A persuasive critique of the concept of physiologically induced learning dysfunctions. If Johnny can't read and is not retarded, emotionally disturbed, or ""socially disadvantaged""--then he obviously has a ""minimum neurological dysfunction."" His learning difficulties come from his genes or perhaps from lead poisoning or something else that whacked up his brain. This theory, says Coles (psychiatry/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School), underpins the special education programs that have proliferated over the past 20 years in US schools. He points out that the neurological dysfunction theory neatly absolves society, the family and the schools of responsibility for many children's learning problems. He then proceeds to examine in detail and demolish virtually all the research and scientific experiments that have attempted to prove a neurological basis for reading difficulties. ""The starting points of many learning difficulties,"" he writes, ""are complex individual attributes and social relationships."" The family environment can inadvertently trigger learning problems, and the traditional classroom--with its tendency to gloss over individual differences and to put too little emphasis on reading readiness (especially phonics and phonemics)--can foster them. In any event, he claims, ""Schools have always failed to educate a sizable number of children. ""Curiously, Coles does not enlighten us as to whether special education itself, with its small classes and one-on-one instruction, has or has not helped a significant number of kids overcome reading problems. Still, his thesis itself is provocative indeed.