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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

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