Which Queue?

It is annoying when one is in a long line – at a ticket counter, at a supermarket, at a bank – and someone “jumps the queue,” taking a position in line ahead of other people who lined up first. The title of Mark Kelman and Gillian Lester’s book, Jumping the Queue, gives the reader advance warning of the authors’ position on people who edge ahead in line. But the topic of their book is not ticket, supermarket, or bank lines, but rather the line to enjoy the benefits of society. And the focus of the analysis of queue-jumpers is not on customers in the commercial marketplace, but on a particular group of students in the academic marketplace. These students are ones who have been identified as having learning disabilities. Kelman and Lester’s book covers diverse topics in its eight chapters totaling 313 pages, including technical controversies (pp. 17-36), the federal regulatory framework (pp. 37-66), local practice (including diagnosis and placement) (pp. 67-92), resource management and discipline (pp. 93-116), extra resources for the classroom teacher (pp. 117-60), accommodation on law school exams (pp. 161- 94), and ideology and entitlement (pp. 195-226). There are many points of view from which learning disabilities can be approached, and the authors’ point of view, indicated by the subtitle, “an inquiry into the legal treatment of students with learning disabilities.” The subtitle is appropriate; the book reads more as an inquiry than as a presentation of a strong stand regarding what needs to be done, legally or otherwise. At times, the authors’ unwillingness to take strong or even clearcut stands is frustrating. Conclusions often get lost in what, for two reviewers who are psychologists, appear to be technical legal thickets. But it is clear that Kelman and Lester are skeptical of the preferential treatment given to those identified with learning disabilities, because they point out – correctly, we believe – that the accommodations that benefit individuals identified as having learning disabilities would benefit virtually anyone (pp. 172- 73). The authors also express skepticism of whether the system is just, granting as it does special legal privileges to those who have no unique moral, psychological, or educational claim to these privileges (Chapter 8). Because the book is an examination primarily of legal issues, it addresses somewhat superficially what we believe to be the most fundamental problem pertaining to learning disabilities. This problem is that the concept as it is used in practice is invalid. We have no doubt that the concept of a learning disability is, in theory, veridical. But there is a big gap between theory and practice. We seek in this review to deal with this issue, because it renders the societal legal discussion moot. The laws cannot be just if they are based on a classificatory system that makes little or no psychological or educational sense. The book also may make a false assumption in assuming there is a single queue. Neither success, nor abilities, nor practically anything else that really matters in life is unidimensional. Learning disabilities certainly are not.