46 I CHRONICLESnLetter FromnDumblandnby Bryce WebsternThe Myth of Learning DisabiUtynIn advertising, it’s called weasel type,nthose tiny bits of typography whichnexplain the nut of the matter (Offernexpires on May 31, J 997. Employees ofnXYZ Corp. are ineligible). So, herengoes the weasel type of this discourse.nI am not a teacher. Nor am I anmother. Not even a research scientist,na sociologist, a social worker, a therapist,na doctor of any sort, a crank, or ando-gooder. I am not, as I am at painsnto make clear, a journalist; I am notnnow nor have I ever been a “liberal.” Inam not a religious nut, nor a moralistnin the current pejorative sense of thenword as used by the aforementionednjournalists. Neither am I a politicalnmaven nor a mental midget (the twonterms being, in some cases, interchangeable).nI fully realize these statementsnopen me to substantial risk. Sonbe it.nWhat I am is an author of books andnarticles about entrepreneurship andnbusiness who finds the term “learningndisability” one of the most frightfulnphrases, describing one of the mostndamaging concepts, of this generationnor any.nIt all started with my young nephew,nwhen he was 10, some five yearsnago. He spent a couple of hours on antrip to Connecticut with me, cryingnbecause his fifth-grade social studiesnteacher had him adjudged learningndisabled. No fool, the kid assumed thisnmeant he was a dummy. He was hurt,ndistressed, depressed, and hopeless.nAnd I wanted to kill his educator.nI didn’t. I probed for more information.nWas my nephew doing poorly innsocial studies? Yes. But Miss Perryndidn’t like him. How did he know?nShe ignored him whenever he raisednhis hand. He’s a pragmatist, like hisnCORRESPONDENCEnaunt, and a little short on persistence.nBut what 10-year-old isn’t? So he ceasednraising his hand. Why expend thenenergy uselessly? Doesn’t sound stupidnto me. Shortsighted, yes. But stupid?nNo. He’s a goal-oriented kid. Whennthere’s no chance of reaching onengoal, he simply picks a different one.nI encouraged him — pointed outnthat anyone who could remember 10nfull years of batting averages of bothnleagues could hardly be stupid. Andncorrecting his first-grade teacher aboutndinosaurs—and having her apologizento him—was not dumb. Nor was writingna novel at age nine (about dungeonsnand dragons, of course). Anyoung boy who could come throughnthe breakup of a home with his humornintact and be polite and well-spoken tonadults . . . well, that person is not stupid.nIt helped. But still, he had beennlabeled, or libeled as I prefer to call it.nHis grades kept plummeting, not onlynin social studies but also in subjects henliked better to begin with. By midyear,nI had decided to have him professionallynevaluated, over, I admit only anbit shamefully, his mother’s protests.nThe results? No learning disabilitynwas apparent in the short evaluation.nThe therapist recommended the fullntreatment, so to speak, but his mothernignored that. (It is in her best interest,nshe thinks, to keep the kid down. Butnthat’s another story.) The simple factnthat a therapist—a well-respected onenat the Institute of Rational-EmotivenTherapy—told my nephew he verynlikely was not learning disabled was anmiracle cure. His grades went up almostninstantly, and by the middle ofnspring he had been removed from atnleast some of the hated “LD” classes.nMy nephew, now almost 16, is hard atnwork as a reporter on his school paper.nHis grades are acceptable. He hasnfriends. He plays baseball well. He stillnknows more about sports statistics thannany 10 adults. And he doesn’t feelnstupid anymore. He intends to becomena sportswriter when he grows up.nnnwhich I heartily endorse. He’s a goodnwriter, has a quick mind, and loves thensports which he realizes he is toonslightly built to play professionally.nWhat was gained by all this? First,nof course, his social studies teachernshifted an unwelcome student to anothernclassroom. Second, his schoolndistrict got another body to count inntheir federally mandated special educationnclasses. No doubt this helpedntheir grantsmanship. Very likely, also,nit kept at least one otherwise “excess”nteacher’s salary intact.nIs the term “learning disability,”nthen, synonymous with “PublicnSchool Teachers’ Full-EmploymentnAct”? I think so. And its immoralitynlies in labeling a whole lot of innocentnchildren with a hurtful tag they willnnever lose so some adults would have anjob to do. Whatever happened to thosenpublic-service commercials about anmind being a terrible thing to waste?nIn the Arizona suburban school districtsnof Window Rock and Bisbee,n11.1 percent and 12.16 percent, respectively,nof the 1983-84 schoolnbudget was used for special education.nThe suburban districts of Apache andnCochise spent, respectively, 8.1 andn9.8 percent. The urban district ofnTempe, however, spent a whoppingn17.7 percent of its budget on specialned. And the rural (possibly Indian)ndistrict of Valley Union spent 17.5npercent. Conclusion? More city kidsnand rural kids are learning disablednthan suburban kids. Is this true? Orncould it be that the rural districts arenrecipients of government largessenthrough grantsmanship and incometransfer,nwhile the urban districts arenbeneficiaries of grantsmanship andnteachers’ organizing? Or perhapsnthrough the agitation of well-educatednand well-heeled parents? It could be.nThe body of literature about mentalnretardation suggests quite clearly thatnaffluent families are more likely to usenthe public health services than arenmiddle- or working-class families.nHowever, children from affluent fami-n