Monday, June 04, 2012

Education for Misfits and Neurodiversity

From Schumpeter in the Economist, In Praise of Misfits reflects on how classrooms and marketplaces seem to love opposites. Educational experts are working diligently to turn out well-rounded graduates, while... "Software firms gobble up anti-social geeks. Hedge funds hoover up equally oddball quants. Hollywood bends over backwards to accommodate the whims of creatives. And policymakers look to rule-breaking entrepreneurs to create jobs. Unlike the school playground, the marketplace is kind to misfits."


It reminded me of a study from Vanderbilt a few years back. There are reasons that teachers and humanities majors may not understand engineers and career mathematicians and vice-versa. 


The researchers close with a quote from the 60's from I.M. Smith: "The qualities which make for greatness in scientists and engineers are of a different kind; ability to think abstractly and analytically together with a skill visualizing spatial relations in two and three dimensions..."

It's not just that school curriculums in general don't spend enough time cultivating spatial skills and talent; it's also that educators as a group skills and talents that are almost opposite to young or old engineers. It's not only that spatial instruction may not come naturally to teachers who otherwise excel in the basics of education like reading or writing, but it may also be likely that educators may not be able to recognize the spatial talents of their promising young engineers, just engineers and business people may not be able to appreciate the high verbal talent of budding humanities scholars.

So it takes all kinds. As we head into this 21st century of education, we hope this myth of a 'well-rounded education' for all is finally pounded flat. Ideal neurodiversity-aware classrooms and workplaces will recognize strengths and weaknesses as they see them and dedicate as much if not more time on what people do well as on what they don't.



5 comments:

  1. My son is a gifted dyslexic who is always inventing... and who has extreme spatial talents. The schools (public, private, montessori) don't know what to do with him. No one seems to want to lift a finger to make a change. Do you have practical tips for a parent like myself? I don't think he has ADHD, though that diagnosis is favored for the educators. His behaviors do not sum up to ADHD. So, because we don't want to drug him - they think that we are the ones who are standing in the way.

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  2. Hi Stephanie, Your son sounds like a treasure. The number one recommendation... join our network at http://dyslexicadvantage.com ! There are groups, forums, and plenty of ideas about enrichment, advocacy, and other gifted with dyslexia families. We also started Pinterest Boards that may be of interest to your inventor. http://pinterest.com/dyslexicadv

    In the fall, we'll be launching a new video and webinar area of our site. We also hope to expand real-time online networking that should be fun too. Our blog there: http://blog.dyslexicadvantage.com

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  3. I couldn't agree with the Doctors more. Having worked "non-academically-gifted" learners for ten years, I eventually set up a career exploration program and nested it into their school day at the private school where I taught. This was where they flourished, and more importantly, that flourishing motivated them across the board. My (humble) advice: find ways to let him explore the working world.

    -- Matt Holloway
    http://exceptionalpaths.com/

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  4. Thank you for this. My 8 year old daughter has been rather myopically focussed on the medical sciences since she was 2. She is not on the autism spectrum. This summer, she did some educational testing and the tester suggested we enroll her in a traditional school (we homeschool) in order to "normalize" her, "provide stronger integration with same-aged peers" (she gets plenty of social time), and "reduce her obsession with such morbid subjects as head trauma, blood, and cancer."

    I really struggle with this assessment. It feels like they are telling me to kill her passion. I asked them if they would be equally concerned had she expressed an obsession with unicorns. The response was that unicorns would be more age and socially appropriate. Why not allow a child who is passionate about a single topic pursue that topic?

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