Category Archives: Science

If Teaching facts makes you a bad teacher, does rocking when you’re not stressed make you a bad autistic?

A monkey glances up and sees a banana, and that’s as far as he looks—

Eoin Colfer

Monkey tricks by VicaVersionOn perception:

One of my pet hates is when I hear educators moan about facts as if they were hazardous to health. I’ve heard them moan that they serve no purpose, that they’re a waste of time; outdated or are somehow superfluous; that it’s not proper teaching. There are numerous complaints, too many to list— however the median I seem to come across most, might as well be the very devil himself: the date:

1066, the Battle of Hastings;

1588 and the Spanish Armada

1805, Trafalgar and so on and so forth…

And to some degree I agree that there is a limited quality, albeit a limited re-usable quality to this type of knowledge. Personally, I love it, can’t get enough but that’s just me, give me more…

However, facts make learning easier. Facts give concept-based teaching context. Facts make learning more effective. This is not a judgement call, nor is it an opinion— unlike approaches based purely around concept, there is mountains of data which suggest that the use of facts as part of a learning strategy works; having a solid bank of knowledge regarding a particular topic, then makes conceptual-learning effective, not the other way around. The very notion that anyone can form long lasting contextual assessments on anything without knowing what it is they’re supposed to be contextualising is counter-intuitive— but this is one of the things modern teachers are taught to do, even though it flies in the face of most of the available evidence.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the ability to conceptualise is an imperative to successful learning; and the reasoning that the way it’s now used is ‘best’ and the way it should be done comes from reasonable sources— these are not stupid people. It just doesn’t work as they’d like it to work; it cannot work because the reasoning is built on whimsy, not the real world.

Facts: those concrete, unshakable units of information which are not subject to change are unpopular, when they should be the foundations upon which effective practices are built.

It’s difficult to understand why the idea of learning useful, relevant and re-usable information is so frowned upon— as a former practitioner, I do at least understand the potential difficulties involved in the presentation; I did all the time— but again, the median argument against it is just as unreasonable: we can’t just have kids reciting dates over and over…

Of course not— that really is stupid. Professional teachers should be able to incorporate some kind of fact-based content into their lessons if they are proficient in their subject, without the furore— they do it everyday to some degree as it is, but there’s just something about the word fact that they’re taught not to like. I would’ve taught in a dress if I had cold hard data suggesting cross-dressing made learning more effective; and that should be the only thing that matters. There are approaches which work and some which work better than others; some are just unpopular.

Now the reason I bring it up actually has nothing to do with teaching, but the underlying trait which shapes this particular issue.

It’s a packaging problem— rightly or wrongly our perception becomes this: so it’s gotta be true. It’s exactly the same problem we have with labels— some of which effectively describe certain people and conditions, but are wildly unpopular. Some of which are too accurate so a semantically broader variant is encouraged as preferable. Personally, I struggle with aspects of this— I don’t find words, tags or labels to be inherently functional without context. One of the problems of being concept-based people instead of substance based, will be an increased obsession with eradicating ‘offensive’ lexis, regardless of context. Which in itself, is an act I find deeply offensive.

Anyway, the catalyst for this came about from several sources, independent of which, I wouldn’t have had a contextual springboard to unite them— however when taken together, there are similarities which I think are fascinating.

The first was this article1, which recounts the author’s experiences with a couple of group sessions for adults on the autistic spectrum. She writes:

“I told the group about my own experiences in coming to terms with autism, about wanting to be autistic because it was the only thing that felt like all my experiences finally made some sense. About redirecting my energy and efforts towards things that would help me cope, instead of things that would make me appear normal. Allowing myself to be more visibly autistic.

“At those last words, the entire group gasped in shock … I’m not joking. I was the only one there who thought it wasn’t actually all that bad to be stimming in public.”

Now my first reaction was to try to empathise with group— some of whom were clearly uneasy with the author’s rocking but I couldn’t consolidate what it was about the article that was impressing upon me without resorting to speculation, despite the resonance of one of the questions: “If I don’t do things like that, then maybe I’m not actually autistic?”

It wasn’t until I read this post, that it all clicked into place: that, like some teachers’ point-blank refusal to accept that facts do not give you cancer, what I had in front of me was another packaging problem— which lead me to re-read the question as, I wouldn’t mind being autistic if I didn’t do things like that…

What struck me upon the second reading was an event from another session, which thanks to the second article, had even greater meaning in this context:

“[O]ne of them said to me that maybe I needed a time-out to calm down, because I was rocking back and forth so much. And when I said I was just focusing on the conversation, and not feeling anxious at all, he didn’t believe me.

Was she not believed because: autistics only rock when their stressed; or because ‘he’ only rocks when he’s stressed: so it’s gotta be true? It starts to become clear that across a wide range of things— how narrow and inflexible our associations can really be.

However, without Disabled, Not Broken2, I wouldn’t have written this at all. It finds the author posing a simple question and answering it by defining what he is and what he isn’t through a short exploration of language and its denotations: even the words which we use to define other words, which we then use to define who we are or what we think we are, aren’t always satisfactory contextually.

Add to that, that if you rock back and forth you are defined by your actions and emotional state: you must be autistic and you must need a time out. If you’re a teacher and heaven forbid you teach facts: you are defined by an historical context; that you’re out of touch, you’re doing something wrong and a bad practitioner. Perhaps, by the same reasoning: if you rock and you’re not stressed, it makes you a bad autistic?

In each case there are misconceptions based on a perception that has attributed to it, a value of some kind, so if you do it, think it, use it or say it, according to that perception: it’s gotta be true.

Right?

I don’t know, it’s just an observation—

But without a bank of knowledge to draw on, I wouldn’t have been able to get far.

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Yes, I am looking at your obituary now. Tell me, where exactly you are calling from?

Every man dies— Not every man really lives…

William Ross Wallace

_65300595_bodyline-1If ever I reach the after-life— and this really doesn’t hurt thinking about by the way. I’d hate to just turn up, be spoilt for choice or so unprepared I’d have to wing it— I’d like to think that I would trundle as opposed to walk from place to place. Trindle or trendle, I don’t mind. Call me a romantic, but it has an air of clumsiness to it— something, when it all comes down to it, I’m rather fond of. I couldn’t think of anything worse than spending what remains of whatever without even the slightest trip to boast of.

Anyway, If I’d ever find my self trundling across a beach with a wireless stuck to my ear— I’d hope whomever were in charge would have the wisdom to employ the right crowd. None of these shock-jock bastards or flash-pan prats who shout a lot and are generally mean. But people who already have the misfortune to be dead.

These are my thoughts precisely when I tune into Test Match Special during rain delays and listen to Blowers, Aggers and Boycs paint pictures and speak of the mothers— very talented some of them. Unfortunately, I very nearly spoil it by taking a peek outside. It’s can be grey, miserable looking and decidedly home-made. The birds are off doing otherwhiles and of course there’s the damp. I am not to be undone however— not while romanticising about dead people and green fields.

Back to the beaches I thinkback to the wireless. You see, I’d find the idea of owning anything other than a wireless when I’m dead a trifle distasteful. After all, what could you possibly want to listen to that your personal broadcaster wouldn’t have: he’d have wings for Pete’s sake— or jet packs or whatever, presuming ‘he’ was not a ‘she’ and that ‘they’ had passed all their necessaries before taking to the air.

My idea of perfection would be a live, ball-by-ball commentary of from 1932-33 Ashes Tour Down Under. I’d have Blowers in the box with BJ, Arlo and Fingo. Anywhere else of course, this wouldn’t be possible as Fingleton was actually playing at the time; but who better to describe his own batting?

Of course, you might say, it’d be easier to just go and watch the matches myself and yes— you’d be absolutely right, but time-travel’s impossible. Were it though, then this would be my destination one— so what would be better than to drag my favourites along to commentate. The fact that they’re all legendary drinkers and that Arlo would’ve had his wine cellar with him at all times, hadn’t even crossed my mind…

And then there was television

Or just the listings perhaps

Just a little background: noise & biography…

Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.

Bertolt Brecht

iuI read that and instinctly think cats. That’s biography.

I am fascinated by the heroic age of Antarctic expedition, history, education, great sex, openness, cats, cameras; the space race; sentence-structure, lexis, discourse conventions and phatic communication; cinema; the sounds of cricket and its numbers; golf swings, sortes, piropo, productivity, logical fallacies; fagottists— which leads to the double-o phoneme and coda-less syllables; falderals, nonsense; nanism— my fear of developing it and albino-clowns who already have. Ironing, long-sleeves, compound swearing, yellow pads, yoof-speak and linguistic representations— meh. Books, tea, science, feets, unnecessary plurals and corrugated-cardboard to name but a few.

It’s a pointless list because there isn’t much I’m not interested in. I like the feeling of insignificance in knowing how little I know; and how each little thing helps me know what I already know a little better.

And I still don’t know what this makes me, but it kind of works like this:

Perhaps it just makes me English since ‘England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity … hobbies and humors.’1 Quite whether the world thinks we are small or great, but such is the context of opinion. Goethe wrote that, ‘people of uncommon abilities generally fall into eccentricities when their sphere of life is not adequate to their abilities.’ Well spheres be damned as, ‘No one can be profoundly original who does not avoid eccentricity.’2 But to what end is thought’d: ‘eccentricity in small things [is] crazy’3 and though it ‘destroys reason, [it does] not [the] wit?’4

All I’m really trying to do here is to show a little of what it’s like to be autistic— from the ground up I’ve taken my traits and applied them to certain functions within the texts: from word orders and word types, semantic variances, repetitions and rhetorical devices— even archaic syntax to the very deliberate structure I use to present things. It’s not always easy to read and it’s not meant to be, It’s supposed to be a little overwhelming at times and take the reader in circles— but it’s a desirable difficulty designed to stimulate a little over-processing, in the same way real life does to me. It’s the only way I know how to present what it’s like to me: to demonstrate it, not write about it— especially when there are a million people out there able to just describe it so much better.

I was going to just post the blueprint, but thought the meta-language would just make it pointless— like the list…

I’m not just a linguist or educator or golfer or cricket fanatic or autistic or anything for that matter—

I’m just curious…

And I guess lists should be conspiculous by its absense, but it’s really not…

1 George Santayana
2 André Maurois
3 Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton
4 Nathaniel Emmons

Did you know that if a marshmallow hit the Earth at close to the speed of light it would produce a crater several miles across?

Nope. Nor did I—

But as impressed as I was with the science…

418929_10151160572261041_849428367_nI didn’t find it nearly as exciting as learning of a sentence in Les Miserable which contains 827 words. As far as I’m aware, Victor Hugo was no astronomer, so I am therefore compelled to suggest that NASA employees like Sten Odenwald should know better than to publish such lunacy. It does make it pretty obvious why he’s on the big-bucks though. Anyway, can you imagine such a thing surviving re-entry? Never mind the whole speed thing. Perhaps on a body with a low density atmosphere, but Earth? Or, if it could somehow accelerate from zero to warp-speed before the desk and my face stop…

I’ve decided after careful thought that I’m not convinced, despite the fancy sums— but if there are any budding mentalists out there who’d care to show me the errors of my tiny brain, you’ll find me at the back of the Astronomy Café with Wile E. Coyote, a lucky dip of astro-comical fries and a calculator…

And certainly no mention of the French!

It’s all just chalk and cheese, numbers and stuff—

And that’s me looking unimpressed. I can’t really fake sincerity, but I’m working on it…