Did you know that many states use 4th grade literacy tests to estimate future prison populations? That and other facts can be seen by watching PBS’s new Misunderstood Minds series.

In this series (and companion website) researchers and experts try to explain why millions of American children struggle in school today due to what many believe are just normal differences in the way each of us learn.

The site is a very good resource for those dealing with a child who is having problems in school (or even before) and there are many interactive tests you can take that can help determine how differences in the way you learn may affect your performance.

I was turned on to this idea because, in so many ways, my little bother Kelby (from the Big Brother Big Sister Program) is very intelligent when speaking, however he has a very tough time reading things that I think a 9 year-old should be able to read. Underscoring my experiences with him is the fact that he has to attend special remedial classes for reading and math. This is a source of great embarrassment for young Kelby, and he often tells me how he wishes he didn’t have to be separated from the “normal” kids. Aside from the hit to his self-esteem, I am not so sure the remedial classes help him as much as they could because they may not take into account the way Kelby learns.

A recent episode of Oprah (yeah I watch it) was devoted to this idea that people learn in different ways and we are just now beginning to understand that. Some common differences in the way we learn are:

-Some children are very creative and write imaginatively, but do poorly in history because weak memory skills prevent them from retaining facts.

-Some students are weak in sequential ordering and can’t follow directions. They may test poorly, and often don’t do well in mathematics.

-Some students cannot process information when it comes to them in large “chunks” and it is only when it is broken down that they can comprehend it and retain it.

More information can be found in the book A Mind at a Time by Dr. Mel Levine.

The only problems with these specialized techniques for teaching individual students stem from the fact that there already are not enough teachers and the ones we do have must cope with classroom sizes upwards of 35 children per class. Teachers cannot be expected (within the current system) to seek out the differences in the ways each of their pupils learn and then structure lessons that are unique for them. Even with awareness (there are programs that teachers can go through to become better at dealing with these problems), the job of the teacher must be increasingly frustrating.