Probably the one thing that winds me up most is when I hear about dyslexic children being given remedial lessons. It's hard to imagine anything more calculated to alienate an intelligent student than additional lessons in what appears to them to be an incomprehensible subject. All the more so if they are lumped in with the less intellectually able, in my case with the boy who sucked his thumb and who was the only person between me and the bottom of the class of the bottom stream.

Sadly for years dyslexic students fail in school and are either dumped by, or reject the system. We do not have to look far to find successful people in many walks of life who have failed to complete formal education, surely they cannot all have been lazy or stupid while at school and suddenly become smart once they left?

If Thomas G. West in his book 'In the Mind's Eye' (Prometheus Books) is right then, then far from being a condition in need of a cure, dyslexia is an ability enabling the student and later the adult to “think outside the square”.

Thomas West rightly suggests that it would be far better to work with the students strengths, which may in fact be considerable, rather than forcing a diet of incomprehensible studies, and hence failure, upon them.

One common feature of  learning disabilities like dyslexia is that, with some maturity, the student will often work out a strategy for coping with their handicaps, often to the extent that it will not be possible for even close friends and co-workers to detect any problems. The real issue is that the persons full potential will not be realised as their talents will never be trained or developed in any structured manner.

A reversal of the present syllabus might well be more appropriate. Teach the apparently complex material earlier and leave subjects such as spelling, grammar and times tables until such time as the student can deal with the issues raised by this material.

A phenomena of western tertiary education is the increasing numbers of arts students while scientific and engineering rolls continue to fall. Could it be that young people suited to these 'hard' disciplines are being systematically failed by the system at secondary level?  

Much of today's educational ideal is rooted in the past and essentially values the same skills as those of the medieval monastic scholar. The three 'R's, reading, writing and arithmetic as well as the ability to learn by rote are key disciplines and all of which are more or less guaranteed to weed out those with dyslexia or other, perhaps more valuable, creative traits.

For me, the major finding of Mr West's research is that dyslexia, and it's related learning difficulties are not conditions in need of a cure. More likely these conditions are in fact caused by a desirable variation in the way the brain is wired.

Were all people to follow the same thought processes then there would only ever be one answer to any given problem, or only slight variations. It makes more sense for there to be a diversity of thought processes which will give a range of solutions.

Until recently, probably into the middle of the 20th century, it was relatively easy for those unduly challenged by conventional education to take an alternative route. Many of the great discoveries made during the incredibly productive 18th and 19th centuries were made by those with little formal education such as Michael Faraday and Benjamin Franklin.

Now such is the lock of the academic establishment, that it would be hard for people like Faraday and Franklin to gain even a menial position in a research organisation. Those who fail in conventional education are more likely to move to new technologies such as computers where formal qualifications are still regarded with some suspicion and the self taught and talented are well able to make their own way.

Part 3 of a 3 part series

Ⓒ Robert Gray 2007