According to Manchester MP Graham Stringer dyslexia is a myth and is more down to functional illiteracy and a breakdown in the teaching methods in education.  Dyslexia is, says Stringer “a cruel fiction, it is no more real than the 19th century scientific construction of ‘the æther’ to explain how light travels through a vacuum.”  To backup his argument Stringer states that were dyslexia to exist then countries such as South Korea and Nicaragua would not be able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100%.  This would appear to highlight where the MPs argument comes a cropper namely a confusion between the very different terms of illiterate and dyslexic.

The trouble with any perceived mental disability is it is always more difficult to understand and categorise than a physical one. People can see physical disability and therefore feel less ambiguity in their categorisation of it and how they react to it.  It is clear what is required of them, a wheelchair user needs access in order to get to work and whilst it has taken a long time and a great deal of lobbying from the disabled action groups there is now a little more acceptance into the mainstream now that to try to sweep the problems of a large swathe of the population under the carpet is not acceptable.  When it comes to mental issues the problems are not always clear-cut and due to a serious gap in their understanding amongst the majority of the population the solutions are often neither known nor understood.

Taking depression as an initial example, when one considers not only that it is estimated that 1 in 4 of the population will suffer from some form of illness categorised as depression but that if current trends persist it will be the world’s second most disabling condition by 2020, this is by anyone’s notion a big question.  Depression is the largest and most widespread of mental conditions but perhaps only because it is rarely looked at in its sub-categories.  The depressed like the dyslexic and sufferers of other mental conditions move unnoticed amongst the population at large furthermore they are as diverse a group as those with any one physical disability.  Dyslexia like OCD and Depression are rather catch-all terms that refer to a varied set of conditions that manifest themselves in different ways and to different extremes.  If you see it more as a sliding scale rather than a binary switch, it isn’t a question of whether you have or have not but rather if you have just where in terms of severity and specifics you happen to fit.  Many people may have mild forms of such conditions and do not necessarily recognise it themselves because it is not severe enough to really impact on their daily lives, often they have coping mechanisms that they have built up over many years sometimes unaware of how modern technology may now have progressed enough not only to identify certain facets of their condition but also to greatly ameliorate their circumstances.  The medical profession is often culpable for not being aware enough of the breadth of the symptoms, how to recognise them, and the way they can impact on sufferer’s lives, they are generally only interested in the severest of cases and the nature of funding of the NHS provides only for the treatment when conditions are severe enough to require the sufferer to have been forced to consult the doctor often due to the impact having got out of hand.

As science has advanced so has our desire to understand more of these conditions and their causes and thus the ability to identify them on paper has increased, for example it is stated that ten times more people suffer from depression now than did so in 1945. This has led perhaps to some people’s perception that suddenly we have a whole load of sufferers of something that never used to exist, rather than an acknowledgement that it always existed but hitherto there were not the same methods to diagnose and treat it.  Just because people used to think the Earth was flat and do not any more does not mean it used to be flat until we discovered otherwise.

I have been educated to a decent standard and have a language degree, my dyslexia is quite mild but I do still have problems that non-sufferers might find difficult to understand. I know the difference between the words your, you’re and yore just as I do the words their, they’re and there but on occasions I write an incorrect one and because my mind presumes I will have written the correct one, as it understands the context in which I wish to use it, it doesn’t pick it up on a proof-read, and of course neither does a spell checker because the word exists.  In addition to this I have nemesis words such as separately, Mediterranean, innateasinine and rhythm amongst others – even in writing these words now I only spelled innate correctly first time around, Mediterranean I played about with the various combinations until I hit one that wasn’t then underlined and rhythm I had to admit defeat on after multiple goes and look up in the dictionary.  Personally I do not believe I am stupid nor is my memory so poor as to forget everything, it is just that there are certain blind spots no matter how many times I look up its spelling my brain cannot retain it for the next time I need to use it, this can happen on a weekly basis the frequency of usage is irrelevant.  This is not about illiteracy or a lack of ability it is about little foibles in the ways our brain learns and holds information and in turn learning how best to work within those parameters to make the best of what we have. If more emphasis was put on identifying what people can do and nurturing it and helping cope with the things they find more difficult by using the strengths, rather than excluding them from what they cannot perhaps we would not be having this rather eugenic-like discussion where those who have been given many advantages try to justify their position by claiming that those who have less have either only themselves to blame or are simply not capable.

In the 1970s my parents were told I was educationally sub-normal, the effect this could have had on my education would have been profound had my mother not moved me to a different school. I sincerely hope we are not going back to the educational dark ages again where those that do not or cannot conform to the ever-more limited confines of the system are left floundering so that institutions can exempt themselves from the “detrimental” effecto n their results.

Stringer has at the root of his argument, if we wade through the shite, a much more cogent point, namely that we have in what we think of as our “civilised” society a serious problem with literacy and this in turn is having a substantial increase on the disenfranchisement of the population, leading inevitably to higher crime, drug use, lack of social cohesion and social responsibility.  This in turn whilst perhaps not being the root cause of depression is certainly not going to aid any sufferers of it, likewise dyslexia is a condition that worsens when the sufferer is under greater stress.  Coupled with this is a society and thus a school system obsessed with classifications, be it statistical analysis of student’s progress to Offsted report results and in this climate the option of a ‘diagnosis’ of a condition can exonerate them from the blame of a child having slipped through the net.  I have seen this myself where it is taken as a given that a child suffering from certain conditions cannot and will not conform to the stereotypes of their age group and can be statistically removed or taken into consideration when it comes to any ratings of that school’s progress.  However as I believe I can personally vouch for just because one is dyslexic does not mean one is not perfectly literate or that one does not posses the ability to become literate.  To presume this would be like presuming that a depressive will never be happy, or someone with only one leg will not be able to move themselves around.

Stringer loses his point by turning on the symptom of the problem rather than the cause of it.  He does not make an attack on what we as a society have done to our education system by devaluing it to a piece of paper with meaningless numbers and exams sat parrot fashion.  A system of check boxes that reward conformity and engender a materialist viewpoint that seeks only to do enough to guarantee career progression at the end of it.  This is not what education is for, one only has to look at the state of those coming out of it to see that, precious few have gained anything from it in real terms and most do not truly know themselves no have the ability to question others.  Using the media as its backup it is the education system that has perhaps been the greatest proponent in the preservation of the status quo and the true realisation of the notion described by Chomsky as “manufacturing consent.”  Those who dissent, or those who cannot learn assent quickly enough are a liability.

*(And by the way whoever invented the word dyslexia was clearly not a sufferer themselves!)

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