Learning to Learn: My child is smarter than me
I tried to play a game on the table with my son. The task was nearly impossible as I lack the hand-eye coordination and situational awareness to manage the seemingly thousands of things happening simultaneously. After watching me embarrass myself a couple of times, he yanked the tablet from my hands and proceeded to zoom through the level one while probably thinking “wow, the old man is really slow!”. As I was watching him, it struck me how we often claim that children on the spectrum cannot attend to tasks or lack patience and focus to sit through a class. Some questions then popped in my head: Do we really believe that our children can do anything they set their mind to do, or are we just putting saying that? Actions speak louder than words sometimes and when I look at the way we approach education, I have my doubts. I wish we would really believe that lie and started acting like it. The way we teach today is not adequate to the world we live in. We still want kids to learn linearly topic by topic in what we believe to be increasing levels of difficulty. First, you count, then you add, then arithmetic, algebra and someday calculus.
But what if you are on the autism spectrum and can make sense of calculus without arithmetic. Like my son, children today play extraordinarily difficult games on tablets. Games that require dexterity, coordination, quick decision-making and adaptability. These games provide an immersive environment for them to apply the principles of Math, Science and Engineering without necessarily understanding the underlying principles. What if we designed a curriculum that ignored grades (first and second as well as A’s and B’s) and instead focused on engagement? What if we stopped measuring and started experiencing, conversing, explaining and engaging students in dialogue to evaluate their skills? What if it were more important to experience knowledge than to assimilate it?
I am struggling to have this conversation with educators around me. Our son is curious and is eager to discover. Our focus is achieving independent living. Like any other parent, we want him to be off the couch at eighteen. We want him engaged with his world, fighting to be relevant and making a meaningful contribution to society. To do that, he must possess critical life skills. He must be independent, self-reliant, autonomous and collaborative. If the role of an education system is to prepare us for adult life, why are these life skills not the focus in the first five to six grades. Before you think I am crazy, I encourage you to look at the Scandinavian school system. What good to society is a child who passes all their grades but cannot care for themselves or understand fundamental concepts of life in society.
Besides, today’s children are exposed to math and engineering earlier than ever. Heck, they come out of the womb with a tablet and a phone. Technology has diminished the need to shove math and science down their throat early and often. I challenge any parents to outdo their kids at their preferred game. Watch the kid amass coins, avoid pitfalls, adjust speed and acceleration, perform kinetic movements to balance a huge truck on a curvy highway. All of that while adjusting perspective and mainating situational awareness. No parent can keep up with the number of complex operations that kids can perform at speed while playing these games. Let’s use it to our advantage and let’s stop fighting progress.