The poisoned brain
March 14th 2008, 11:46 | Bryan Hubbard
Are we poisoning our children to the extent that they can't function in the classroom?
A new study into the abilities of children in the UK who are failing basic exams known as SATS has discovered that 55 per cent have an undetected learning problem such as dyslexia.
If this were extrapolated across the nation, the numbers of British children with learning difficulties would be around 2 million, 20 times the 76,000 who are currently officially recognised as having dyslexia and the like.
Whenever studies like this are published - and always they seem to suggest a problem that's more more prevalent than government figures ever admit - experts explain that dyslexia is related to genetic factors. If this were always the case, we shouldn't be seeing an explosion in the numbers of children who are struggling at school.
A more interesting possibility comes from developmental psychologist Maryanne Wolf who, in her excellent book 'Proust and the Squid', explains that reading is a facility we learn and, as we do, so we 'educate' our neural networks that create new pathways that enable us to read and write. In a fascinating aside, she says the Chinese have completely different neural pathways in their brain that have been created by their own language and character set.
If this is so, something other than genetics may also be playing a part in slowing - or stopping - the creation of the neural pathways required for reading.
In a separate study published this week, researchers have discovered that diesel fumes affect the way our brain functions, although they don't yet know if our abilities are also impaired by these pollutants (see our News section). This suggests that our brains may be affected by a range of environmental and chemical assaults - not just diesel fumes, but also pesticides, electro-pollution, and pharmaceuticals - and the affect may be far worse in young and developing brains.
Over the past 50 years or so, we've been cavalier in our use of petro-chemicals and electro-magnetic technology. We've sprayed our crops with pesticides, we've given our children mobile phones, and we've vaccinated them with more than 20 different chemicals - all in the name of progress, and a safer and healthier world.
The legacy may be a generation that has more children with cognitive difficulties than ever before. Perhaps it's time to reconsider the level of poisons to which we expose our children. The alternative would be catastrophic.