence. … To have a comment like this from an MP is very, very unhelpful because it’s just craziness,” reports The Guardian.

Background: Stringer isn’t the first

Professor Julian Elliott, an educational psychologist in England, received a lot of publicity—much of it negative—when he set out to redefine dyslexia in 2005 with a television program titled “The Dyslexia Myth.” He suggested that not only was dyslexia misunderstood or even false, but that the diagnosis made it more difficult to give hundreds of thousands of children the reading help that they need.

Elliott was interviewed by Joanna Moorhead in The Guardian in September 2005, and told her that he had received hate mail for doubting dyslexia, but that he thought it was time someone spoke out. He said, of parents, that “the intervention they receive when their child is labeled dyslexic isn’t effective—and furthermore, it’s very expensive and time-consuming, and it diverts resources away from what could be being done better to help all children with reading problems.”

The Telegraph explored the controversial issue further in September 2007, listing the opinions of various scholars and doctors who say that there is strong, scientific evidence proving dyslexia is a valid learning disability. “Some people find learning to read and write a trivial matter whereas others, notably children with dyslexia, have extreme difficulty,” said Maggie Snowling, a professor of psychology at York University and a leading dyslexia expert.

Reference: What is dyslexia?

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