Learning Disabilities as Organizational Pathologies
Thomas M. Skrtic
The common view of organizations is that they are merely social tools, mechanisms that societies use to achieve goals that are beyond the reach of individual citizens ( Parsons, 1960). But organizations do more than achieve social goals: The nature and needs of organizations shape the very goals that society uses them to achieve ( Allison, 1971; Scott, 1981). For example, although we seek "health" when we visit the hospital, what we get is "medical care." We are encouraged to see these outcomes as synonymous, of course, but there may be no relation between them, or the relation may be negative; more medical care can result in less health ( Illich, 1976). Like health, education is a social goal that is shaped by the medium of an organization; society wants "education," but what it gets is a particular kind of "schooling," one that, for good or ill, is shaped by the type of organization that is used to provide it.
In this chapter I consider the kind of schooling that conventional school organizations provide and, based on this analysis, reconceptualize the nature, diagnosis, and treatment of learning disabilities from an organizational perspective. As the title indicates, my main contention is that learning disabilities are best thought of as organizational pathologies rather than as intrinsic human pathologies. By making this assertion, I am not denying that there are students who have what are known as learning disabilities or that in many cases learning disabilities are caused by a pathological condition known generally as central nervous system dysfunction. Rather, I am arguing that the very notion of pathology has outlived its usefulness in the field of special education and that learning disabilities professionals and advocates should drop it as a guide to practice and advocacy.