Quiet, Please.

Years ago, when I was taking a unit on Environmental Education for my teaching degree, one of my professors was discussing how wisdom is perceived, depending on the culture. He had spent a good amount of time in Papua New Guinea, and talked about the fact that silence was a measure of wisdom and knowledge there. When people were quiet, this was an indication of intelligence. Silence is also a significant part of their culture and tradition.

This has stayed with me, through those years, not least because I am not really one to stay silent! I talk… quite a lot. But that’s had to change a bit over the last couple of days, because I’ve lost my voice.

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This is a Test.

School started again this week – not that you would have known that because I’ve not mentioned AT ALL over the past month or so – and First and Second Offspring went back to school, while Third Offspring is easing into her first weeks at kindergarten. She seems to have taken it all in her stride, while First and Second Offspring are happy to be back with their friends and rediscovering their routine.

And I’m enjoying that too, because the walk to school and back with them everyday is a great time to talk and listen to their stories, and find out about how they’re going. On our second day, I asked First Offspring whether he was concentrating in class so far. “Sometimes,” was the rather non-committal answer. I asked this because last year’s report indicated that while he appears capable of understanding the work, he is not so interested about putting the effort in to do it. This was absolutely no surprise to the Handsome Sidekick and me. We think First Offspring is smart enough. He just likes to chat to his friends. A lot.

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Raised by Violence.

I read in the news this week that Dominic Ongwen, a commander in the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, was at a pre-trial court appearance in the Hague. He faces crimes against humanity, including murder and enslavement. That he is there at all is significant, since he is the first member of the LRA to face trial. However, his presence in a courtroom also raises some questions about how such a trial might go ahead.

Ongwen was abducted in the 1980s by the Lord’s Resistance Army, and became one of Africa’s many child-soldiers. These children are taken from villages from a young age, brainwashed and often introduced to drugs and violence. By the time they are adults, they have already spent many years witnessing and often perpetrating violent crime. So, at what point can they be held responsible for the kinds of acts they commit, when so many of them have also experienced the same abuse?

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Periodical Perambulation.

At some point, I am going to run out of alliterative titles for the Sunday posts. I wonder how long that will take…

We’re off to the park this morning, as we won’t really be able to get out that much next weekend due to The Invasion (I heard the Prime Minister is coming! Be still, my heart!) so without further ado, I’ll leave you with some links for your Sunday reading pleasure.

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Intelligence is in the Eye of the Beholder.

I love to learn.

I love finding out new things, and it makes me so happy to see a puzzle piece fall into place, that ‘aha’ moment, when I discover a connection between two words in different languages, or ‘oh wow, how cool!’ feeling when I find out that ladybirds change colour according to the ambient temperature. The world is awesome and amazing, and my knowledge of it has come mostly from books and formal education. That’s in great part because I’ve been lucky to be able to read and go to school, but also because that kind of learning is my ‘thing’. I like reading, and I like classroom learning. I like facts. And growing up, I figured that this was what made a person smart. Intelligence was learning facts, and being good at remembering them.

Yet, not everybody learns this way. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this! I came across multiple intelligence theory while studying for my teaching degree (ironic that I discover these things in a classroom, right?!) It was fascinating, because I had always been a little arrogant in my views on intelligence, but this also hinged on the fact that I felt as if I were on the defensive.

It was not only that formal education made you smart, as far as I was concerned, but that the real smart people–the real intellects–were involved in science or maths. They were the ones who were advancing humanity. They were the ones who were discovering new species and curing diseases and reaching out to the stars.

And I wasn’t that way inclined at all. My favourite subjects were English and Social Studies, and later, German and Philosophy. I loved learning about science, but if there were any maths involved, I’d have to work so hard to get my head around it, my eyes would eventually glaze over and I’d find myself daydreaming and writing a poem about it.

So this theory was not only an eye-opener for me, it also shone a light on the possibility that I, too, was intelligent. And so were people who weren’t so interested in a classroom learning environment. Just because others didn’t perform well on a spelling test didn’t make them stupid. It just meant that, unlike me, they perhaps didn’t have a visceral response to letters being in a certain order.*

In my very first teaching prac, we were assigned to primary school classes. We had to teach for only a few minutes during the week (it was our first time; they didn’t want to scare us off too quickly!) and so most of the week was spent observing the teachers in their classrooms, and of course, the students.

One morning, the teacher took them outside to play a game. She had a soft ball, about basketball-size, and she told the children to spread out on the grass, wherever they wanted to stand. Then she explained the rules: the ball would start with one person, and that person would then throw it to someone else, and then leave the grass and stand on the pavement. Then the next person would throw the ball, and leave the grass. The aim was to have only one person left on the grass at the end–kind of like playing solitaire.

There were a lot of skills needed for this game, which I thought about as I watched them. Of course, it involved the ability to aim and catch and throw, which, considering these were eight-and nine-year-olds, wasn’t necessarily a given. But it also involved communication, and strategy. Only a few of them realised that if they didn’t plan ahead, they would end up with children too far away from one another to be able to throw and/or catch the ball. These students tried to tell the others where to throw in order to finish the game with the desired result.

‘Isn’t that great?’ I murmured to the class teacher. ‘They’re really planning it out.’

She smiled and nodded.

These students were demonstrating such forward thinking, a real ability for strategy, which I never would have had at that age. They were illustrating an intelligence I probably wouldn’t ever have. I was humbled. You are not as smart as you thought you were, Rebecca.

Studying and discussing multiple intelligences gave me a better understanding and empathy for the different students in my classroom, and it also helped me to attempt to provide different tasks to try and meet the varying needs of their varying intelligences. It also made me sceptical about how we place those we consider genius on pedestals. We choose certain types of intelligence–logical/mathematical, for example–and really celebrate individuals who demonstrate it, but we don’t celebrate those who might have other, less well-known (or less well-respected) intelligences, such as interpersonal, or naturalist.

Yet these intelligences are just as important. If we only had gifted scientists or writers, and no dancers or social workers, what kind of world would this be? It could be that a certain individual won’t ever make a scientific breakthrough or write a symphony, but instead has a real sense of how to comfort a grieving stranger. This doesn’t make them any less worthy. This doesn’t make them any less intelligent. It makes them wonderfully important.

I’ve grown to dislike the word ‘gifted’, because I think it’s too narrowly used, and I think it implies elitism. We’re all gifted–some of us incredibly so–but I don’t want to believe that one intelligence is any better or more valuable than the rest. I believe we should celebrate the ways in which people make each others’ lives and the world such an enriching experience, simply by virtue of being who they are. Intelligence exists on such a broad spectrum. It’s time we stopped pinpointing these tiny areas, and stepped back to get a better look. Because when we do that, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised at how absolutely beautiful is the view.

*incorrect–some may call it creative; to each her own–spelling makes me squirm. In fact, incorrect grammar and punctuation make me quite uncomfortable, as well. I also have a similar reaction to instruments being out of tune. It makes me shudder. I suspect that’s just a bit of an odd quirk, rather than having anything to do with intelligence, however.