Monday, January 23, 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.


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