Thursday, July 11, 2013

Different drum

A comment from a school report on academic progress (the high point in fact) for a ten-year-old boy of my acquaintance:

David is an enthusiastic and creative percussionist.

David was diagnosed as autistic some years ago, but he attends a mainstream school.

Thinking back to my own school days, I must say that the more creative and percussive types tended, for better or for worse, not to get a lot of positive recognition or encouragement.

Clearly, a balance must be struck, but I am inclined to think that the fashionable emphasis on creativity is unfortunate, and often represents a cop-out by educators as well as contributing to giving students a somewhat problematic value hierarchy.

Whether you look at creativity in the arts or the sciences, significant creative achievement has always been based on self-discipline and a long and hard apprenticeship.

That said, some people do have a much greater potential for original and creative work than others. But too much early and easy praise can undermine the development of any innate gift or talent.

Because he is (mildly) autistic, David's case raises other issues. I can't help feeling, for instance, that the policies of closing special schools and putting children with learning disabilities into mainstream schools and classrooms is not to the children's benefit.

David certainly has problems, but over the years he has shown – not true savant-like abilities – but apparently remarkable aptitudes in various areas, and not just in reading notation and banging a drum.

I know my own values are obtrubing here! But the point remains that no attempt has been made by his educators to develop any of these aptitudes in a sustained way.

As it is all too often the case that parents of autistic children are under a lot of pressure and struggle just to get by from day to day, some kind of formal framework especially designed for children with these sorts of problems would certainly ease the burden and give the children a better chance of fulfilling their potential.

[I am looking again at the views of Simon Baron-Cohen (and others) on autism, and expect to post on the topic from time to time – both here (when policies and opinions are at issue) and at Language, Life and Logic (where the focus is more on the science).]