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Sunday, January 07, 2007


Doug Noon

A significant phrase that has lodged in my memory from a graduate course in reading comprehension: "Learning disability is a social construction." I try to remember this always. It makes me look back at myself any time a student is having difficulty with something.

Thanks for the pointer to the language blogs. I'm always on the lookout for more sources to help me understand how language impacts and shapes our perceptions.


Thanks for the pointer to my blog. Indeed 'learning disability' is a confuser--I have a hard time using it in the British sense, even though I discuss both phenomena (i.e. dyslexia (etc.) and Down Syndrome, Williams Syndrome (etc.)) in my courses.

Another disability-related word that can get you into trouble (just ask Tiger Woods) is 'spaz'. In the US, it's just a word for klutzy/panicked behavio(u)r--it's not seen as a word about a disability. In the UK, it's an offensive way to refer to someone with cerebral palsy. It's been claimed to be the worst thing you can call someone in British English (on a par with the n-word in American English).

John Lloyd

I agree with Lynn Murphy's analysis for the most part, but I want to raise a small flag about Doug Noon's comment about LD as a social construct. I agree that LD is a social construction, but only in part.

I disagree with those who claim that Learning Disabilities are a phenomena that is the result of social contexts such as the demands of school and employment, that LD has no psychological foundation. I disagree with the characterization of LD as a subjective phenomena that is only "in the eye of the beholder." I don't see LD as an "imaginary disease" (T. G. Finlan, 1994, Learning Disability: The Imaginary Disease, Bergan & Garvey).

Similar to other phenomena (e.g., low birth-weight, mental retardation), society makes somewhat arbitrary decisions about when a difference is substantial enough to say that the phenomena exist or don't exist (what is the cut point in grams or IQ?). In this regard, considering LD a social construction is sensible.

As a socio-political matter, creating cutpoints--even if they may seem arbitrary--between instances of a category such as LD and not-instances of that category is necessary. Otherwise, decisions about how to dispense precious resources become either impossible (everyone is special) or nearly random (the 2nd, 12th, and 21st student walking through the classroom door) will receive special education.

Liz Ditz

I responded to Doug Noon's post on his own blog, Borderlands, which I commend to you all. I don't always agree with Doug, but his posts are thought provoking.


Symbol Makers (where I responded to Doug)

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