The Impact and History of Learning Disorders on Children Essay

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The Impact and History of Learning Disorders on Children

In his 1954 majority opinion in Brown v. Board, Chief Justice Warren laid out concisely the fundamental role that education would play in postwar America:

“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later
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Of course, with a focus on academic achievement came increased scrutiny of academic failure. The two main past impediments to universal education appeared to be near resolution—all children were now able to attend school and schools existed for all children to attend. And yet, what did it mean that, despite the increased access to and importance of primary education, some children were still failing? And how has our understanding of the reasons for failure changed since we first began to be concerned by it?

The changing perceptions of attention-deficit disorder in particular offer a tantalizing window into modern debates over learning disabilities and academic achievement. ADHD is a disorder whose depiction is both characteristic of other learning disabilities that entered the national consciousness after World War II, and it is a disorder uniquely positioned among learning disabilities as one that is treatable by medication. The treatment of atypical behavior as a medical illness—especially with drugs—is a culminating feature of what child guidance historian Theresa Richardson calls the “medicalization of maladjustment” that was unique to the child guidance movement in the first half of the twentieth century and under girds today’s mainstream child psychology. It also puts ADHD in a difficult position to evaluate historically—it is at once a part of popular advice
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