graphic posted April 25 2013 19:55.26 by Giorgos Lazaridis @ http://www.pcbheaven.com/opendir/index.php?show=440ah2187wt442ef569
Grow Young… Soon: They’re Coming To Get You
A book fell out of my bookshelf from where I had wedged it — like a squirrel hides a nut for the future — and this piece fell out of the folder where I’d placed it waiting for the right moment to make its re-appearance.
I had set it aside because of its obvious resonance with the overall theme of a personal focus — finding and creating excellence, or summoning it- it follows naturally upon the recent series “Je Ne Sais Quoi”. And because I’m a grandparent of three, all of whom exhibit many of the characteristics described in that book.
[Here is some accompanying music;
read the text under the YouTube link and act as you deem appropriate.
Or try this one:
The book — published in 1998 — is by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. (see more here http://institute4learning.com/ ) and it is entitled “Awakening Genius in the Classroom”. It could ride along with other books on multiple intelligences, genius, intelligence, neuroscience, and along such authors as Gelb, Booth, Levine, Langer, and others, though it is by no means as heavy a hitter as those. [See also http://www.amazon.com/Awakening-Your-Childs-Natural-Genius/dp/0874776082 .]
The theme of the book, as expressed in the preface, is “the sheer joy of what it means to learn something new”. Armstrong cites Whitehead’s “rhythm of education” model http://www.amazon.com/dp/0029351804 and its 3 stages: in reverse order, a period of generalization or application of learning; a period of precision in which substantial energy is committed towards acquiring specific skills on the way to mastery; and Armstrong’s focal period of romance, “in which one celebrates the vitality and passion that accompany learning”, which he feels is neglected by educators. So the book is about how to help youngsters fall in love with, and stay in love with, learning. [Maybe it works for oldsters too….]
In the first chapter, Armstrong explains what he means by the word “genius” by going back to the origins of the word itself, as derived from Greek and Latin words meaning “to beget,” “to be born,” or “to come into being” (it being closely related to the word genesis).
“It is also linked to the word genial, which means, among other things, “festive,” “conducive to growth,” “enlivening,” and “jovial.” He zeroes in on his synthesis at the bottom of page one when he speaks of “giving birth to one’s joy”.
He goes on to speak about the 12 qualities of genius but not before he notes the ancient Roman references to “A guardian spirit that protected all individuals throughout their lives”, and the relationship of the word to the Middle Eastern term jinni, the magical power that lies dormant, as chronicled in the Arabian nights, that is coaxed out of its vessel.
The 12 basic qualities of genius are: curiosity, playfulness, imagination, creativity, wonder, wisdom, inventiveness, vitality, sensitivity, flexibility, humor, and joy.
The child’s full-scale exploration of his world through his senses “branches out into hobbies, pastimes, collections, and interests that may change weekly” and which is later “replaced by a more subterranean curiosity in adolescence through questions that emerge out of “they’re often insatiable need to find out everything they can about their world”.
“… The formal rules and competitiveness of structured games often force playfulness into hiding….” Playfulness, described by Friedrich Froebel — the inventor of kindergarten — as “the highest level of child development… The germinal leaves of all later life”, shows up as the wise guy in the 11th grade or the fourth-grader who dances his way into the classroom.
Imagination (“stories in their heads”), sagas, odysseys and romances, have “come to be associated with something negative–daydreaming–rather than being viewed as a potential source of cognitive power” that can generate plays, works of art, or “deep dialogues about significant life issues”.
Creativity, too often limited to gifted students or isolated by educators from the mainstream of American education “where to do the most good”, is “the ability to make novel connections”, “the knack for seeing things that might be missed”, is “a part of every students birthright” if “they haven’t been brainwashed… By the conventional attitudes of society”.
“The experience of wonder [as] an encounter with the mysteries of life” “doesn’t show up as a “skill” on any competency checklist; it is “the natural astonishment”, and “emotional experience” that “underlies something particularly profound about the learning process that receives virtually no attention in education”. Robert Coles’ four books on children [see below] form the background for Armstrong’s statement: “The student who is able to experience the wonder of the world directly, without the blinders of preconceptions and clichés, has access to a certain precocious wisdom different from that of elders….”.
Inventiveness “should be seen as a part of the core curriculum” but “students generally have little time to exercise their “inventive” muscles because educators may fear such amusing side trips of the mind take valuable time….” away from the modern demands of education.
Vitality (aliveness, spontaneity, or vibrancy) “is really the essential spark of genius; the direct energy of the life force surging up into the world….” “Sometimes teachers worry about containing this vitality in the classroom, believing that the asked classroom is a subdued classroom.”
Sensitivity is about the way that each individual “responds to each stimulus in a fresh and unique way”, allowing them “to be more deeply affected by great works of art, music, dance, and literature, and to be moved by the events of history and the discoveries of science and math.”
Flexibility is about the plasticity of the learner’s mind, its ability “to make fluid associations, the move from fantasy to reality, from metaphor to fact, from the inner world to the outer and back again”. It is about the ability to go on “fantastic voyages”.
“Humor lifts us out of the dreadful seriousness of non-genius life, breaks the tension that drudgery all too often fixes upon us, and gives us something new: a funny angle, a new perspective, a broader view of life.”
Joy, the experience of joy, is a core component. “The neurochemistry of the joy of learning is still unclear [but] its importance cannot be underestimated.”
Armstrong goes on to describe for perspectives or theoretical foundations for genius: neurological, evolutionary, biographical, and phenomenological.
By phenomenological, he means the experiential, the “crystallizing experiences” http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED254544 , ”the “ecstatic learning experiences” described in Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory, in “Higher Creativity” http://www.amazon.com/Higher-Creativity-Liberating-Unconscious-Breakthrough/dp/0874773350, and, undoubtedly, here: http://www.creativeeducationfoundation.org/.
Under the biographical heading, echoing Booth’s book “The Everyday Work of Art”, Armstrong speaks of the examination of the lives of adults who were officially acknowledged to be geniuses in every sense of the word: such people as Einstein, Sir Alexander Fleming, Picasso, Matisse, Miro or Chagall, and others.
“… it appears that many (if not most) extraordinary individuals possess attitudes of mind that are very similar to those of children and adolescents, and that when added to their formal training, years of effort, and unique capacity for synthesis, lead to transformative works.”
The biographical basis is an extension of the evolutionary basis as well as the neurological basis. “… The absence of role models in the child’s environment that displays characteristics of some or all of the 12 qualities of genius may starve dendrites in those portions of the brain that support these behaviors…. An environment that fails to recognize the importance of the 12 qualities of genius may starve those traits out of existence, while surroundings that are “genius friendly” may well create neurological connections [hardy dendrites] that facilitate their growth.”
Armstrong cites Ashley Montague’s key evolutionary concept of neoteny when he says “one reason that we have managed to survive and thrive as a species is because our brain is capable of adapting to a wide range of environments–in fact, our brain has the ability to wait until it directly experiences a specific environment and then programs itself to function within just that setting (assuming the environment isn’t too hostile).”
From their “mature adult” heights, adults only to frequently look down patronizingly upon the “childless” qualities of the child, without any understanding of their real meaning. Such adults fail to understand that those “childish” qualities constitute the most valuable possessions of our species, to be cherished, nurtured, and cultivated.
Says Armstrong: “If our civilization is to keep from blowing itself off the map, we need to cultivate in our educational system people with the curiosity, sensitivity, and imagination, among other qualities, to come up with new ways of preventing wars, disease, and overpopulation. Montagu’s perspective suggests that the qualities of genius, far from being “warm fuzzy” concepts, are the basic building blocks of humanity’s hope for survival.”
Part 2 of Armstrong’s book focuses on how genius gets shut down through factors present in the home and in the popular media. There are 4 factors that are especially significant as negative home influences: emotional dysfunction, poverty, a fast-paced lifestyle, and rigid ideologies.
Parents (and other members of the household) who are crippled by emotional problems including alcoholism, drug dependence, food disorders, chronic rage, anxiety, and depression are identified as generating patterns that reverberate throughout the family system. Dysfunctional families follow “certain basic rules that govern their attitude toward learning and growing; these include the need to be in control at all times; the need to be perfect; the need to blame others when things don’t work out; and the denial of the ability to freely think, feel, perceive, choose, and imagined as one desires.” [One can’t help but think about the extension of these dysfunctional traits into the culture and the political setting.] “In families with emotional dysfunction, a child’s vitality is all too often crushed under a barrage of put downs and insults, curiosities punished or ignored, enjoy is squashed under the heavy blanket of depression. Living in such conditions, children don’t have the chance to explore, make mistakes, discover new ideas, and do the many other things that go along with being a genius. In families in which anxiety hovers over the home like a dark cloud, children lose their playfulness.” Drug addiction is noted by Armstrong as creating special problems that cripple the natural genius in children. This is especially troubling when one comes to awareness about the role of our government, its intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the banking and economic system in the importation and distribution of addictive narcotics. Poverty, the stepsister of those national policies-in-action, also plays a major role in depressing the joy and vitality of children as well as in generating poor prenatal care, poor healthcare, malnutrition, and “other factors commonly associated [which] can damage the child’s brain.…”. But even in well-to-do suburbs, there is destruction of genius.
“Many parents who have adequate financial resources and a solid educational background don’t appear to have much time to spend with their kids because of their own hectic lives. Often very successful in their professions, these parents spend so much time trying to get added in their careers that they don’t have any time left for their kids. When they do up and up focusing on their children’s learning life, they often think about how they get their children on the fast track to success. Hence, families with a fast-paced lifestyle often pressure kids to learn things before they’re ready for them.….Because these kids are given time to naturally expressed their genius qualities in their own way, they begin to retreat behind a façade of cynicism, apathy or aggression.”
“Some families raise their children in an atmosphere of fear and hate toward those who do not share their own rigid belief systems. These belief systems may be on the right or the left politically; they may be related to any of the worlds religions or be atheistic or philosophical in nature. What is at issue here is not the specific content of the belief systems but the way children are taught to fear any other way of thinking and to hate those who stand outside of their own way of thinking.” [Again, one can’t help but think about the socio-cultural milieu, “the war of the civilizations”, continued and extensive racism, the use of fear as a political psychological weapon, and the ways in which we are divided against ourselves so as to increase the political power of the few.]
Our popular media are noted and discussed [in disgust] for the ways in which they are destructive to the qualities of genius among our children and our adults. “Beyond the violent content of television and video games–which is received the greatest attention and has a huge research-based demonstrating its harmful effects…, At least 3 other more subtle but nevertheless devastating threats to the genius [ of our culture] seemed to emanate from the vast majority of TV, video, and Internet fair that [we] are exposed to.” these threats include stereotypical images, insipid language, and mediocre content. The threats emanate from production centers “where the idea of nurturing a child’s or adolescent inner genius has no meaning”. “There is little left to the imagination of the child or adolescent to do in the face of [its] ready-made Logos, characters, plots, situations, and scenarios. As a result, kids simply sit back and passively drink in these images, which then proceed to seep into the subconscious only to emerge in school as stereotypical drawings, stories filled with clichés, and artificial and unreal conceptions of how the world works. Kids’ inner imagination, one of those qualities of genius described above, eventually begins to atrophy through lack of use and eventually disappears entirely….The modern-day image of the child at play is a great single child watching the television set while playing with a battery-operated action toy. With so little for the child actually do in this brave new world of automated playthings and preprogrammed entertainment, the genius of kids has fewer and fewer rich structures within which to develop into maturity.
What Daniel Boorstin once described as “hot and cold running images” include what Jeffrey O’Brien, executive director of the Library of America, called it “a language flattened and reduced to a shifting but never large repertoire of catch phrases and slogans….A dialect of dead ends and perpetual arbitrary switch overs, intended always to sell but more fundamentally to fill time.” Says Armstrong: “the end result of this homogenization of language is heard in students whose speech patterns are replete with phrases like “yeah, right…” And “you know, then he went, like, you know…” And the ubiquitous, all-purpose response to societies complexities: “whatever.” Absent from these linguistic black holes is any attempted at playfulness, flexibility, imagery, humor, or other qualities that are the hallmark of real genius.
Lastly, Armstrong notes the mediocre content that is present in our explosion of new media, reminding us that Newton Minow, FCC Chairman 50 years ago, Carter rise television programming as a giant “wasteland.” Says Armstrong: “the cumulative force of such mediocrity has created a commonly shared culture based on the trivial and the base.….What do we value in our society? What do we pay most attention to? Clearly, the popular media every made the decision…” Our media fed popular culture extols “those who are often the sleaziest, the rottenness, and the most devious among us.” These are a far cry from the “tried-and-true ruling blocks of genius: contact with inspiring people and exposure to compelling situations, stimulating materials, and challenging problem-solving opportunities that arise out of daily life”.
We have an opportunity in our homes and in our schools and in our society to effect some change and re-direction, though we must probably work with haste and assuredness and probably in the face of entrenched powerful forces whose long-term plan has been the very destruction of our society. I reference Melanson’s book “Perfectibilists”, Common Core, Agenda 21, the US Department of Education, and other such insidious and occult or covert plans.
Armstrong notes a colleague’s remark at a conference:
“Schools, prisons, and mental hospitals are the only institutions in society where — if you don’t go, they come to get you.”
They’re coming soon.
The Aims of Education* by Alfred North Whitehead
* Presidential address to the Mathematical Association of England, 1916.
“The students are alive, and the purpose of education is to stimulate and guide their self-development. It follows as a corollary from this premiss, that the teachers also should be alive with living thoughts. The whole book is a protest against dead knowledge, that is to say, against inert ideas.”
Here are some of A.N. Whitehead more famous quotes on the topic of education:
- “There is only one subject matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations.”
- “The pupil’s mind is a growing organism…it is not a box to be ruthlessly packed with alien ideas.”
- “Knowledge does not keep any better than fish.”
- “Celibacy does not suit a university. It must mate itself with action.”
- “The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning… A university which fails in this respect has no reason for existence.”
Growing Young [Hardcover]
[At $117, I’m gonna have to grow richer….]
Dr. Armstrong on tape
Dr. Thomas Armstrong on Progressive Education
Books by Thomas Armstrong
Books by Robert Cole:
The Moral Life of Children by Robert Coles (Feb 4, 2000)
The Political Life of Children by Robert Coles (Mar 9, 2000)
The Spiritual Life of Children by Robert Coles (Oct 10, 1991)
Children of Crisis by Robert Coles (Aug 2003)
The Whole List: http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Coles/e/B000APM210
The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog [Paperback]
Independent Scholar’s Handbook: How to Turn Your Interest in Any Subject into Expertise [Paperback]
[described by Armstrong as “the best book on adult self-motivated learning” he’s ever seen.]
The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded [Paperback]
Guide to Writers Conferences & Writing Workshops
audio books available at a number of outlets