The Mail

September 21 1998

The Mail

September 21 1998

The Mail


Learning to read

As your cover story “Why kids can’t read” (Sept. 7) points out, the dyslexic brain is “wired differently.” This makes it difficult for the dyslexic to master skills like reading, writing and calculation. But this different brain is superior to the nondyslexic brain in other ways. The problem is that, in order to use their great brains, the dyslexic must first learn these basic skills—a task that most will not accomplish without special help. As a young child, my son was hyperactive, inquisitive, determined, exhausting and inspiring. At 7, neither of his parents could beat him at chess, although he was still years away from knowing b from d. At 13, still unable to tell time, he is an articulate, self-confident young man on the brink of an exciting future. Geneticists believe that when a “bad” gene is common in the population, at some point in man’s evolution, possession of that gene was actually advantageous for survival. If the advantage of the dyslexic gene is not obvious to us, perhaps it is because we nondyslexics are incapable of understanding the wonder of the dyslexic brain and its capabilities. Perhaps my son will help us understand. He’s planning on becoming a psychologist.

J. M. Beamish, Toronto

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR should be addressed to: Maclean’s Magazine Letters 777 Bay St.,Toronto, Ont. M5W IA7 Fax: (416) 596-7730 E-mail: letters@macleans.ca Maclean’s welcomes readers' views, but letters may be edited for space and clarity. Please supply name, address and daytime telephone number. Submissions may appear in Maclean’s electronic sites.

Thank you for “Growing up hyperactive.” It was wonderful to finally find an article that validates the medical condition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and concludes that “parenting is the key component in dealing with hyperactive kids.” The problem is that most people do not realize what a difficult job this is and are highly critical, leading these par£ ents to become isolated because I of negative feedback. I am part of £ a national nonprofit organization § called Children and Adults With □ Attention Deficit Disorder, which I supports families dealing with ADHD. We provide information on parenting techniques, education options, medications and alternatives to medications. Every child is different and there are no easy answers, but just knowing you are not alone is often enough to give a person the will to keep trying.

Susan LaFrance, Calgary

The fact is that most school-age kids can read and many do read (though not as many as one would wish). As for those who can’t read, over 20 years of experience as a literacy educator convince me that for most such children the problem is more social/cultural than neurological. Some children come to school having been immersed in print and the language of books and story from birth, while for others books and print are totally foreign and unknown. It’s not hard to predict which children are likely to be reading casualties. Does this mean that there are no children whose difficulty in learning to read has a neurological basis? No, but I suspect their number is far smaller than the learning disabilities establishment would have us believe.

Robert Bruinsma, Edmonton

You report that, at last, after decades of trying to prove that learning disabilities exist, a researcher has demonstrated that “the reading path in the dyslexic brain is dramatically different from that of a normal reader’s.” It seems that dyslexies rely too much on the visual and memory areas of their brains. This is proof of a biological basis for dyslexia? All it really tells us is that poor readers don’t take advantage of the sound-based nature of written language. If the poor readers had ever been taught how to sound out words, their brains would operate the same way as normal readers’ brains. Literally thousands

Reading and genes

The description of dyslexia as a genetic disorder is very troubling. We as a species have only demanded a general population requirement to be able to read in the last 100 years. It is thus interesting to note how a cultural demand is now being turned into a genetic disorder. Two issues need to be addressed. Assuming the differences in brain activity that the research demonstrates have come about as part of our evolutionary heritage, then the first question is: are there advantages to having your brain activate in the manner correlated with a diagnosis of dyslexia? The second question focuses on the issue of teaching technique. It is a basic tenet of education that people will have different learning styles and thus at times will require different educational techniques. Is this not a global statement that would encompass the need for specialized teaching techniques, at times, for children with dyslexia? Such children then simply become one of many children, all with varying learning characteristics. Following up on these issues is one that is not addressed in the article. If the example programs are successful at teaching children diagnosed with dyslexia, then do the children’s brain patterns then start to mimic the brain patterns of children with no reading problem? If so, the first question I posed becomes a very important societal issue regarding the conservation of cognitive diversity. If the children's brain activity does not become synonymous with that of able readers, then what is the brain-imagery research telling us regarding dyslexia?

Dr. Douglas Lee, North Vancouver

of researchers have looked for a biological basis for learning disabilities. Not one has panned out. To date, there is no reason to believe that there is such a thing as a learning disability. Taught properly, nearly every child is capable of learning to read fluently by the end of Grade 1. Educators have a choice. They can 1) use proven teaching methods and have all children reading by the end of Grade 1; or 2) use faulty teaching methods and label the nonreaders “learning disabled.” According to your article, almost 50 per cent of adolescents who commit suicide have been previously diagnosed with learning disabilities. Perhaps option 1 would be preferable.

Malkin Dare, Organization for Quality Education,

Waterloo, Ont.


When 'right' matters

As a pharmacist working with student pharmacy technicians at the college level, how can I help those who have learned in their school careers that the “one ‘right’ answer” doesn’t matter (“The new new math,” Education, Aug. 17)? In the calculation of a patient’s dose of medication, the right answer does matter. Calculating the wrong dose may have very serious consequences. Some young people may want to become doctors, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians or nurses—careers where right answers matter. I imagine that some other fields like engineering or business may also need highschool graduates who care about the right answer and have basic math skills. We are not helping students when we let them believe that creativity without basic skills will lead to successful lives.

Lynne Thorkelsson, Port Perry, Ont.

I was glad to see Maclean’s article about the new math curriculum that is sweeping the nation, but I was disappointed with the information provided. The article mentions that Marjorie Gann’s daughter could not multiply 382 by 28 without using a calculator. The article leads the reader to believe that this is because she was allowed to use a calculator. You mentioned that “the school did not care.” As a high-school math teacher, I take offence to this. I believe the school does care. Schools are delivering the curriculum that they are required to teach. Parents perceive this as not caring because students are not being taught what they feel students should be taught. Yes, it is true that the new curriculum emphasizes more use of calculators for problem solving. In the real world, calculators are used as a tool in many jobs and professions. I agree that we need to help parents and the community understand what is being accomplished in the new math. However, I would like to see both sides of the issue represented, with illustrative comparisons between the old math and the new math. This would help to truly represent to the public what the new math is.

Terry Kaminski, Cold Lake, Alta.

Junk fax solution

Your article about junk faxes was well written and well researched (“Unsolicited and often unwanted,” Cover, Aug. 17). It was suggested, however, that junk faxes are a pest consumers will have to learn to live with. I have a solution: our company has a fax machine for outbound faxes only and a separate line for inbound faxes which run through a simple computer running the Win-


fax program. We look at each fax and print what we want, and click off into eternal cyberspace those we do not want. Long live our trees!

Harry P. Schneider, Toronto

Canadian cuisine

As a chef instructor, I am pleased that our national magazine has profiled Canadian cuisine and Canadian chefs (“Haute Canuck,” Cover, Aug. 24). For too long, our profession and our cooking have been low profile for, as you point out, many Canadians are still under the impression that food is great only if it comes from France, Italy or California. You could have mentioned that Canada’s team has twice been world champion, in 1984 and 1992, at the international Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt. I’m glad Canadians finally realize what the rest of the world has known for some time.

A. Ormiston, Brandon, Man.

You note that the donkey owned by chef Michael Stadtländer is named Neil Diamond for no apparent reason. The animal was born on our farm on May 24, 1992. He got his name in part because of a diamond-shaped blaze on his nose, which disappeared when he shed his baby hair. My daughter used to practise the clarinet on the upstairs balcony and our herd of 14 donkeys would line up at the fence and honk and bray. After a practice, Neil’s mother, Jacklyn, stayed and sang along to a Neil Diamond tape. The donkey’s name was an obvious choice.

Sue Landstrom, Markdale, Ont.

Parents and teenagers

It is interesting to note that in a diatribe against schools, Jann Flur y does not mention the role of parents once (‘Teenagers and depression,” The Road Ahead, Aug. 17). My husband and I, and not the schools, are responsible for developing the moral and ethical character of our daughter. We don’t expect educators to do our work for us. Perhaps this is where the problem really lies. If children are not given a strong sense of morals at home, what can educators do? After all, who spends the most time with children today, parents or educators?

Elizabeth Davidson, Guelph, Ont

I was truly offended and angered after reading Jann Flury’s comments. Let’s blame the education system for another of society’s ills. Just a minute—where are the parents in this picture? If society gives kids mixed mes-

sages, then what is the parents’ role in helping their child decipher those messages, in developing their child’s self-esteem and giving that child a solid set of values and moral perspective? None, according to Flury. Wrong. In a world of two-working-parent and single-parent families, it isn’t easy to raise kids, but that doesn’t mean people should simply have ’em and leave ’em to teachers to raise. Schools are public servants that are increasingly required to “teach” more social and moral issues than is fair. If schools are “moral wastelands,” that is the result of a society that has no clear image of itself or its values. It is not the fault of the education system. Schools cannot replace parental values and parental education. Maybe it is the parents who need some education and support in raising their kids, and not waiting until they are teens and in crisis.

Michèle Altermann, Guelph, Ont.

The article on teenagers and depression was the most comprehensive, accurate and succinct writing on the subject I have read. Editors and columnists have written thousands of column inches on the subject, yet have never been one-tenth as successful.

R. H. Eldridge, Victoria

Health information

Congratulations on your article “Browser beware!” (Health, July 27). Health reference hotlines or libraries, such as Body Talk, which is part of patient-care services at the University of Virginia Hospital, where I am a volunteer as well as client, do help the often puzzled and panicky patient or a relative learn more about diagnoses, treatments or health issues. Personnel prepare packets

of information relevant to the client’s request, which a phone call or personal interview enables them to refine for greatest specificity. Even so, our library inserts a disclaimer that urges the client to ask a physician about any concerns raised by the material received as well as by his or her state of health. In searching for what is possibly useful, we hope to provide an element of security against the anxieties cited in your article.

Will a Kay Lawall, Charlottesville, Va.

Admiring allegiance

In your review of Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (“Queen of the ego,” Films, Aug. 17), you denigrated a writer I’ve admired for more than 30 years. That ruthless pursuit of selfinterest you say she promotes is what she thoroughly defines as allegiance to one’s own creative best. Her heroes were architects, manufacturers, surgeons, physicists, composers and writers, to name a few. Why should you disparage such a thing?

Brian Wallace, Tweed, Ont.

Great entertainment

Thanks for a great article on a great Canadian export, Cirque du Soleil (“Cirque du success,” Cover, July 27). When I saw the show in Las Vegas, I was absolutely in awe of what an entertaining and creative show it was. When I am in Chicago, I rave about it and tell people I know to see it, and not to waste their money on the rest of the shows Vegas has to offer. What I am most proud of when I boast of the show is that it is made in Canada. My home and native land.

Kevin Shupenia, Geneva, III.


Referendum numbers

The editorial “Fifty-plus-one is not enough” (Sept. 7) is misleading. Slovenia and Lithuania had no other choice but to vote for independence because Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were disintegrating and there was no one from these “mother” countries spending millions during the referendums to say that they are the best countries in the world. Moreover, Lithuania declared its independence first and then had its referendum from which it excluded most of its Russian population. I would rather agree that 50-per-cent-plusone of all eligible voters should be an acceptable majority. This would be easy to achieve by making it compulsory for all eligible Quebec voters to vote in the referendum. Such compulsory voting already exists in many countries, such as Australia and New Zealand;

George Primak, Pierrefonds, Que.

Pay equity appeal

I was deeply disturbed by the decision of the Liberal government to appeal the Human Rights Tribunal decision on the Public Service Alliance of Canada complaint (“The price of equity,” Canada, Sept. 7). The peccadilloes of Bill Clinton pale in comparison to Jean Chrétien screwing 200,000 women in one day. A sad day for underpaid women and those of us who support their struggle.

Monty Montgomery Nepean, Ont.

Congratulations to our federal government for having the nerve to appeal the pay equity ruling. I could accept wage inequity if there was any evidence that men doing the same jobs were getting paid more, but that was never the issue here. In this case, the feminists, forever looking for ways to take advantage of the guilt our politicians feel over the inequities of the past, had to find

Lower taxes to encourage innovation

We are treated to a litany of excuses for the Canadian dollar free-fall— Quebec, Asia, Russia, natural resource dependency, U.S interest rates, Reform party Leader Preston Manning in Hong Kong, and the list goes on. Although Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Finance Minister Paul Martin would prefer we compare our currency to Indonesia’s or Russia’s, our relationship to the United States makes the greenback the only relevant standard for Canadians. Why then has the Canadian economy performed so dismally compared to our southern neighbor?

A major departure in economic policy started during the Trudeau years when Canada slid down the path towards a welfare state. In 1960, government at all levels accounted for 28.6 per cent of gross domestic product in Canada and, 27 per cent in the United States. By 1996, those shares had risen to 44.7 per cent and 33.3 per cent respectively.

This shift in power to government has given Canada the highest taxes in the hemisphere and one of the highest in the OECD countries. What is truly important, however, is the level of taxes in Canada compared to that south of the border. A U.S. entrepreneur establishing a new business gets to keep more of the value created in terms of business tax, personal income tax and capital gains tax. Furthermore, as U.S. taxes are being reduced, the comparison is becoming more odious.

To make the big money, Canadian innovation migrates southward. We have now come full circle, high taxes drive out jobs, lack of jobs sucks resources (taxes) from the

Gordon Brain,

St. George, Ont.

productive working economy, high unemployment weakens the economy, the currency of a less healthy economy loses value.

Maclean’s quotes Martin as saying, “We have got to get ourselves more competitive from a tax point of view.” But the policies he pursues show he is more concerned with the continued funding of a bloated public sector. It is no accident that the only meaningful job creation in Canada is in those provinces that have begun to attack the uncompetitive level of taxation. If “Mr. Prudence” were truly prudent, he would be cutting the job-killing employment insurance premiums, slashing the capital gains tax and setting an objective of making Canada a more attractive place to invest.

It will take a major effort to undo the disastrous economic policies introduced over the past three decades. But the effort will be worthwhile if Canadians are to again aspire to a standard of living somewhat comparable to the Americans’. What steps need to be taken?

• Significantly reduce taxes and state an objective of further cuts to make Canada’s tax levels competitive.

• Substantially reduce the size of the public sector (not merely trim increases).

• Provide greater transparency and accountability of health-care costs. They should be removed from general tax revenue and funded by a combination of a health-care tax and user fees.

• Eliminate duplication in federal and provincial programs.

There is a lot to be done, but the sooner it is started, the better off all Canadians will be.

The Road Ahead invites readers to advance specific solutions to Canada's political, social and economic problems. Unpublished submissions may run condensed as regular letters or appear on an electronic bulletin board.

The Road Ahead


some way to make it seem that men in completely different occupations were actually getting paid more for work of equal value. It doesn’t matter that there’s no objective way to determine the value of a job. If you throw enough pages of statistics at them, people can be influenced to believe that opinion is fact. The feminists have been manipulating the government in this manner for decades. If a woman is paid less than a man doing any other job, it must be discrimination. If a man is paid less than other men, nobody cares.

Steve MacDougall, Burlington, Ont.

So the government has appealed the Human Rights Commission’s decision to award somewhere around $4 billion to women who received less pay than their male counterparts in public sector jobs over many years. Is anyone surprised? I, for one, am not. We cannot correct all the unfairness in this country by paying money, although the trend in recent years appears to favor this approach. I have a solution for the pay inequity situation. Why not turn it around? Perhaps the women were in fact paid correctly, but the men were overpaid. How about rounding up all the overpayments to the men in the public sector jobs over the past, say, 30 years, and paying that back to the government? I’m sure that would be unfair too, because, of course, all that money has been spent. They don’t have the money to pay back; the funds are unavailable. Does that sound familiar?

Nick Argent, Orleans, Ont.

Back-page gentlemen

Delighted to hear that Allan Fotheringham is returning, and thanks for having Peter C. Newman fill that spot these past weeks (“Facing death—and a double deadline,” The Nation’s Business, Sept. 7). Best wishes to both gentlemen with hope they are feeling better every day. And for Mr. Newman: you are right. Canada does need you.

Doug McLaughlin, Victoria

My husband and I read with great interest Peter C .Newman’s account of his heart operation. An angiogram in May revealed that my husband needed immediate attention with 100-per-cent blockage in one artery, two others severely blocked and a valve functioning at 30 per cent. His surgery is scheduled for December, seven months after the angiogram. Obviously, who you are speeds up the process.

Janet M. Liszt, Denman Island, B. C.