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Brain Behavior Institute 2009 - Neurodiversity and Education



Session 10


Neurodiversity and Education

Continuing discussion of matters related to

with Elna Yadin, Sarah Gibbs

"The education systems seem to say that everyone needs to learn the same content, the same skills, and to the same extent.  If there are children who are not reaching those goals, they will make accomodations to help them reach those expectations.  Those programs do not seem to look at the child and consider what is important for that child to learn, what skills will be valuable to that child, and to what extent that child should learn things" ... Jill


Abnormal - an exploration of art and science in re "disability"

Today's Assignment

Add further thoughts on neurodiversity in the forum area below. 


Paul Grobstein's picture

education/mental health: keeping the houseboat afloat

Rich conversation this afternoon. Glad the education/mental health exchange seemed reasonable way to go for others as well.  It amused me to think the following two ideas are relevant in both contexts:

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result"  ... attributed to (among others) Albert Einstein

"We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction." ... W.V.O. Quine, referring to a metaphor of Otto Neurath

And so, life is a process of building and rebuilding a home of one's own, a houseboat that is now and again suffers cracks both from its own settling and from being buffeted by the tides, and so needs to be now and again rebuilt without losing completely its buoyancy.  The task of education/mental health is not to tell anyone what house to build, nor to patch the cracks, but rather to help people enhance their own homebuilding skills and, sometimes, to provide a relatively safe harbor when skills are not up to more extreme challenges. 

That's an appealing metaphor to me.  Thanks all. 

I was struck as well by the suggestion in our conversation that education and mental health are not alway on the same wavelength, that education sometimes created mental health problems, as when students lose confidence in their own house-building abilities because they are set impossible challenges by the educational system.  What's needed here is a greater recognition that education should pay as much attention to the distinctive abilities of students as it does to their deficiences.  And a corresponding change in how we assess students.  Identifying an A as the criterion of success is to brand most people with deficiencies (or to lose any discriminative ability whatsoever in assessment, as in grade inflation). 

Deborah Hazen's picture

Where do we seat parental units?

As we do our best to support the float, build classroom communities that make space for emergence, and craft assessment that pays "as much attention to the distinctive abilities of students as it does to their deficiences" (Grobstein), we are resetting the table of education. Where will we seat the parental units? It makes sense to me, if teachers are going to relinquish the role of conductor that we also think about how we might redefine our relationships with the parental units.

I frequently begin my first conference with parents by acknowledging that they know their child far better than I ever will. I caution that I can tell them what I see at school, share developmental expectations based on the published standards, let them know what middle schools are looking for, and share with them parenting and teaching stories from my experience. I am careful to ask their goals and how they feel about their child's behavior or academic performance. Even though I think that I am sensitive to the collaborative or emergent nature of our work together to support their child, I can still be taken aback by the parent who refuses further testing or special services. There's a line that I'm looking for between my expertise and inner conductor, what I think I know is in the best interest of the student, and that part of me that feels safe accepting that the process we are talking about may not need a conductor--rather just more space and time to accommodate the diversity of brains that we have been discussing. The line keeps moving.


Paul Grobstein's picture

Emergent pedagogy: parents plus

Deb and I were talking about this, the parent issue, after the session.   And it (along with the administrator, school board, state assessment, etc) is an important one in at least two respects.

First, we all have a tendency when we're frustrated to attribute problems to others.  And it is certainly true that our successes and failures in our own classrooms are heavily influenced by lots of other things, including parents (etc).  But, it isn't actually particularly useful to us (or any one else) to blame other things.  What happens at any given time is the result of a whole host of interacting influences each of which is in turn the resultant of a whole set of additional influences.  Maybe we should presume that, on the whole, parents are doing the best they can to deal with a whole lot of influences, just as we are?  And that sometimes they pull in the same direction we want to pull and other times don't?  And get our minds back on the more immediate question of how to facilitate the development of students (and ourselves) to work in an emergent environment.  So, notice a parental influence, but don't get hung up on it.  Figure instead it is another perspective that can be used to get things less wrong?

Second, we should not only be practicing good listening with parents (administrators, school boards, etc) but we should also be actively trying to involve them in the emergent system.  We tend to prefer to think that we are alone in our classrooms with our students, and to try and organize things that way.  But all the other influences are always there.  Maybe we should act to make them more explicitly a part of the educational process?  Among the ways we might do so that was suggested in our afternoon conversation was to actually hold emergent sessions with parents.  That strikes me as a really good idea.  And perhaps with administrators, school boards, politicians, and so forth as well?  Maybe, as educators, we should accept resonsibility for playing an active role not only in the emergent education of our students but of others as well? 

Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/10 PM Session

Shivering is a way to generate heat. Thus, it is how your body warms itself when it is cold.

How do we regulate the body weight 'set point'? Delta PPAR obesity.

Rostral - towards the head

Caudal - towards the rear end.

Movement - generating outputs.

What are the implications of what the brain would do if it wasn't controlled/inhibited? What wouldn't it do.

Teaching - an expectation, a process, an end result, a refining. What is the end product expectation?

How flawed is 'the system'? The system of Education, at least in America, is patently flawed. Students are often not awakening to their potential? Why not? True, we must let the house settle. We must remember in this process that cracks will manifest and be revealed. Now think of our students as a house. When their 'cracks' manifest themselves, do we try and fill in the crack, simply covering it over; do we fill in the crack to bring about wholeness, or do we do nothing, hoping everything works out o.k. or just think there is no use to do anything?

Verolga Nix-Allen's picture

Culture As Disability

I truly enjoyed the session with Elna and Sarah.  I liked the idea of each child building their own house.  My first question,to myself, after the analogy was "is there a time when you knock the house down completely to rebuild it?"  In retrospect when I was in the Oberlin Conservatory of music my voice teacher knocked my house down saying that I should be a secretary.  Naturally, I was shocked by his remark and decided to prove him wrong.  So after talking to my mother about the remark we determined that I should pursue my musical career and make him eat his words.  This I did in grand style.  So, I agree with and can see the value of the house and boat idea and the options open to each person as I coach and train them to sing individually and as a choir.   Although, I am not in the formal classroom now I still teach my choir and some of the methods learned can certainly be applied to them.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Your story is a gift

One voice teacher who knocked down your house. Still it took only one person, your mother, to help you rebuild an even stronger structure. Your story reminds me that it doesn't matter if everyone is approaching education the way we are proposing---it takes one teacher and one student working together in this manner to unlock the uniqueness and originality in both of them.

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Mental Health

This afternoon's conversation was eye opening and interesting.  The analogy of the house/houseboat model of thinking for students is a great way to think about how our students engage in learning.   Foundations are important in allowing  the house to stand but sometimes there are needed reajustments.   I liked the fact that  Elna said that we need to forget the "bad stuff" in some cases and Sarah  said that we can build on the" bad stuff"!  The "stuff" is what makes us who we are over time!

I think that people are multi-faceted and have many layers that can make or break them.  The key is to cultivate the ground around them, repair the cracks, and mend the windows/doors that are broken!

Then the stories can be told how they succeded in floating through the sea of life!

Again, if we think of normalcy as the end point then abnormal behavior won't seem so bad!

Deborah Hazen's picture

Parents get a seat at the table in the emergence classroom

We've talked about not being conductors in the classroom, rather being just one of the catalysts in the classroom. How does that translate to our relationship with parents?

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