Monday, September 15, 2014

in the midst of an uncontrolled experiment...

Today my wife and I go to Little Rock for the Arkansas Quality Awards banquet, in which the Governor's Quality Awards will be presented. This is the 20th year of Arkansas Quality Awards. I was designer of the award base, and each year make one or two as required.

In celebration of the 20th year, my wife and I were invited to attend.

This article from Columbia University sheds light on the development of the brain in relation to  our uncontrolled experiment in digital technologies. The first two years of a child's life are spent growing neurons and connecting dendrites, and from there the pruning of dendrites begins to make the brain more efficient later in life. You may have noticed that some things are easier for young people to learn than for older folks. For instance the introduction of languages is easier for very young children to grasp.

I spent nearly two years trying to learn Swedish, when a toddler would have grasped as much of the the language I was able to absorb in a few days. Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd, 1902 as follows:
The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success." Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
According to the article on the Columbia University website, How is digital technology changing the way kids' brains learn?
"The average American kid between 8 and 18-years-old spends eight-and-a-half hours a day on a computer, listening to an iPod, watching TV, or paying attention to some form of digital technology. To put that another way, over half of an American child's waking hours are spent plugged-in. To YouTube. To Facebook. To their cell phones, you name it. As they get older, they begin to spend even more time online."
If they are online, they are not learning the things that children have always learned in the past, how to observe directly their environment, and to make from it beautiful and useful things. And so our uncontrolled experiment in the relentless distribution of digital technologies involves the pruning of dendrites, the steady decline of human faculties, and offers profound implications for the future of human culture. I you want to know more about fixed and stubborn, pick up a chisel, and if you are unused to the muscularity of its use, give it try and see what you can do with it. Most adults in the US have become trained in the disuse of their muscular faculties. Is that what we want to give to our kids? Or shall we offer them the full range of human expression?

To reverse things with our kids, we must, as early as possible teach them to:

Make, fix and create...

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