Saturday, November 17, 2012

distributed interest...

One of the important things about our species is our natural diversity. Seeking diversity is built into our genetically framed response to life. Kids in the CSS wood shop have a love of their own creativity, and all hell breaks loose so to speak when one sees another "copying" what he or she has done. This natural inclination to distribute ourselves along creative lines is a major factor in the success of our species, and begins in the earliest days of our lives.

Howard Gardner brought up the matter of how we are smart in different ways, but I suggest that we self-distribute along lines of interest  and opportunity and following those lines become smart through the application of attention and practice.

Somewhere in the Stowe family video archive, there is a 8 mm. film of my sister Ann and I coloring on paper. Ann would work diligently on her own, then would lean over to make corrections on my page, adding her flourishes to my work. It became instantly clear to me that Ann was the artistic one. She was 18 months older than I and her maturity gave her an advantage. So surrendering art as an area of interest, I became interested in building things. Get the picture? It is not hard to see how it works, and I invite you to examine family relationships on your own. Got a family? Have siblings or children of your own? You will see how it works and certainly don't have to take my word for it. I welcome your own recollections and observation in the comments below.

Let's jump ahead in my life to 7th grade wood shop. As a closing project for the year, we were all making book shelves which involved the use of the coping saw to cut out curving sides. I looked down and noticed that my saw blade, in a moment of inattention, had gone off the line. I looked over at my immediate neighbor and saw that he was even further off the line, and made the assessment that I was doing OK in comparison. We learn these things, make assessments of our own skill, and use them to self-distribute along lines of interest, and perceived ability, that at some point will be assessed by others as intellect.

Let's jump to athletics. In McComb, Mississippi where my family lived at the time I became of age to try out for little league baseball, we were new in a tight-knit southern town and completely unknown. Even though I hit a home run (on errors) my first time at bat, I was not chosen for the team. Thus I might have had a greater interest, and hence "athletic intelligence" if my father had been better known. But that's the way things work out (often for the best).

I offer these recollections because the idea of intelligence is over-blown. But having a variety of experiences and opportunities to develop along diverse lines of interest is essential to our humanity, our human culture and our capacity for problem solving and survival...  And yet, we put kids in schools, measure them all to the same standards, narrow their fields of activity, squeeze and narrow their capacity to conceptualize, screw them up with too much narrow focus on academics alone, and shit-can their futures and the future of our economy.

When I started the wisdom of the hands project at Clear Spring School, the idea had been to demonstrate that wood working was still of value in American education, even though most schools were doing away with wood shops. I have come to the conclusion that kids generally need to do real things, and need the opportunity to find interests and express intelligence in a wide variety of ways, including through the making beautiful and useful real things.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. I don't know, Doug. You're built like an outfielder, tall and slender. The British writer Terry Pratchett talks about the "trousers of time" and how you can go down one leg or the other and affect outcomes in unexpected ways. Who knows?