Letters to the Editor:

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To the Editor:

The table on page 3 of the Sept. 8, 1993, edition and the accompanying comment are misleading (Dimensions). The table lists the states with the largest increases in poor, school-age children in the last decade and alleges that such children "became increasingly concentrated in the West and Southwest during the 1980's.''

This statement, and the graph, fail to take into account the changes in the overall populations of the states affected. In some states, the growth in school-age poverty was not greatly larger than the growth in population: Nevada had a 57 percent increase in poverty, but a 50.1 percent increase in population. In other cases, such as California and Arizona, the changes do not reflect large immigrations of poor people into the states.

In any case, most people in the country still live in the East and Midwest. So do most poor people. The school-age poor are not "concentrated'' in the West and Southwest.

Gerald W. Bracey
Alexandria, Va.

To the Editor:

I was delighted to see that in their responses to my letter ("Separate Is Not Equal,'' Commentary, June 23, 1993), Irwin Hyman and Barnett Sturm are helping to continue an important debate in these pages about special-education reform ("Response to 'Letter From a Special-Education Parent,' Commentary, Aug. 4, 1993).

Mr. Sturm adds important elements missing in my statement; namely that special education has made important contributions to the quality of life for many disabled students and that the call for reform in special education cannot be issued in a vacuum. I agree with his inference that the problems in special education are symptoms of defects in our entire educational system.

Professor Hyman, on the other hand, suggests that my letter was a "bitter attack'' on special education. Among the many written and verbal responses I received, his alone projects this character onto my rejection of his arguments defending the clinical diagnosis of children into classifications such as "learning disabled'' ("The Dumbing of Special Education,'' Commentary, May 26, 1993).

Professor Hyman also questions my scientific competence, by suggesting that I have not been sufficiently skeptical. He attributes my doubts about learning disabilities to influences from "radical chic'' and "politically correct'' elements. He has me in the company of "panacea mongers'' and "self-proclaimed mavens of reform''--fellow travelers if you will. However, he misses the mark. The problem is not that I am not skeptical, but that I am evidently skeptical about the wrong things.

Compelling and thorough investigations relegating the notion of learning disabilities to the bogus status it deserves are dismissed with the assertion that there is "ample clinical evidence that many children with learning disabilities, often concomitant with attention-deficit disorders, do have neurological processing deficits.'' Mr. Hyman fails to acknowledge that clinical observation enjoys a dubious status as scientific evidence for much of anything. Indeed, one of his most esteemed colleagues, James Ysseldyke, years ago published research showing that clinical diagnoses are about as accurate and reliable as the flip of a coin.

Once again we hear that old canard that the objects of clinical diagnoses are perfectly content to be shackled with labels that remove their right to be considered normal, reduce their social value as members of society, and impose life-long limits. This is a delusion unique to educational diagnosticians. That "stupid'' is now to be replaced by some other stigma in no way removes the damage done to innocent children by the professional labeler. A corollary might be the happiness a convict feels when he learns he has been sentenced to life imprisonment rather than the electric chair.

Finally, Professor Hyman raises the question of my motives in this debate by characterizing my professional career in the educational (test) publishing field as one of "plying'' assessment instruments. I am not sure what he is trying to suggest here, but it is precisely because I am an industry "insider'' that my concerns about test validity deserve special note. Let me state it plainly: It is unlikely that any tests used to "diagnose'' learning disabilities are valid (validity in this instance being defined by the purpose to which a specific test is applied). The lack of validity results from serious and long-standing definitional problems associated with the basic concept of learning disabilities--a notoriously vague and confused notion, as Professor Hyman well knows.

I have found that those in the business of diagnosing learning disabilities have great trouble with this reality. They appear blinded by a powerful need to believe in pathology, learning disabilities and attention deficits being just two examples. Regardless, any presumed validity of a test used to diagnose learning disabilities rests not with the instruments themselves, but somewhere within the imagination of the examiner.

My former professor and I agree on the need to eliminate inequity in our society. I would pursue this lofty goal not by classifying children into segregated groups, but by recognizing and truly accepting the social value of all students and by embracing the ideal now heard more and more often--that all students can learn. The danger in this belief is not that it is naÃive, but that it erases the need for special education. And, if you don't need special education, you don't need specialists to classify children into it.

I make these arguments not out of any bitterness, as Professor Hyman suggests. I am motivated by the knowledge that the medical model and the special-education interventions it begets exact a terrible price in damaged human dignity and lost educational opportunity. It's time to end the barbaric practice of classifying and segregating children for the benefit of the special-education enterprise. The debate on how this will be accomplished should be used not to disparage the participants, but to hasten badly needed changes in our educational system.

David O. Krantz
Mountain View, Calif.

To the Editor:

I am writing to let your readers know that D.C. Heath & Company is distributing to the schools the history series featured in your "Publishing'' column, A History of US, written by Joy Hakim and published by Oxford University Press (Commentary, Sept. 15, 1993). If principals or teachers would like more information, they can contact their local sales representative or their regional D.C. Heath office by calling (800) 235-3565. Our school price is $79.50 for a package of 10 books with a free teachers' guide.

Kathy Shepard
Marketing Manager, Humanities
D.C. Heath & Company
Lexington, Mass.

Vol. 13, Issue 03

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