robertogreco + ronsuskind   3

The Educational Tyranny of the Neurotypicals | WIRED
"Ben Draper, who runs the Macomber Center for Self Directed Learning, says that while the center is designed for all types of children, kids whose parents identify them as on the autism spectrum often thrive at the center when they’ve had difficulty in conventional schools. Ben is part of the so-called unschooling movement, which believes that not only should learning be self-directed, in fact we shouldn't even focus on guiding learning. Children will learn in the process of pursuing their passions, the reasoning goes, and so we just need to get out of their way, providing support as needed.

Many, of course, argue that such an approach is much too unstructured and verges on irresponsibility. In retrospect, though, I feel I certainly would have thrived on “unschooling.” In a recent paper, Ben and my colleague Andre Uhl, who first introduced me to unschooling, argue that it not only works for everyone, but that the current educational system, in addition to providing poor learning outcomes, impinges on the rights of children as individuals.

MIT is among a small number of institutions that, in the pre-internet era, provided a place for non-neurotypical types with extraordinary skills to gather and form community and culture. Even MIT, however, is still trying to improve to give these kids the diversity and flexibility they need, especially in our undergraduate program.

I'm not sure how I'd be diagnosed, but I was completely incapable of being traditionally educated. I love to learn, but I go about it almost exclusively through conversations and while working on projects. I somehow kludged together a world view and life with plenty of struggle, but also with many rewards. I recently wrote a PhD dissertation about my theory of the world and how I developed it. Not that anyone should generalize from my experience—one reader of my dissertation said that I’m so unusual, I should be considered a "human sub-species." While I take that as a compliment, I think there are others like me who weren’t as lucky and ended up going through the traditional system and mostly suffering rather than flourishing. In fact, most kids probably aren’t as lucky as me and while some types are more suited for success in the current configuration of society, a huge percentage of kids who fail in the current system have a tremendous amount to contribute that we aren’t tapping into.

In addition to equipping kids for basic literacy and civic engagement, industrial age schools were primarily focused on preparing kids to work in factories or perform repetitive white-collar jobs. It may have made sense to try to convert kids into (smart) robotlike individuals who could solve problems on standardized tests alone with no smartphone or the internet and just a No. 2 pencil. Sifting out non-neurotypical types or trying to remediate them with drugs or institutionalization may have seemed important for our industrial competitiveness. Also, the tools for instruction were also limited by the technology of the times. In a world where real robots are taking over many of those tasks, perhaps we need to embrace neurodiversity and encourage collaborative learning through passion, play, and projects, in other words, to start teaching kids to learn in ways that machines can’t. We can also use modern technology for connected learning that supports diverse interests and abilities and is integrated into our lives and communities of interest.

At the Media Lab, we have a research group called Lifelong Kindergarten, and the head of the group, Mitchel Resnick, recently wrote a book by the same name. The book is about the group’s research on creative learning and the four Ps—Passion, Peers, Projects, and Play. The group believes, as I do, that we learn best when we are pursuing our passion and working with others in a project-based environment with a playful approach. My memory of school was "no cheating,” “do your own work,” "focus on the textbook, not on your hobbies or your projects," and "there’s time to play at recess, be serious and study or you'll be shamed"—exactly the opposite of the four Ps.

Many mental health issues, I believe, are caused by trying to “fix” some type of neurodiversity or by simply being insensitive or inappropriate for the person. Many mental “illnesses” can be “cured” by providing the appropriate interface to learning, living, or interacting for that person focusing on the four Ps. My experience with the educational system, both as its subject and, now, as part of it, is not so unique. I believe, in fact, that at least the one-quarter of people who are diagnosed as somehow non-neurotypical struggle with the structure and the method of modern education. People who are wired differently should be able to think of themselves as the rule, not as an exception."
neurotypicals  neurodiversity  education  schools  schooling  learning  inequality  elitism  meritocracy  power  bias  diversity  autism  psychology  stevesilberman  schooliness  unschooling  deschooling  ronsuskind  mentalhealth  mitchresnick  mit  mitemedialab  medialab  lifelongkindergarten  teaching  howweteach  howwelearn  pedagogy  tyranny  2018  economics  labor  bendraper  flexibility  admissions  colleges  universities  joiito 
november 2018 by robertogreco
The New York Times > Magazine > In the Magazine: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush
"In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''"

[Ron Suskind, the writer, is quoting of Karl Rove.]

[via Adam Greenfield's newsletter 01 July 2015]
ronsuskind  reality  georgewbush  karlrove  2004  2002  empires  us  imperialism  via:adamgreenfield  faith  certainty 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney - NYTimes.com
[Don't read this here, go read the entire article.]
[Update (20 Sept 2014): Now Radio Lab has done a story. http://www.radiolab.org/story/juicervose/ ]

"Owen’s chosen affinity clearly opened a window to myth, fable and legend that Disney lifted and retooled, just as the Grimm Brothers did, from a vast repository of folklore. Countless cultures have told versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which dates back 2,000 years to the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” and certainly beyond that. These are stories human beings have always told themselves to make their way in the world.

But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times.

The latest research that Cornelia and I came across seems to show that a feature of autism is a lack of traditional habituation, or the way we become used to things. Typically, people sort various inputs, keep or discard them and then store those they keep. Our brains thus become accustomed to the familiar. After the third viewing of a good movie, or a 10th viewing of a real favorite, you’ve had your fill. Many autistic people, though, can watch that favorite a hundred times and seemingly feel the same sensations as the first time. While they are soothed by the repetition, they may also be looking for new details and patterns in each viewing, so-called hypersystemizing, a theory that asserts that the repetitive urge underlies special abilities for some of those on the spectrum.

Disney provided raw material, publicly available and ubiquitous, that Owen, with our help, built into a language and a tool kit. I’m sure, with enough creativity and energy, this can be done with any number of interests and disciplines. For some kids, their affinity is for train schedules; for others, it’s maps. While our household may not be typical, with a pair of writerly parents and a fixation on stories — all of which may have accentuated and amplified Owen’s native inclinations — we have no doubt that he shares a basic neurological architecture with people on the autism spectrum everywhere.

The challenge is how to make our example useful to other families and other kids, whatever their burning interest. That’s what Team Owen seems to be talking about. How does this work? Is there a methodology? Can it be translated from anecdote to analysis and be helpful to others in need?"



"The room gets quiet. It’s clear that many of these students have rarely, if ever, had their passion for Disney treated as something serious and meaningful.

One young woman talks about how her gentle nature, something that leaves her vulnerable, is a great strength in how she handles rescue dogs. Another mentions “my brain, because it can take me on adventures of imagination.”

A young man, speaking in a very routinized way with speech patterns that closely match the “Rain Man” characterization of autism, asks me the date of my birth. I tell him, and his eyes flicker. “That was a Friday.”

When I ask the group which Disney character they most identify with, the same student, now enlivened, says Pinocchio and eventually explains, “I feel like a wooden boy, and I’ve always dreamed of feeling what real boys feel.” The dorm counselor, who told me ahead of time that this student has disciplinary issues and an unreachable emotional core, then compliments him — “That was beautiful,” she says — and looks at me with astonishment. I shrug. He’d already bonded in a soul-searching way with his character. I just asked him which one.

It goes on this way for an hour. Like a broken dam. The students, many of whom have very modest expressive speech, summon subtle and deeply moving truths.

There’s a reason — a good-enough reason — that each autistic person has embraced a particular interest. Find that reason, and you will find them, hiding in there, and maybe get a glimpse of their underlying capacities. In our experience, we found that showing authentic interest will help them feel dignity and impel them to show you more, complete with maps and navigational tools that may help to guide their development, their growth. Revealed capability, in turn, may lead to a better understanding of what’s possible in the lives of many people who are challenged."



"For nearly a decade, Owen has been coming to see Griffin in this basement office, trying to decipher the subtle patterns of how people grow close to one another. That desire to connect has always been there as, the latest research indicates, it may be in all autistic people; their neurological barriers don’t kill the desire, even if it’s deeply submerged. And this is the way he still is — autism isn’t a spell that has been broken; it’s a way of being. That means the world will continue to be inhospitable to him, walking about, as he does, uncertain, missing cues, his heart exposed. But he has desperately wanted to connect, to feel his life, fully, and — using his movies and the improvised tool kit we helped him build — he’s finding his footing. For so many years, it was about us finding him, a search joined by Griffin and others. Now it was about him finding himself.

“Owen, my good friend,” Griffin says, his eyes glistening, “it’s fair to say, you’re on your way.”

Owen stands up, that little curly-haired boy now a man, almost Griffin’s height, and smiles, a knowing smile of self-awareness.

“Thank you, Rafiki,” Owen says to Griffin. “For everything.”

“Is friendship forever?” Owen asks me.

“Yes, Owen, it often is.”

“But not always.”

“No, not always.”

It’s later that night, and we’re driving down Connecticut Avenue after seeing the latest from Disney (and Pixar), “Brave.” I think I understand now, from a deeper place, how Owen, and some of his Disney Club friends, use the movies and why it feels so improbable. Most of us grow from a different direction, starting as utterly experiential, sorting through the blooming and buzzing confusion to learn this feels good, that not so much, this works, that doesn’t, as we gradually form a set of rules that we live by, with moral judgments at the peak.

Owen, with his reliance from an early age on myth and fable, each carrying the clarity of black and white, good and evil, inverts this pyramid. He starts with the moral — beauty lies within, be true to yourself, love conquers all — and tests them in a world colored by shades of gray. It’s the sidekicks who help him navigate that eternal debate, as they often do for the heroes in their movies.

“I know love lasts forever!” Owen says after a few minutes.

We’re approaching Chevy Chase Circle, five minutes from where we live. I know I need to touch, gently, upon the notion that making friends or finding love entails risk. There’s no guarantee of forever. There may be heartbreak. But we do it anyway. I drop this bitter morsel into the mix, folding around it an affirmation that he took a risk when he went to an unfamiliar place on Cape Cod, far from his friends and home, and found love. The lesson, I begin, is “to never be afraid to reach out.”

He cuts me off. “I know, I know,” he says, and then summons a voice for support. It’s Laverne, the gargoyle from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“Quasi,” he says. “Take it from an old spectator. Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’s all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without you.”

He giggles under his breath, then does a little shoulder roll, something he does when a jolt of emotion runs through him. “You know, they’re not like the other sidekicks.”

He has jumped ahead of me again. I scramble. “No? How?”

“All the other sidekicks live within their movies as characters, walk around, do things. The gargoyles only live when Quasimodo is alone with them.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because he breathes life into them. They only live in his imagination.”

Everything goes still. “What’s that mean, buddy?”

He purses his lips and smiles, chin out, as if he got caught in a game of chess. But maybe he wanted to. “It means the answers are inside of him,” he says.

“Then why did he need the gargoyles?”

“He needed to breathe life into them so he could talk to himself. It’s the only way he could find out who he was.”

“You know anyone else like that?”

“Me.” He laughs a sweet, little laugh, soft and deep. And then there’s a long pause.

“But it can get so lonely, talking to yourself,” my son Owen finally says. “You have to live in the world.”"
autism  learning  parenting  comics  disney  health  movies  communication  fables  myths  legends  morals  ablerism  capabilities  abilities  differentlyabled  capacities  howwelearn  howweteach  neurotypical  psychology  dignity  interestedness  connection  love  howwelove  friednship  teaching  listening  folklore  via:timmaly  ronsuskind  interested 
march 2014 by robertogreco

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