23 January 2006

The Sausage Factory Mentality

Husband had a day off work today.

Maybe you think its a little early to be speaking of that in the past tense, but its now half past three and the children are home from school. Life is noisy and structured again and complete freedom of choice is gone for another day.

I know too many mothers who outperform the men at work yet still joke that they go to the office for a rest. If you ever happen to hear that line, believe it.

I went to collect the children on my own - after all it's freezing cold out there and Husband took them to school today in the first place.

Our son has Asperger's Syndrome - aka Absent Minded Professor Syndrome and for that he is different from many. Daughter, in spite of emerging from the same gene pool, is his polar opposite; neat, structured, willing, tidy, pleasant, conscientious, patient. I love them both to bits although neither is representative of their home environment - I keep joking that Daughter is a throw back to my Mother In Law, who we visit as infrequently as possible. Nonetheless, all things considered my two seem to represent the extremes being highlighted by the recent article The Trouble With Boys, ie the way that the current school system is ignoring certain learning styles, speeds and needs.

I'd argue the toss with Newsweek about that title - the trouble isn't with the boys at all but with the schooling system. I'd also dispute the byline that boys are any more kinetic than girls. Girls have just as much desire to act on things, its just that the female brain seems, by training or inclination, to run an audio digital checklist somewhere between the opportunity and the decision to move. A checklist that goes along the lines of 'would the teacher like it, would mummy tell me off, have I been told this is appropriate.' That's exactly what they are saying the boys do, come puberty. "Would I be laughed at?" is a terrifying thought that runs constantly through the heads of most teenagers, whatever gender, and I think that in all cases the supposed opinion of the immediate peer group holds more sway than that of any adult, male or female.

I leave it to you to discuss whether girls are more sensible or simply more biddable and whether or not the two conditions are the same. Girly girls are certainly easier to educate (as in, not so much work), but you can decide whether being able to rationalise before acting, when that process relies on considering the opinions of others, makes the young female brain more inclined toward leadership, or servitude.
Perhaps we should even be training/freeing females (take your pick) to be more impulsive; not that this would please any educators who have reveled in increasing classroom structure and less need for creative thinking on their part.

Back to my own children. As an example of how male and female brains are built differently (and they are, females form multiple slim connections between left and right hemisphere whilst males tend toward one chunky connection like a fibre optic cable), we have had to give up on family conversations on the way to and from school. Instead we have half way markers, and speak on the topics of choice for one child, then the other.

This morning on the way to school, Daughter, 9, spoke on the pom-poms her class is making at school, using two circles of card and some wool. Son, 11, wanted to talk about renewable power sources, cold fusion and eliminating greenhouse gases, nothing remotely related to the day ahead.

On the way home from school after a day of input, Daughter recounted how she sat next to her best friend at lunch, how she got a hug from the first aid lady after getting a football in the face during (soccer) practice, and how I would need to wash her muddy school plimsolls.

Son made a minor comment about a girl who wrote him a love letter, but that was the end of any feedback from his school day and then he wanted to design memory downloads so you could 'remember' how to fly a helicopter, (like on The Matrix, except he hasn't seen the movie) and wondered how we could train people to access every memory they have ever stored so that the right ones could be copied, zipped and downloaded.

We are all on several sliding scales between extremes and there is no definitive male, female or even human baseline for attitudes or learning styles, independence, tastes, values or opinion. Some of those factors are hardwired and some aren't, but that's not the point.

The scale of relevance here is that some of us will always see the detail and some will see the bigger picture and most will be somewhere between the two. The fact that these inclinations fall into two camps broadly comparative to gender does not in any way make the correlation a rule.

It is the job of the educator to make the material of interest to the extremes and to everyone in between, to appeal to those who need first to be enthused that this is relevant to them, as well as to those who pay attention unquestioningly.

To suggest that an entire gender, let alone children in total, should automatically be of the latter persuasion is unbelievably crass.


The Lady Muck said...

I completely agree. Really good post C.

sidhe said...

There's definitely labelling going on in our schools and our society - it's something that has irritated me since the first day of kindergarten especially with youngest daughter who wasn't "girly" enough for her teacher (in whose presence one felt like one had just sniffed glue)(I ended up homeschooling that year). The best teachers (parents included) recognize that we're all as different from each other as seashells on the beach.

Hey, I've gotta go pick up the kids!

jane said...

Your daughter sounds like a typical girl. That's not an insult, as you & I are both girls too. (well, females) I'm much more prone to remember the social aspects of events than technical ones. But as you said, not all females think like this.
Your son, on the other hand, sounds like a genius! I have never wondered how to make people remember everything they've ever remembered...where did this thought come from? I am not too familiar with Aspergers, a little, but not much. But still, I find his thought process amazing. One thing he needs in life is the right teachers. If he has those, he has no limitations. At least that's my humble opinion & I'm sticking to it!
As for the study's suggestions, I agree, it's ridiculous!

Cheryl said...

Thanks Jane
Lewis is pretty well one track minded - he is extremely educable provided its a subject that inspires him. Little things like writing or learning social cues or where he put his coat are another matter.

HazelNutcluster said...

I home educate and find it hard to say anything good about schools. It seems to me that it's going to be impossible to teach 30+ children, all different, effectively. Especially these days when teachers aren't allowed to teach but have to keep up with the tons of paperwork instead.

I don't know much about boys but if I had a boy to home ed I think I would let him do what interested him, be it something on the computer, making plastic models or things out of wood, or being a chemist in the toolshed, and teach him the skills necessary in this society 'around' his passion. Whatever your hobby is there's probably some maths and English and maybe a bit of science involved. But then, there are problems with home educating in that it can lead to isolation and loneliness if not managed very well.

All that was probably quite OT but just what it made me think. I don't know the answer to helping a child with Asperger's get on in school. Mostly they're not dealing in the subjects that inspire children.

Cheryl said...

Thanks Hazel.
There is a school of thought still around that would have us label Aspergers sufferers as simply being on the 'extreme male end of the spectrum', whatever that is. If you label empathic skills as feminine (also female intuition), this would make sense - the only spanner in the works being that girls can have Aspergers too.

HazelNutcluster said...

'Extreme male end of the spectrum'
instinctively feels wrong. Labelling is mostly dangerous in that there will always be exceptions to the rule. Nah, it's too black and white, I prefer all the shades of grey that are our children.

Cheryl said...