I discovered two posts on Butterworth’ discalculia theories (related to my previous post):
at the Lexify yourself… or a friend blog. Dyslexia and dyscalculia are issues sufficiently serious for making an honest discussion impossible. For me, an explanation lies in Stanislas Dehaene’s a quip (in his book The Number Sense):
We have to do mathematics using the brain which evolved 30 000 years ago for survival in the African savanna.
There were no books in savanna, and arithmetic texbooks were even more conspicuously absent. There were no grand pianos in savanna, too. All that stuff was invented and developed later, in a tortuous trial-and-error process spreading over millennia. The results are not perfect, which is best witnessed by the insane English orthography, much contributing to the epidemics of dyslexia in this country. Well, orthography is like weather: you are free to criticise it, but cannot change.
Things become more complicated when social institutions –such as education system — are concerned; there is a strong resistance of vested interests — and politicians’ unwillingness to invest extra money — to any suggestion of a systemic flaw.
Therefore I am pleased to find an ally in the famous pianist Heinrich Neuhaus. In his book The Art of PIano Playing he very explicitly describes mainstream music education as a combination of two processes:
- development of musical skills in a student;
- accumulation of neurological damage.
People who develop math phobia, and, I conjecture, a significant proportion of people who are diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia, are no more than victims of neurological damage they suffered at early stages of their education.
I have a moral right to say this in a pretty brutal form because I am myself a fellow sufferer – I am, in effect, tone deaf. I have reasons to believe that my sense of musical pitch was destroyed during my primary school years by a perpetually drunk music teacher with his out-of-tune accordion. (I am Russian, and the system of mass music education in Russia was very patchy — I happened to grow up in a musically deprived area).
The fundamental flaw of all educational discourse is the undisputed and unmentionable assumption that education is always good, and that the influence of education is always positive. Any proposed reform is assessed by looking only at what it promises to improve; there are no compulsory checks for side effects and contraindications. In pharmacology, the same attitude to policy making would constitute a criminal offence. (This is why I reiterate that I refrain from any recommendations on educational policy.)