Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: The Myth of Laziness by Mel Levine M.D.

I was watching Oprah while feeding Mighty Mouse when I first heard Dr. Mel Levine speak. A renown American pediatrician, Dr. Levine had written a book, A Mind at a Time, about the the varying neurodevelopmental systems involved in learning and how relative strengths and weaknesses can effect a child's ability to succeed. Given that I had a newborn in my arms, I was strangely alert--more so than I'd been in weeks. I prayed that Emma would keep sleeping until the interview was over. She did. Days later I bought the book and spent the subsequent weeks reading snippets between feedings, play groups, diaper changes, and naps. When I was done, I broke the news to the Captain.

"I think I want to teach."

The Myth of Laziness, a second book by Dr. Levine, focuses on neurodevelopmental dysfunctions which contribute to a person's inability to get work--particularly written work--done. As the title states clearly, the doctor believes that laziness does not exist, that every person possesses an inherent need to contribute and succeed. It is his theory that success deprivation leads to avoidance behaviours which we, in turn, label as laziness.

Through eight case studies, Levine illustrates how varying combinations of neurological glitches can result in an individual's inability to produce and, when addressed, how a person can rise on the wind of his own success. The deficits discussed include: graphomotor dysfunction, impaired memory feed into output, poor active working memory, difficulty converting thought into language, poor organization, impaired mental energy controls, weak impulse control, and insatiability.

Some cases evoke more sympathy than others: the first case--a boy with significant graphomotor dysfunction among other conditions--breaks my heart; the teenaged multi-millionaire playboy with weak attention controls, not so much. In all cases, reading is not an issue, with difficulties in output typically arising during the middle school years (ages 9 to 12) when demand for written work escalates dramatically. According to Levine, identification of a neurodevelopmental difference is neither a label, nor a get-out-of-work-free pass. Accommodations and pointed interventions at the neurological break down points can help, but won't without the commitment of the child and the child's family and educators.

So, am I convinced? Is laziness a myth? Do all humans have an inherent need to contribute, to succeed? I believe they do, but I must temper this by saying that not all persons can be successful at all things. For instance, I cannot play tennis. My eye-hand coordination is abysmal. No, really. With practice, I might improve, but only marginally and likely not enough to experience adequate emotional or financial payback to warrant the effort. Luckily, I can easily avoid the sport. I need not return a volley in order to keep my children clothed or fed. The impact of this skill deficit is negligible. Now, let's say that, instead of tennis, I was poor at writing. (No snide comments, please!) Writing forces a person to organize her thoughts into words, then sentences and, finally, into a story or argument. What if, through no fault of my own, I couldn't do it? Would I have finished high school, let alone university? Would I have had the ability to identify my strengths in the face of such a flagrant weakness? What would I think of myself? What other means would I use to feel the same pleasure and satisfaction that success affords? How would that shape my personal ethics and values? It's my suspicion that a person's neurodevelopmental profile is a large contributor to the attitude and behaviour we call laziness, but it isn't the only one.


  1. the myth of laziness? hmmm...interesting, makes sense totally just 'cos being idle wouldn't be a tremendously interesting job to do...am curious as to how the author got to the root of the myth...

  2. I think Dr. Levine's argument is that the effects of long term output failure result in low self-worth and rob the effected person their ambition. The author clearly delineates neurodevelopmental weaknesses that result in output failure. What I think warrants further discussion is how a person can move from being a victim of their neurodevelopmental profile to becoming a champion of it.