[This one is for my sister: This story might also shed some light on the dark shadows I carried around until my late twenties.]
Recently the status regarding my nephew: my sister’s second child, has moved from PDD NOS to being a HDD kid.
The labels hardly mean anything to me. Sure: there is something different with this kid. It is not hard to notice when you observe him. It is hard to communicate with him, get connected, get a conversation going. Yes: he talks, but when he does it is a monologue about the things going on in his mind.
And I got pissed off. A new label does not provide any concrete solution, as the bias of schooling in general is not about the development of kids, but about getting them ready “for the world”. I said to my sister: “Maybe the best thing you get out of putting him to a special school will be that it will not obstruct his personal creative development.”
Recently I watched this video on TED labelled “Ken Robinson says school kills creativity”.
Just watch it before reading on.
As a kid teachers simply did not know what to do with me. And this was the literal thing they said to my parents, each year at the “ouderavond” where each kid was evaluated in a teacher to parent meeting. I was a strange one. A dreamer. In most classes I simply was gone inside my own mind. I showed some talent in drawing, moving way beyond that of the other kids.
To give you an example: I figured at age 10 — based on the data in the encyclopedia we had at home — that there is a logical buildup in the distance of each planet from the sun and that based on the graph I drew, one of the planets in our solar system was missing: the one labelled “???” in this reproduction and located between Mars and Jupiter. Also, I figured, Uranus is misbehaving a bit, as the distance should be somewhat like 17 AU to make the graph nicely rounded. But hey: there can be many reasons for that. (I tried then to incorporate the mass of the planets as well to solve the discrepancies, but failed as my mathematical knowledge sucked then and still lacks now.)
Somewhere at age 11 I figured that the earth and moon do not rotate around the sun, but more likely follows a sinus-wave or a curly-line as the sun itself moves through space as well. Taking the rotation and movement of the Milky way not in account, I came up with these concepts:
I found stuff like that much more interesting than the things we got as part of the lesson plan but none of my teachers understood what the fuck I was talking about as it was not part of the program. Second, I found no correlation between the different topics we got, no connection to anything substantial in the world around me, or the items in the lesson plan as such.
It was only when I discovered Science Fiction in that same period that things fell into place for me. Suddenly there was a form of daring thinking that broke through the barriers I felt all around me. I devoured Keith Laumer, Harry Harrison, Jack Vance, Ursula le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, A.E van Voght and the German Perry Rhodan series. Where I failed hard writing essays about “what I experienced during my holiday” in the past I suddenly bloomed writing SF adventure stories about kids being abducted in A.E. van Voght type of stories, blowing up spaceships. Honestly, I think it saved my sanity as there was hardly any impulse in my surrounding waking me from a kind of mental absence that is still very disturbing to me now. (Part of me must have basically been bored out of my mind by the lack of truly interesting stuff to ponder about.)
As I did not give a toss about school, the lesson plans, the repercussions of not fitting in, the rewarding systems based on numbers in reports (which were completely alien to me) and so on, it was quite a surprise that I turned out to be the second most intelligent kid in my class, with a score above 120 where most of the high achievers only reached a maximum of 100 to 104. (I remember my score to be 128 but could be wrong.)
Being an underachiever and weird from many perspectives — also in the eyes of my fellow classmates — I would now very likely have been registered as “Autistic” or something similar.
I kind of get why our public schooling system is how it is. We are prepared to become part of the working class of society where our general knowledge will be focused more and more to the role we will take in society as we grow older. In most cases as an employee in one or another company, being part of the bigger machine that feeds us, provides us food, cars, coffee and TV. The systems we use for teaching are measurable. The amount of information transferred to the students for each next school year is plannable.
The only pity is that most of that information has been moved to the garbage can of memory before ten years are gone. I might remember 10% of my education if I am lucky and reading and basic mathematics is maybe 80% of that 10%. Everything I do and know now is based on self-education, fed by a strong curiosity, by determination, by looking at the niches where I can be valuable in the market and a strong internal drive to create specific things. And by being a “dreamer” like this, in 2007 and 2008 I made between 10.000 to 14.000 euro per month.
In one sense, each kid is an Economical Unit. By becoming part of the economic machine as it grows older, it keeps the system running: producing goods, building stuff, spending the earnings, helping to circulate the lifeblood of money in the network of the economic system. (It pays a country to stimulate parents to have more kids, as more kids = more Economical Units. When the birthrate drops, many governments worry about the economical implications on the long term.)
In one sense, our schooling system and our culture is aimed at putting aside listening to our internal drives and replace them for following external drives. Most kids do not give a shit about most of the stuff they learn at school, but as you get punished by disobedience and rewarded for obedience and being a “good kid” we slowly are trained into the system of following the lead of someone else and forgetting what we originally wanted and even who we originally were and where we originally started: as playful kids, with open minds and curious about each other and the world around us.
The basis of this system is mechanical. It does not matter if it does not connect to your emotional being. At some point you simply have roles to fulfill inside that machine and if you manage to adapt yourself and fit in, you are lucky. You can earn money, buy a house, make promotion, earn more money, buy a car, buy a bigger car, a bigger house, a new couch, make more promotion, retire, sit in your home all day, maybe become more and more estranged from the world around you as your main input are the media and TV shows, move to a retirement home and die.
To be able to function in most roles, you will have to learn to set your own private thinking and passions aside. In most cases and most companies creative thinking and re-routing possibly dysfunctional processes is neither rewarded nor stimulated as it might obstruct the mechanics of the system and the politics of exclusivity running underneath. A system in most cases still based on the model of specialized and clearly distinct roles within each part of the system of a factory that Ford developed.
In most of those systems you get the biggest rewards when you are able to bend your mind in the model of the system you are part of.
Again: schooling and the schooling system as I experienced was aimed at preparing you for the working life and also based on the old fashioned systems of the working life. These systems only require you to be able to reproduce knowledge. They do not require you to be creative, nor stimulate you to develop your own voice, nor stimulate you to try and see things different (unless you enter the academic world of research and development where the rules of the game are slightly different).
Times have changed
In the past 20 years or so, there have been many revolutions. The world as we used to know before is falling apart. Companies no longer offer you a life-time warrenty of work. People no longer stay until their retirement at the same place. You do no longer need to produce solid goods in factories to become a multi-billion dollar company (like Google, Microsoft). Being a part of the machine is losing value to being creative and smart. Reality is shifting all the time. Fluidness has become a constant.
To be able to learn facts and reproduce information becomes less and less relevant as we will have more and more systems to run calculations and simulations in and more and more information directly accessible via our fingertips.
The sustainability of information is deteriorating. What you know as a fact today might already be irrelevant tomorrow.
To be able to function in an organizational system based on mechanical models is becoming less and less an asset as it requires you to kill your own passions, kill your own personality to be able to survive in the narrow minded political games played in many places and kill your own creativity during the daytime.
A more humane approach to teaching and learning
What if we would focus on what kids like? What if we would stimulate them to investigate? What if we would train them to find ways and methods you can use to crack problems? Why not give them challenges matching their interest levels and personal development stage? What about team play and self organizing groups? What if they learn how to transfer knowledge and experience to each other and thus become their own teachers? What about negotiation and finding the balance in things and situations? Finding out how to define the roles you can play in different situations?
Information is no longer scarce. Information is no longer sustainable as the world now will reflect in no way the world as it will be five years from now. To learn the capital of whatever country or province is a waste of time as you can find that information in seconds, including any kind of information regarding the history, development and mechanics that formed those places.
“How to” is sustainable. Occams razor (to name one) is still viable as a tool to find the possible cause of a problem.
It very likely will be scary, as kids would learn how to understand this world in more ways than we have ever, have learned to express themselves, have learned to negotiate places, tasks and roles as conscious processes and in some cases are able to surpass us on a very early stage in their live. It would be scary as they will have their own minds in much more clear ways as we have learned to use ours. It might be scary as they might learn the tricks to de-construct the “reality” we adults tend to cling on to as “the way it is”.
The result of abuse and disorders
There is no utopian solution. You will still have to deal with power plays and sick games coming forth from environments of mental and physical abuse. An kids who are born with a mental disorder or who are overdosed on stimuli like sugar and artificial colorants in “food” will be inclusive in the model. But there kids can show a tremendous problem-solving / self organizing capacity.
Dead people everywhere
The norm depressed me in a very early stage. I guess I was a bit too young to start to get this kind of nihilistic shit. Cycling to school as a 10 year old kid, I saw mostly houses with dead people inside, living their single-minded life for years and years without any change until they became old and died. Dead inside from a mental point of view: doing their work, going home, eat, sleep (the thought of these – in my eyes mostly ugly, old and sour – people fucking disgusted me as everyone older than 20 seemed geriatric to me) and criticizing anything and anybody that was different, that broke the norm. Slaves. Automatons, hardly called living. My grandparents were great examples in that: never reaching for more than their average lives, never questioning anything including the total mindstopping riducule of their religion.
I think I loathed the human condition in general at that point and the arrogance of whatever and whomever to consider humans “the crown on creation” as the fucking Christians would see us. At age 14 I considered myself to own the mind of a 60 year old an humans to be the most destructive force on and to this planet: killing of thousands of speicies of animals, murdering forests and ecosystems to feed the destructive greed. A earth-killing virus. In my opinion at that time, the best thing that could happen was a mass destruction of mankind, without any distinction of who or what. (I have become milder about this in the years 🙂
I guess at that time I also developed this safeguard of “I can always step out by killing myself” being actually quite an optimistic thought as there WAS a way out of this all.
It took me until I reached the age of 15 to become enlightened to the true horror of all this, working in a company producing electronics for Coffee Machines. In one single night my mind brutally smashed through a chain of associations regarding the pointlessness of it all, smashing the concepts that people had tried to sell me as “reality and truth” into the realm of “collective fabrications with underlying pointlessness”, “collective lies” and “what people call lives is nothing more than occupational therapy, things to keep them busy”. A place I decided I did not want my kids to grow up in. (As I also believe that kids are not the ones to make the future better: we are.)
The big mistake I made then was to equate the people with the system we are in. Although the mix of influences from schooling, environment, media and the system of religious, governmental, social and commercial propaganda I grew up in, helps pushing our minds in specific directions and although many people accept this mix as “true” and “our reality”, it is unfair to point fingers at people.
I advised my sister today (June 13, 2009) to find out what makes my nephew go “Yeah!” The difficulty is that it is really hard to reach him. As he likes to play Lego and likes to play games I suggested her to get him started with Unity 3D or something similar. It offers an environment in which he can build complete worlds. It has built-in physics so that you can make things bump. And you can build games in it. As it does have quite a learning curve, this might be quite the challenge but who knows. I started toying with electronics when I was 9 years old and although I did not understand all of it, I was able to make some fun stuff with 2 transistors, 5 resistors, 2 capacitors and anything I could get out of trashed TV-sets I found at pavements on garbage day in later years.
This might not land the kid a solid job with a solid wager in a classically styled company, but fuck: even that means nothing anymore when your kid gets sacked after one and a half year because the shareholders go through their cyclic five year itch in which they decide the company is not making enough profit.