by maralyn ellis
Recently, as part of an intake questionnaire, I asked a student, “What are your favourite subjects at school?” Having a particularly quick wit, without missing a beat this young man replied, “Recess and dismissal.” That gave me pause for a moment, he is certainly not alone in that!
“The six-hour retarded child” was a term used at a conference held in 1969 and it referred to students who were “retarded from 9 to 3, five days a week, solely on the basis of an IQ score, without which [the child] may be exceptionally adaptive to the situation and community in which he [or she] lives.”
- It was incredibly offensive as it contained the word “retarded.” Better word choices are now “intellectual disability” or “developmental disability.” (Although the currently acceptable word of “disability” can be problematic too! More on that in another blog.)
- My sister always told me I had “book smarts” but not “street smarts” and I certainly knew plenty of people I could outperform at school... but not in day-to-day living.
If we define the word “retard” (with a short 'e' and the emphasis on the second syllable!) it means to “delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment.” And we all know plenty of students, perhaps you are or were one, whose progress has been held back at school... and sometimes it was simply an incompatibility between how one learns or what one is interested in learning and what the curriculum is trying to teach us!
If you said the first two, you are right. For many years now, we have been stuck on literacy and numeracy in our society (read “Our Life Out of Balance: The Rise of Literacy and the Demise of Pattern Languages” or anything else by Derek Rasmussen for a new perspective). We measure our students by how well they perform in English and how well they perform in Math. If you can do both, it seems you are a superstar, if you can do one and not the other you still rock... but if you cannot do either you are obviously never going to make a decent living.
Really? Is that true? Then how did a father of a friend of mine rise to an Executive at Bell Canada? He only ever completed a grade 2 education because he had to quit school to work the family farm when his father died. There was certainly a time when reported literacy and numeracy were not the measure of a person's worth or a predictor of their success. What happened?
Do you know a student who consistently under-performs and may be considered a “six-hour retarded child” at school? Sometimes students are disadvantaged in their schooling by an exceptionality. It may be autism, dyslexia, a slow processing speed, a visual-motor integration issue or distractibility, to name just a few that can add challenges to literacy or numeracy lessons.
What do you do if you are the parent of such a student? Many just pray for school to be over because we cannot all afford to send our kids to special private schools that foster other abilities like hockey or art or music or inventiveness.
I know a student who always received mostly criticism from his teachers. He developed anxiety, possibly in part from the trauma of not being able to perform in school. His younger brother, on the other hand, brought home all the As. But every year when the bros returned from summer camp, guess who shone? The poor student was a stellar camper: enthusiastic, cooperative, a leader; the good student was a mediocre camper: shy, quiet, reticent. If not for the annual camp experience and his extra-curricular activities, this student's self-esteem would have been in trouble based on his school experiences alone.
“Is it possible that we are so awed by the complex psychological constructions of learning and cognition that we have overlooked some of the simpler principles of human development?”
Unfortunately, educational reform that honours and develops individual strengths or multiple intelligences is not about to happen any day soon (see Gardner's Four Factors below). But consider that numeracy and literacy may just be the two intelligences we emphasize... especially if they are not your strongest suit. Figure out where you (or your child or your students) shine... and then spend lots of time there!
four factors in educational reform (1990) by Howard Gardner
But after several years of active involvement in efforts at educational reform, I am convinced that success depends upon the active involvement of at least four factors:
- Assessment—Unless one is able to assess the learning that takes place in different domains, and by different cognitive processes, even superior curricular innovations are destined to remain unutilized. In this country, assessment drives instruction. We must devise procedures and instruments which are "intelligence-fair" and which allow us to look directly at the kinds of learning in which we are interested.
- Curriculum—Far too much of what is taught today is included primarily for historical reasons. Even teachers, not to mention students, often cannot explain why a certain topic needs to be covered in school. We need to reconfigure curricula so that they focus on skills, knowledge, and above all, understandings that are truly desirable in our country today. And we need to adapt those curricula as much as possible to the particular learning styles and strengths of students.
- Teacher Education—While most teacher education institutions make an honest effort to produce teaching candidates of high quality, these institutions have not been at the forefront of efforts at educational improvement. Too often they are weighted down by students of indifferent quality and by excessive – and often counterproductive – requirements which surround training and certification. We need to attract stronger individuals into teaching, improve conditions so that they will remain in teaching, and use our master teachers to help train the next generation of students and teachers.
- Community Participation—In the past, Americans have been content to place most educational burdens on the schools. This is no longer a viable option. The increasing cognitive demands of schooling, the severe problems in our society today, and the need for support of students which extends well beyond the 9-3 period each day, all make it essential that other individuals and institutions contribute to the educational process. In addition to support from family members and other mentoring adults, such institutions as business, the professions, and especially museums need to be involved much more intimately in the educational process.
Howard Gardner is an American developmental psychologist and Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Click here to learn more about Howard Gardner's unvalidated but fascinating Theory of Multiple Intelligences.