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Olympic Training for the Brain: The Arrowsmith Revolution

Michal Eisikowitz

Ever since the educational community has begun understanding learning disabilities, they’ve accepted them with resignation; there’s no cure, but we’ll help you make the best of a difficult situation. Enter Arrowsmith and the rules of the game changed. Suddenly, there were those who not only believed that learning disabilities could be cured – they even claimed to be able to do so.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

 “If I only had a brain … I could think of things I never thunk before,” lamented the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

Laughable musings, to be sure.

But comical as they are, millions of children think along similar lines. Miserable in school and frustrated with themselves, these children may be unable to read, tell time, carry on a conversation, or do simple arithmetic. They often deem themselves worthless or stupid because they just can’t “get it.” They are the children we refer to as learning disabled.


Learning Disabled: What does it really mean?

A learning disability is traditionally defined as difficulty learning in a typical manner, usually due to an unknown factor in the brain. One of the fastest growing disorders — with an escalating rate of diagnosis — learning disabilities now affect 6 percent of all children in the US.

Learning disabled (LD) children, however, have little in common with the brainless scarecrow. In their cases, there is certainly no absentee brain; many LD children are extraordinarily bright. In fact, if intelligence tests show that a child’s cognitive ability is much higher than his or her academic performance, this is often considered grounds for a diagnosis of learning disability.

Orit Bernstein*, the mother of a learning-disabled child, relates a fascinating incident that illustrates this point.

“When my daughter went for her preschool interview, the principal pulled out a color chart and asked her to name a particular color. Because she had severe word retrieval and memory problems, my daughter could not come up with the name.

“ ‘That’s not my favorite color,’ she responded. She was smart enough to know that naming colors was her weakness, and she tried to squirm her way out of failure by diverting his attention from the actual question.”

Clearly, LD children can be highly intelligent; their disability emerges only when they are tasked with conventional learning: reading, writing, math, and related subjects.


Arrowsmith: The Revolution

Until recently, learning disabilities were considered incurable, and children were offered only compensatory support. But an innovative program founded by Toronto’s Barbara Arrowsmith Young has set off a nationwide revolution in the LD community. Based on the nontraditional premise that learning disabilities can be totally cured or significantly reduced, the Arrowsmith program results have astounded educators, parents, and children all over Canada and the United States.

What is the Arrowsmith methodology based on? What are its limitations? Why is it so popular among Orthodox Jews? And how does it achieve the success alleged by enamored parents and educators?

Family First spoke with Arrowsmith’s chief educational officer, Annette Goodman; its principal opponent, Dr. Linda Siegel; and numerous educators, parents, and students to find answers to these intriguing questions.


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