Stuttering, dyslexia and science, what science?

On 2 APRIL 2016 the New Scientist published an article by Norman Miller entitled, “Getting the word out”. I sent the following ‘letter’

Letter to New Scientist
Note the similarities between his (Miller’s) account of stuttering and Samuel Orton’s 1930 account of reading difficulties. The backcloth to both is that the right cerebral hemisphere controls the left side of the body and the left cerebral hemisphere the right side.

First Orton’s account, from Wikipedia, ( accessed 6 April 2016).

“Orton set up a 2-week mobile clinic in Greene County, Iowa to evaluate students referred by teachers because they “were retarded or failing in their school work.” Orton found that 14 of the students who were referred primarily because they had great difficulty in learning to read, in fact had near-average, average, or above-average IQ scores.

Orton’s study of reading difficulties in children led him to hypothesize that these individuals have failed to establish appropriate cerebral organization to support the association of visual words with their spoken forms. He termed this difficulty strephosymbolia, meaning “twisted symbols”. This term stemmed from Orton’s observation that many of the children he worked with tended to reverse letters or transpose their order. Orton also reported that some of his research subjects could read more easily if they held pages up to a mirror, and a few were rapid mirror writers.

Working in the 1920s, Orton did not have access to modern brain scanning equipment, but he knew from his work with brain damaged adults that injuries to the left hemisphere produced symptoms similar to those he observed in children. Many of the children Orton studied were also ambidextrous or had mixed handedness. This led Orton to theorize that the children’s reading problems stemmed from the failure of the left hemisphere to become dominant over the right. [my italics]. Some of Orton’s theories about brain structure and organization would later be confirmed by modern brain researchers, such as Dr. Albert Galaburda, who compared the brains of deceased dyslexic and non-dyslexic adults in the late 1970s.

Dr. Orton’s key contribution to the field of education was the concept of “multisensory” teaching–integrating kinesthetic (movement-based) and tactile (sensory-based) learning strategies with teaching of visual and auditory concepts. Dr. Orton wanted a way to teach reading that would integrate right and left brain functions. [my italics] He was influenced by the work of fellow psychiatrist Grace Fernald, who had developed a kinesthetic approach involving writing in the air and tracing words in large written or scripted format, [comment: presumably with the right hand!] while simultaneously saying the names and sounds of the letters.”

And now from Norman Miller, “Getting the word out” New Scientist 2 APRIL 2016.

“But studies that show stammering is related to connection faults in speech-producing networks of the brain raise a question: why do some people overcome the condition? To find out , Christian Kell ot the Brain Imaging Center in Frankfurt, Germany, has been comparing the brain functions of stammerers with those of recovered stammerers.
We know that among fluent speakers, the left hemisphere of the brain takes a dominant role in speech production. In stammerers, the right hemisphere activates more strongly when speaking, even if they aren’t stammering. Kell thinks their brains are attempting to compensate for malfunctions in the left hemisphere. [my italics].“To some degree, this could reduce symptoms – but only partly, because their right hemisphere usually is not specialised in speaking” he says.

Among recovered stammerers, however, Kell found that some left-hemisphere networks were working again – in particular Brodmann Area 47, or BA47. This is known to be involved in various speech mechanisms. In persistent stutterers, scans show BA47 as one of the areas that doesn’t activate properly, but among recovered stammerers it appears to work.
So what causes these brain difference in the first place? “It isn’t clear yet whether disfluencies in early childhood create the anomalies as the brain is developing”, says Watkins. “The differences are there in young children close to the the time that stammering starts, but most of the data acquired has been from adults who have stammered all their lives,” she says. The best way to solve this mystery will be studies that follow children who stammer over years or decades”

What is intriguing is why both sets of reported ‘facts’ are cited as evidence for a weakness or malfunction in the left hemisphere rather than as evidence for right hemisphere dominance, ie. left handedness. Four (overlapping) hypotheses can be forwarded. The first is because all studies in the English language take place within a ‘right bias’: otherwise known as handling the hegemony of ‘human rights’ ie right, write, wright and rite. The second is that they take place within an atomist and mechanicist mind-set which treats ‘dysfunctions’ as separate conditions, each requiring separate explanations. The third is they ignore the role of hands in literally and metaphorically handling what the world throws at us. And fourthly it is seemingly easier to look under the street-light instead of looking more widely in the unchartered dark. If Mendeleev had adopted this approach chemistry would not have made that rapid advances it did make once he had formulated his period table of elements.

It follows that any solution to reading problems and stuttering / stammering will not be found by focusing on ‘specific difficulty’ studies taking decades. It can already be found using a holistic mindset which treats the physical, intellectual, emotional and social not as separate components but as different facets of single entity. One implication of this model is that if any single facet is found to be out of kilter then, often on deeper probing, other facets will be found to be out of kilter too.. And to see why speech / thinking is affected we need to draw on an analogy between the communicating brain and the evolution of computing. In computing, chip design (hardware) and programming (software) have and no doubt will continue to co-evolve. Brains, however, unlike computers, are hard-wired right, left or rarely right and left. Moreover, the programming software is couched in the backcloth of ‘human ‘rights’. This means infant brains, adapt to the demands of the environment, initially through mimicry and repetition. The key feature in handling the hegemony of the ‘right’ is that they have to cope with being shown how to do things generally right (handedly) and correctly (right). And since in our literate world, sense of self is defined largely by our ability to read and write fluently, writing with the non-adept hand will constitute an additional problem for the writing hand’s ability to effortlessly read the mind’s-eye-image.

Note, the core processing problem is not being right or left handed (with the mirrored brain) but writing with the non-adept hand, whether left or right: for the image is being read by the hand indirectly, from the ‘wrong’ hemisphere.

It is intriguing to see how close Miller got to this hemisphere / contra-lateral hand ‘truth’ when he used the word ‘tangible’: “Now, with developments in brain imaging and genetic techniques, a new picture of the condition is emerging, one that suggests a more tangible [my italics] explanation. “There is something fundamentally different about the brains of people who stutter,” says Scott Grafton, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

At best ‘neuroscience’ will provide only correlational and not causal evidence for brain-behaviour conditions. And of course the brains of left handers will be ‘fundamentally different’ from the brains of right handers!

Letters published in the New Scientist 23 April 2016 p52.

Stuttering and brain hemispheres, From Margaret Scott, I was interested in Norman Miller’s article about stammering and particularly the discussion of the role of the left and right brain hemispheres (2 April, p 34).

I am a fluent speaker and hear equally well in both ears. However, when using the telephone I infinitely prefer to listen with my right ear. I am right-handed. So writing anything down involves curling my left arm round to hold the phone, an awkward posture. I have tried to use my left ear on the phone, but I can’t stand it even for a minute.

Observing colleagues suggests this listening preference is unusual. Has any research been done into its causes? York, UK

From Guy Cox I am very glad to know that speech impediments are now getting the benefit of scientific research. But while Miller has a stammer, I have a stutter. For a stammerer certain letters or words are hard to get out. A stutterer repeats syllables or words.

Many of my academic colleagues wouldn’t know of my stutter, whereas my immediate family would tell you it is terrible. This leads me to suspect that stuttering is strongly emotionally triggered. Whereas stammering is not. This is not to deny biological causes of either, although it has proven easier to propose biological causes for stammering. Sydney, Australia

Where’s the science? Neither Scott’s nor Cox’s letters takes the ‘science’ of stammering / stuttering any further. Indeed Scott is a fluent speaker so raises a non-relevant issue ‘not being able to stand using her left hand to hold the phone to her right ear, while writing with her right hand’. Cox on the other hand makes a distinction between stammering and stuttering (for which he posits an emotional link) but makes no reference to left / right hand or hemisphere.

I was intrigued as to why you published the letters that you did on April 23 p.52, as two follow-up letters to Norman Miller’s article about stammering and the hemispheres (2 April, p 34). Interesting though they were, they did nothing to further the ‘science’ of stuttering / stammering.

On the one hand Scott stated she was a fluent speaker and could hear equally well in both ears. However, when using the telephone she infinitely preferred to listen with her right ear. She is right-handed. So writing anything down involved her curling her left arm round to hold the phone, an awkward posture. She has tried to use her left ear on the phone, but couldn’t stand it even for a minute.

Observing her colleagues (taking notes while on the phone) suggested to her that this listening preference is unusual. She wondered whether any research has been done into its causes.

Cox, on the other hand was very glad to know that speech impediments are now getting the benefit of scientific research. He pointed out that while Miller has a stammer, he himself has a stutter; and that stammerers find it hard to get out certain letters or words, while stutterers repeat syllables or words.

He went on to claim that many of his academic colleagues wouldn’t know of his stutter whereas his immediate family would tell us it is terrible. This led him to suspect that stuttering is strongly emotionally triggered. Whereas stammering is not. He did not deny biological causes of either, although it has proven easier to propose biological causes for stammering.

Apart from Scott’s reference to right and left brain and hands, her letter has nothing to do with stammering / stuttering so is irrelevant to the issue of the causes of these speech impediments. Surely there is no puzzle as to why someone holds the phone to the right ear with the left hand, presumably only when writing notes with the right hand? The puzzle would be if they held the phone to her right ear with their left hand when not note taking.

Cox’s is at least relevant in so far as he suffers from one of the conditions which his colleagues wouldn’t know about but his family would. Presumably this is the basis of his conjecture that stuttering is emotionally triggered, while stammering isn’t. However, he failed to question why it should be emotionally triggered in the family but not amongst colleagues (when one might predict the opposite). As a reader of his letter it is worth pondering why he believes the condition he doesn’t suffer from has a biological cause whereas the one he does suffer from has a (presumably non-biological) emotional cause. He cannot be unaware of the fact that both conditions will have biological / brain ‘correlates’. He makes no mention of his handedness or left right brain.

Hence my puzzle, not about the letters themselves, but why they were published in a ‘scientific’ journal. For one refers to brain / hand orientation but has no speech impediment, the other has a speech impediment but makes no reference to brain (hemisphere) – body (hand) organisation. Enlightenment please!


Posted in Dyslexia, Hand, Right, science, scientific, stammer, stutter | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dyslexology: more in common with astrology than with forensic anthropology?

Two weeks ago I attended a lecture on ‘the real world of forensic anthropology’ by Prof Sue Black at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. It was truly inspiring. Prof Black is a leading forensic anthropologist and director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee University. Her forensic expertise has been crucial to a number of high-profile criminal cases, including the conviction of Scotland’s largest paedophile ring in 2009. In 1999 she headed the British Forensic Team’s exhumation of mass graves in Kosovo.

Prof Black founded the British Association of Human Identification in 2001, the same year in which she received an OBE for her services to forensic anthropology in Kosovo. She received the Lucy Mair Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute in 2008.

Travelling home from her lecture I realized how it was that Prof Black had been able to make so much progress in such a relatively short time in establishing forensic anthropology as a force to be reckoned with, while dyslexologists had been so unsuccessful over a much longer period in helping those children and adults with reading difficulties to overcome their difficulties.

Dyslexologists are those immersed in the discipline of dyslexology, defined by their belief that dyslexia, aka reading difficulty, is an immutable condition of nature and not nurture. In this respect their dogmatic ‘wor[l]d’ mind-set view has more in common with astrology (note: not astronomy!) than forensic anthropology.

How did this difference arise? The answer is almost too simple. First, Prof Black considered her primary duty was and is to the court and not so much to one adversarial party or the other. Of course the evidence she presents to court is used by one or other party. Second and perhaps more importantly she recruited into her teams those who had a science degree but not in forensic anthropology. Her rationale being that she wanted those with a scientific mentality rather than those with blinkered ‘scientific’ knowledge. So she recruited from physics, chemistry, geology graduates.

This strategy guaranteed that forensic anthropology was and is a progressive problem shifting enterprise (Lakatos’s characterisation of scientific research programmes) rather than dyslexology’s regressive problem shifting maintaining vested-interest enterprise.

Contrast Prof Black’s positive message with the ‘uncertain’ in Elliott and Grigorenko’s concluding paragraph of The Dyslexia Debate, published in 2014.

Whether science will ultimately resolve the many contradictions in the field of reading difficulty is uncertain. However, it is hoped that the present book will, in some small way, help contribute to this end, for clear, rational, and rigorous understandings will surely prove essential in our ongoing attempts to serve those who struggle to master the reading process.

The obvious question to ask of Elliott & Grigorenko, is “If science cannot resolve the contradictions in the field of reading difficulty what enterprise will?” magic? Less obviously Elliott & Grigorenko failed to spell out what constitutes ‘science’, because invoking the label ‘science’ for an activity does not guarantee that the enterprise is engaged in a scientific manner. Here the label ‘science’ is used as a rhetorical device to confer a spurious authenticity.

The equally important difference between the two is that while the primary duty of forensic anthropologists is to the court, the primary duty of dyslexologists is to themselves, in order to sustain the multimillion pound dyslexia assessment and treatment industry, or to those who benefit from receiving a diagnosis of dyslexia – it is not to the court or indeed to any court. The overcoming ‘reading difficulty’ task is not to please all the stakeholders to the “is dyslexia a specific difficulty of biological origin or inadequate nurturing debate” but to the task of overcoming reading difficulties.

Posted in Change agent, Cognition, Crime, Dyslexia, Dyslexic, Innovation, anthropology, dyslexologist, dyslexology, forensic, scientific | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

From psychology as a discipline to psychology as a profession

When psychology changed from being an academic discipline to a profession, it incurred many of the negative attributes of commercial organizations; the principal one being a shift in focus from subject expertise, silo thinking and regulatory rituals.

The general assumption under the ‘discipline’ mindset was that psychology graduates would use the insights they gained from their study of psychology to enhance their on the job performance, whatever that job might be.

Concomitantly there was a shift from awarding masters and doctorate degrees on the basis of supervised research to predominantly taught courses. One consequence has been the stifling of innovatory practices: the assumption being, if it hasn’t been learnt by being taught then it is not worth knowing!

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America’s reading problem vs the dyslexia debate: the hegemony of the /right/, institutional inertia and radicalisation

In literate societies writing (and reading) defines our sense of self. It is therefore worth taking Gillian Tett’s ‘America’s reading problem’ FT.COM MAGAZINE December 19 /20 2015′ further in a wider educational, economic and political context.

However I’d best start by framing the ‘message’ within the work of Karl Popper, Stephen Pepper and a particular holistic view of the human attributes.

1. Popper is to be noted for his claim that (a) there are no such things as theory-free [culture-free] observations (b) that academic disciplines [silos] arose through historical accident and are maintained for primarily bureaucratic reasons, and (c) that ‘What is ….?’ essentialist questions are unscientific since they don’t lend themselves to being straightforwardedly operationalized. In summary he characterised scientific progress as being problem-driven rather than discipline-based.

2. In 1942 Stephen Pepper wrote a generally ignored but seminal work entitled World-Hypotheses: a Study in Evidence!!! To be noted are three aspects (a) he postulated that there are three cognitive attitudes – dogmatism, scepticism and reasonable scepticism, (b) nothing can or will convince dogmatists and [utter] sceptics against their better judgment. Reasonable sceptics are those open to being swayed by evidence and (c) of all the objects that are in the world they reduce to six core and incommensurable world-views. Here he was anticipating Mary Douglas’s How Institutions Think, which explains why experts, ostensibly working in the same field so often disagree with each other – they hold different world-views.

3. Viewing human attributes. There are two core world-views about the relationship among human attributes: atomistic and holistic. The former hold that the physical, intellectual, emotional and social attributes exist as separate components which may or may not interact with each other for better or worse. The latter hold that these attributes reflect observers’ focus of attention and are therefore better regarded as different facets of a single integrated entity. This core faceted world-view implies that if anything is found to be out of kilter with one of the facets then (often as the result of deeper probing) something will be found to be out of kilter in the others too.

America’s reading problem vs the dyslexia myth. It is worth noting that Tett didn’t follow the ‘dyslexia’ trail in her piece, which is what Labour MP Graham Stringer did in 2009. In a column for the website Manchester Confidential he said millions of pounds were being wasted on specialist teaching for what he called a “false” condition. (Intriguingly his column forms the opening paragraph of the first chapter in Elliott and Grigorenko’s The Dyslexia Debate.) As a visitor to Strangeways Prison in Manchester Stringer noted the link between incarceration and poor literacy which Tett also commented on. What intrigued me more were the comments (ignored by Elliott and Grigorenko) provoked by Stringer claiming the correlation was a consequence of poor teaching. To quote Stringer: “The education establishment, rather than admit that their eclectic and incomplete methods for instruction are at fault, have invented a brain disorder called dyslexia, … To label children as dyslexic because they’re confused by poor teaching methods is wicked…. If dyslexia really existed then countries as diverse as Nicaragua and South Korea would not have been able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100%. …There can be no rational reason why this ‘brain disorder’ is of epidemic proportions in Britain but does not appear in South Korea or Nicaragua. … Currently, 35,500 students receive disability allowances for dyslexia at an annual cost of £78.4m… Certified dyslexics get longer in exams. …There has been created a situation where there are financial and educational incentives to being bad at spelling and reading… It is time that the dyslexia industry was killed off and we recognised that there are well-known methods for teaching everybody to read and write.”

Although I disagree with Stringer’s faith in phonics as a remedy, I agree totally with his view that there is a dyslexia assessment, teaching and honours industry which covers up inadequate teaching and evaluation. The tone and content of the comments following his piece evidenced the presence of the usual vested interest groups, with those supporting him being in the minority. They were preoccupied with asserting the existence of dyslexia. The abuse, much of it vitriolic, ranged from; if his view represents the Labour Party’s view they would be revoking their membership of the party, all the way to the claim that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s no surprise to learn that the majority of such comments were from either teachers who denied the role of poor teaching, or from those proclaiming personal testimony to their dyslexia.

I wonder what comments followed Tett’s America’s reading problem ? It would be interesting to compare them.

At the heart of the multiplicity of issues, lies the hegemony of the right / write / wright / rite and media and institutional inertia. And at the heart of this hegemonic quartet, to repeat, is the fact that in literate societies sense of self is determined to a large extent by our ability to read / write. To illustrate: quoting feedback from Judge Mort, in a case involving a repeat young offender “Why don’t all psychologists know about this (the implications and consequences of not writing with the adept hand)? The judge had requested an evaluation specifically to determine why all previous psychological evaluations had failed to identify the condition and thus why all previous sentencing ‘treatments’ had failed. Whilst his comment is still true in the Anglo-Saxon speaking world it isn’t true in Germany. (See Dr Johanna Barbara Sattler’s work on Converted Handedness: )

The ‘argument’ is two-fold: some people are born naturally right or left handed and a very small minority equi-handed. This natural hand can execute complex manipulations (of which writing is one instance) with seemingly effortless ease; it can be called the adept hand. However for a variety of complex cultural and familial reasons many individuals have been induced or coerced into writing with the non-adept hand. The majority of cases involve writing with the right hand when the left is the adept one. However there are also many cases involving writing with the left hand when the right is the adept one. The argument is not over whether one is right or left handed but whether there is a mis-match between the writing and the adept hand. If there is, the person will suffer an ill-at-easeness, not being in harmony within themselves and with the external world (of writing).

The heartfelt antipathy toward poor teaching being a cause of poor reading problems can be illustrated best by citing Uta Frith’s comment on Elliott & Grigorenko’s work, “It makes me feel ill.” (Frith is a much honoured psychologist, latterly cognitive neuroscientist for her work on autism and dyslexia.) But as anyone who has ever watched television trouble shooters, such as Gordon Ramsay or Alex Polizzi, at work will have noted that the physical, emotional, social and mental are but different facets of a single entity; and that fundamental change is never achieved without strong emotions being aroused – with social interaction often getting worse before it gets better.

But there is a deeper systemic problem endemic within professional and academic institutions. To illustrate. In 2007, as a long standing Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society with Chartered Psychology status I conducted separate evaluations on three primary school pupils. The outcome for the first two was typical. For one, I heard nothing further from the family after I sent them my report. The second involved two follow-up meetings with the family and one at the child’s school. It was the third that exposed the silo thinking within and the institutional inertia of the British Psychological Society (BPS). The simple facts were that the Mrs K Brown, headteacher of Sandiway Primary School, Cheshire complained to the BPS that the report did not conform to the format of Chartered Educational Psychologists (note I was a Chartered Psychologist, not an Educational Psychologist) and that the school had been maligned for not ensuring the child’s progress. She had sounded out other Educational Psychologists and none of them had ever heard of latent-handedness: the condition therefore did not exist, and even if it did, it wouldn’t explain the pupil’s need for special educational needs status! It is worth noting that during the hearing Brown did not show her face and that the parents had already changed the child’s school and were on the verge of moving the child again. Crucially, when the BPS became involved the child’s father Mark Sugden, remained silent, thereby compromising his personal integrity.

During the ensuing disciplinary hearing into my professional competence, the psychologist on the panel (Prof McKay, former president of the BPS) noted: (a) that I had offered to run an in-house workshop for the school and the BPS to appraise them of the condition (b) that both the school and the BPS failed to take up my offer and (c) asked somewhat rhetorically whether all educational psychologists, counseling, forensic, indeed all psychologists need be appraised of the condition. He wondered how I discovered the condition. This rendered the failure of the appeal all the more puzzling and resulted in my Chartered Status being revoked for the reason that I would not retract the significance of the role of latent handedness in a variety of presenting problems. Not surprisingly I resigned forthwith from the BPS. I was granted Regional Fellow membership of the Royal College of Medicine, with full disclosure of the BPS case!

At the parochial level it is easy to see why there is such institutional inertia. It is easier to say one person is wrong rather than the organisation is wrong! The ultimate paradox is that the BPS has chosen to resolve the cognitive dissonance by sticking with their ‘evidence’ rather than changing their minds!! One consequence of the BPS’s denial of the role played by the writing-adept hand mis-match in a variety of ‘psychological’ conditions is that they are willfully blocking access to assessments and treatments. Unfortunately the BPS’s intransigence has further global consequences.

At the global level failure to emulate the work of Dr Johanna Barbara Sattler, and my own is much more profound. And here I draw an analogy between the ‘dyslexia debate’ and the ‘what is the mechanism of radicalisation towards, for example, Daesh’? Surely it is the fact that almost everywhere on the planet (see Conflict Conflict Tracker) there are those who ‘resolve’ the differences between themselves and others by at best intimidating them and at worst, torturing and exterminating them. A seminal case is that of Osama bin Laden. The FBI website identified him as left handed (presumably on the basis of his physical gestures, in particular holding his rifle with his right hand and pulling the trigger with his left. What defines Osama bin Laden as being out of kilter within himself (ie a latent left hander) is that he writes with his right hand! Contrast him with Barack Obama, a left hander who writes with his left hand. There are clearly other factors at play, in each case.

One result of an unacknowledged mis-match between the writing and the adept hand is a sense of ill-at-eseness, which is resolved by ‘freezing’, ‘fleeing’, or ‘fighting’. It is probably being too cryptic to claim that bin Laden resolved his personal problem (ie the mis-match between writing and adept hand) politically by taking on, literally and metaphorically the might of the right (ie America). In short those who are ill-at-ese within themselves will locate the cause outside themselves. In many cases they acknowledge their non-identity with others by seeking banners under which to validate their actions, whether it be repeat offender, dyslexia or murderous Islam. Handling America’s reading problem, which represents the mere tip of a global iceberg, evidently entails handling this hegemony, or should it be the rhetoric, of the right!

Posted in British Psychological Society, Dyslexia, Hand, Hegemony, Osama bin Laden, Psychologists, Radicalisation, Reading, Right | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When left is wrong: a 4 year old’s instance of the hegemony of the /right/

When getting ready for school, 4 year old grandson Gabriel and I regularly ‘play’ the putting on the shoes game before going to school. We sit two steps up the turn of the stairs. The ‘game’ consists of saying and putting “the right shoe on the right foot, the left shoe on the left foot” or starting with the left, “the left shoe goes on left foot and the right shoe goes on the right foot.” We’ve been playing this game for several months now once or twice a week whenever he and his sister Finley stay overnight and we’re getting ready to go out. Sometimes Gabriel is sitting on my left, sometimes on my right, and sometimes we start with the left shoe and sometimes the right.

Last Friday, I was sitting on his left, and held up the right shoe and said “The right shoe ..” and Gabriel extended his right foot, I continued “ … goes on the right foot”, and fitted his right shoe on his right foot. Now comes the revealing instance: Gabriel announced “The other foot would be the wrong foot wouldn’t it!”

In his innocence he revealed at what an early age the hegemony of the /right/ exits in young children. So now we have two ‘opposites: right-left and right-wrong. It is no step at all to arrive at left = wrong.

What did I do to correct his ‘error’? I took the right shoe off his right foot and tried to put it on his left foot, saying, “I’m trying to get it on your left foot, not your wrong foot. It’s the incorrect left foot for the right shoe.” I then returned the right shoe to the right foot and said “We’ve now got the correct shoe on the right foot…..[and picking up the left shoe] and the correct shoe on the left foot!”

As you might guess there are more games to be played here!

Posted in Cognition, Common Ground, Hegemony, Labelling, Pedagogy, Right | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Seeing double: further steps in the left-to-right or right-to-left story

Remember the story so far? Gabriel ‘air writing’ the number 422, but by pointing right-to-left (RTL) while saying ie reading out, “2,2,4″. And that the interpretation is that Gabriel is a latent left hander. The next steps should provide sufficient empirical evidence to convince even the most sceptical doubter of the validity of this explanation.

Two days later Gabriel and I were walking back up the same hill. We were much further down the hill and hadn’t yet reached the house numbered 177. Nevertheless Gabriel spontaneously pointed to the number on the door we were just passing, when pointing with his left hand he ‘read’, it as “One, one, one, one, seven, seven”". Spot what he’s done? He read the digits left-to-right (LTR) but ‘playfully’ repeated each one.

I don’t think you could guess how he proceeded. Yes, the next was read, with the left hand, LTR as “One,one; one,one; nine, nine.” Then “One,one,two, two, one, one” and so on. Then there was a break in the numbering and we eventually reached house numbered 177. This time he excelled himself, reading again with his left hand, LTR as “One, one; seven, seven; seven, seven.” Without prompting he then re-read it, gesturing as before, as “”One, one; seven, seven; seven, seven; seven, seven, seven, seven”!

So what’s going on here: do we say he’s suffering from a visual-processing deficit- seeing double? But this wouldn’t explain his final reading of 177. Or, knowing young children’s predilection for repetition, interpret Gabriel to be gesturing emphatically with both voice and hand! And what of the ‘reverberatory’ seven, seven, seven…. seven: reminiscent of a fading echo; ending with “down in Devon” or as he prefers “up in heaven”?

Remembering Yves Guiard’s stricture that in all uni-manual tasks, the other hand is still doing something; what was Gabriel’s ‘non-pointing’ hand doing while he was reading the house numbers. He was holding his soft toy Build-a-Bear!

And back to square one, or RTL. On the way to school, down the hill this morning: accompanied by his older sister, Finley, and holding his Build-a-Bear in his left hand he spontaneously pointed to and read the house numbers right-to-left as “nine, seven, one”, “seven, seven, one”!

What are some of the lessons for identifying children at-risk’ for reading/writing problems? The first is that the mode of interacting is pedagogic, meaning, (a) the child is never told he is right or wrong, (b) the interaction is driven by what the child’s brain is enabling the body to do, and (c) given that the mind’s eye image lies in one of two (mirroring) cerebral hemispheres it easy to see that how errors ‘in production’ occur when the ‘talking’ hand is trying to read the mind’s eye image in the same as opposed to opposite cerebral hemisphere. (The connection between hand and brain is, left hemisphere controls the right hand, and the right hemisphere controls the left hand).

Posted in Dyslexia, Dyslexic, Education, Hand, Mirror, Pedagogy, Reading, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Right to left reading writing: what a 4 year old can teach us

Walking back home, uphill, with my 4 year old grandson, Gabriel, the other day, we were chatting when he announced that he lived at “two two four”. In fact he lives at 422 ie. “four two two”. Clearly he has orally mirrored the number. Is this a risk factor for ‘dyslexia’?

The answer is simple: it all depends on the interaction between him and me or to put it another way, it depends on observation and interpretation.

If you watched Gabriel while listening to him you would have witnessed him gesturing in mid-air with his right hand the digits -moving from right to left. Were he to have written the number of his house on the page I would have read the number as 422!!!

But what if Gabriel were to read aloud the digits he had written? Well the answer was soon forthcoming. A little later, because of the narrowing of the path, we crossed over the road further up the hill. We proceeded to ‘play’ the reading the house number ‘game’. I said to Gabriel that we had forgot to read out the numbers of the houses we were passing. I said I thought the next number was going to be 1, 7, 9. Gabriel immediately replied “No, 977!”

It’s fairly obvious that he’s doing the same thing, except repeating the 7, instead of uttering 1. When we reached the number sign I said it was indeed number “one seven nine”, pointing to each digit in turn. Again, without any hesitation Gabriel told me that I was reading it backwards and that it should read nine seven one!

Risk factor for dyslexia? More the risk is in the ‘teacher’ not realizing that there is a mis-match between his preferred hand (right) and his adept hand (identified through other observations). This identifies him as a latent left hander. As such there would be no appropriate help for him in the UK since the condition is at best ignored and at worst, as with the British Psychological Society, denied.

Were Gabriel to be writing in the Judeo-Arabic direction there would be no ‘mirroring’ problem, since most would be writing with the right hand and all writing from right to left. However he isn’t, and the solution to ‘our teaching-learning’ problem is to induce him to write with his left hand.

It is interesting to ponder, given the right-to-left direction of writing in Judeo-Arabic cultures, and particularly the role of reading-writing ie. literacy in the “Qur’anic tradition”, how many scribes having to observe the hegemony of the right, were truly left handers but writing with their right?

Posted in British Psychological Society, Dyslexia, Dyslexic, Education, Hand, Labelling, Pedagogy, Psychologists, Reading, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The media, handedness and paedophilia

Prof Tanya Byron, in BBC4′s ‘The Truth About Child Sex Abuse’, travelled all the way to Toronto to get Prof James Cantor in Toronto to trot out his finding that non-right handedness is more than three times as likely among paedophiles. Or in other words paedophiles are three-times as likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous as non-paedophiles.

Another difference Prof Cantor found was that paedophiles are about 2 1/2cms too short compared with those who commit other offences. (Interestingly his ‘explanation’ was accompanied by what I call ‘left-hand’ talk!). Somewhat confusingly Prof Byron went on to state that this does not mean that left handed and short people are significantly more likely to be paedophiles.

There is however a fundamental flaw in the presented statistic. While there can be little dispute over how we define or measure height, there is an overlooked problem in identifying right handedness, left handedness and ambidexterity which Prof Byron failed to tackle. Handednes can be defined / measured in one of three ways: (a) using a handedness inventory such as Oldfield’s Edinburgh Handedness Inventory (b) observing which hand is the writing hand and (c) identifying the adept hand by measuring which hand can perform novel complex manipulo-spatial tasks with seemingly effortless ease.

Oldfield’s Inventory provides a quantitative measure of hand preference. Which is used as the writing hand is dictated to a large extent by the ‘write with the right’ ritual. This means that many a true left hander has been coerced or induced in general to use the right hand for most actions and in particular for writing with the right. Strictly speaking, being ambidextrous means being able to do two different things with each hand, simultaneously and at speed. The adept hand, as already mentioned is measured by establishing how well each hand is able to handle novel complex manipulo-spatial tasks.

The critical factors in establishing whether someone is in harmony with themselves and with the world they find themselves in, is to determine whether they are using their adept hand as their writing hand: irrespective of whether it is the left or the right. The rationale is simple: our literacy defines our sense of self.

Anyone wishing to dig more deeply than either Profs Byron or Cantor did, into the implications and consequences of handedness, converted and latent handed should see and

Posted in Assessment, BBC, Crime, Hand, Labelling | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Is ‘radicalisation’ a substitute for ‘brain washing’?

Brainwashing was once the label given to the process whereby someone was induced to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and accept contrasting and often opposing ideas. When the connotations were bad this was otherwise known as indoctrination and when good, education.

The word ‘radical’ is derived from the Latin word radix meaning ‘root’. Thus someone who held radical ideas and acted in keeping with these ideas would be someone who was acting with a set of fundamental beliefs, whatever those beliefs were.

However in the later 19th century in both the United Kingdom and in continental Europe “radical” came to denote someone who held to a progressive liberal ideology.

‘Radicalisation’ should, therefore, mean the process by which an individual or group of individuals comes to break with existing political, social, or religious rituals; rejecting or trying to undermine the status quo. This invariably involves denying others’ freedom of choice and action.

Conceptually there is surely a difference between saying someone is a radical and someone is radicalised. ‘Radical’ refers to an existential state whereas ‘ radicalized’ refers to being the presumably (passive) recipient of someone else’s malevolent actions, that is brain washing.

But does the difference between the terms ‘brainwashed’ and ‘radical / radicalised’ have any practical consequence? In one respect it does for it suggests that decades of research on brainwashing has been at best neglected and at worst ignored. Of course the more important point is not so much what we call something, rather what we can do to oppose those who oppose the common good.

Posted in Common Ground, Education, Labelling, language change | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Where’s the common-ground: different worlds or dumbing down?

Would you say that ‘hire’ means ‘replacement’, and ‘not repairable’ means ‘not worth repairing’? And that ‘Mary’s’ and ‘Mary s’ means the same thing? For some there are no differences!

Recently another motorist drove into me. Instead of letting my own car insurer deal with the non-disputed claim (the other party accepting full responsibility) I elected to let the other party’s insurers, deal directly with me since they assured me of their efficiency and effectiveness. The first issue that arose is whether my car is considered to be a write-off because the engineer judged it to be not repairable. When I queried this I was told the judgment was not in fact based on whether my car was repairable but whether the cost of repair exceeded the current value of the car. Clearly most but the most serious damage could be repaired but at a cost! The insurance agent finally accepted there was a difference in meaning but continued to refer to the damage as not repairable. The damage was to rear near-side passenger door and panel and therefore repairable.

To their credit the other party’s insurer immediately provided a replacement vehicle. But because of a breakdown in communication between insurance company, engineer and car replacement agent I received a request from another party (if you’re counting – that’s four separate agents I’m dealing with: so much for keeping costs down!) to return a hire-car! Since I had been dealing with a replacement car agent and there was no obvious link between the hire-company and the original insurer I contacted them to clarify matters. I told them that I had no previous contact with them and not hired a car from them. It transpired that the insurer had contacted their car-replacement agent who then contacted the car-hire agent who provided the temporary replacement car. Surely there’s a difference between me hiring a car and someone else providing a temporary replacement car? Apparently not as far as the car-hire firm is concerned.

These differences in how we use words demands a two-worlds interpretation or lack of common-ground interpretation.

On a slightly different tack, I recently tried to enter the street name of my home address ‘St. Mary’s Close’ in an on-line banking form, without success. Despairing I contacted the bank using their webchat facility to be informed that I couldn’t use ‘Mary’s’ I would have to use ‘Mary s’ instead. Is this a case of dumbing down and / or being dictated to by the requirements of a robotic machine? I suspect both since the local authority ‘Warrington’ has abolished the use of apostrophes on street name signs.

Tempting though it might be to claim that these are instances of dyslexic thought patterns this can’t be the full explanation for this mechanistic shift. Are there no guardians of the common-ground? Or do we have to acquiesce and use words as others use them?

Posted in Common Ground, Education, Labelling, language change | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
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