Sunday, July 29, 2012

Native Differences in Ability and an Integrated Curriculum

The ideal curriculum for the young child would be both open and integrated. An integrated curriculum ties the various fields of learning together, acknowledging the related patterns of brain activity in areas such as music, math, and science.
Music, science, and math go hand in hand. This is a natural combination for children. As we think about the integrated curriculum, it is important to remember all of the educational possibilities of weaving music, science, and mathematics throughout children’s experiences and all parts of the classroom environment (Scholastic Early Childhood Today, 2003). Music and rhythm are a vital part of human culture. The integration of music into the general curriculum encourages students to become actively involved in their learning. For example, the rhythm, meter, measure, and pattern of familiar lyrics can help develop math and science skills while enhancing many other aspects of the curriculum (Rothenberg, 1996).

Music can be a real asset when it comes to teaching math. “Music is filled with patterns and that’s what math is really about. You’re not going to explain the intricacies of notes and scales to a three-year-old, but exposing a child to music now will help him learn these concepts later” (Gill, 1998, p. 40). _Education

Integrating different types of learning which exercise similar brain networks, within the curriculum, can provide complementary pre-verbal cognitive perspectives which may be difficult to achieve otherwise.

But the curriculum must also be open to integrating more and different skills and knowledge areas as windows for critical learning periods open and close. By a certain point in development, it should be clear whether the child possesses special interests or particular ability or skills potential. The curriculum is integrated, but open to special circumstances and motivations.

Different children possess varying innate potential for development in the diverse fields of study and over a wide range of skills and competencies. While it is true that smart practise is crucial for mastery of skills and knowledge, it is also true that starting with a higher innate potential allows for the possibility of a higher level of mastery, with well-directed practise.

In terms of music, for example, we find that males overwhelmingly dominate the list of the 100 greatest classical composers. This is also true for the list of 10 greatest violinists of all time. You will also find a powerful male dominance revealed in the list of the top 50 jazz musicians of all time. The handful of females who make it into the top 50 jazz musicians list, tend to be vocalists.

As far as mathematics is concerned, there has not been a female Fields medal winner. The Fields Medal is given to mathematicians who are considered to advance the field the most.

In science, the Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded almost exclusively to men, with Marie Curie sharing the award in 1903 with Antoine Henri Becquerel and Pierre Curie.

This male - female comparison of historical elite achievement in music, mathematics, and science, is meant only to demonstrate the likelihood of a sex related difference in innate ability at the elite levels, in those areas. The differences of innate strengths in these areas are distributed normally in both the male and the female populations, with the elite tail of the male distribution extending further to the right than the elite tail of the female distribution.

Other than for the elite tails, there is considerable overlap in ability in music, math, and science for males and females. In other words, the way is relatively equally open to mastery in those fields for large numbers of males and females.

For most dangerous children, early training in a broad range of general competencies will lead to adolescents with multiple skills which can be put to use in several ways to both provide income, and to pursue further mastery in special areas which may most interest individual dangerous children.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Steps to Personal Development and Autonomy

Here is a quick look at Arthur Chickering's Seven Vectors approach to personal development in children and youth. It is a useful taking-off point for designing approaches to early life curricula for Dangerous Children.

Chickering's theory was based upon personal development during the college years, but if you want to raise a Dangerous Child, you had better not wait that long.
1. Developing competence. Three kinds of competence develop in college–intellectual competence, physical and manual skills, and interpersonal competence. Intellectual competence is skill in using one’s mind. It involves mastering content, gaining intellectual and aesthetic sophistication, and, most important, building a repertoire of skills to comprehend, analyze, and synthesize. It also entails developing new frames of reference that integrate more points of view and serve as “more adequate” structures for making sense out of our observations and experiences. Physical and manual competence can involve athletic and artistic achievement , designing and making tangible products, and gaining strength, fitness, and self-discipline. Competition and creation bring emotions to the surface since our performance and our projects are on display for others’ approval or criticism. Leisure activities can become lifelong pursuits and therefore part of identity...

Students’ overall sense of competence increases as they learn to trust their abilities, receive accurate feedback from others, and integrate their skills into a stable self-assurance.

2. Managing emotions. Whether new to college or returning after time away, few students escape anger, fear, hurt, longing, boredom, and tension. Anxiety, anger, depression, desire, guilt, and shame have the power to derail the educational process when they become excessive or overwhelming. Like unruly employees, these emotions need good management. The first task along this vector is not to eliminate them but to allow them into awareness and acknowledge them as signals, much like the oil light on the dashboard.

Development proceeds when students learn appropriate channels for releasing irritations before they explode, dealing with fears before they immobilize, and healing emotional wounds before they infect other relationships. It may be hard to accept that some amount of boredom and tension is normal, that some anxiety helps performance, and that impulse gratification must sometimes be squelched....

3. Moving through autonomy toward interdependence. A key developmental step for students is learning to function with relative self-sufficiency, to take responsibility for pursuing self-chosen goals, and to be less bound by others’ opinions. Movement requires both emotional and instrumental independence, and later recognition and acceptance of interdependence.

Emotional independence means freedom from continual and pressing needs for reassurance, affection, or approval. It begins with separation from parents and proceeds through reliance on peers, nonparental adults, and occupational or institutional reference groups. It culminates in diminishing need for such supports and increased willingness to risk loss of friends or status in order to pursue strong interests or stand on convictions....

4. Developing mature interpersonal relationships. Developing mature relationships involves (1) tolerance and appreciation of differences (2) capacity for intimacy. Tolerance can be seen in both an intercultural and an interpersonal context. At its heart is the ability to respond to people in their own right rather than as stereotypes or transference objects calling for particular conventions. Respecting differences in close friends can generalize to acquaintances from other continents and cultures. Awareness, breadth of experience, openness, curiosity, and objectivity help students refine first impressions, reduce bias and ethnocentrism, increase empathy an altruism, and enjoy diversity....

5. Establishing identity. Identity formation depends in part on the other vectors already mentioned: competence, emotional maturity, autonomy, and positive relationships. Developing identity is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, remodeling a house, or seeking one’s “human rhythms,” a term that Murphy (1958) illustrated by photic driving. A person watching an instrument that emits flashes at precise intervals eventually hits a breaking point–the point at which the rhythm induces a convulsion. If, for example, the number is sixteen, the observer may rapidly lose consciousness as this number is presented in the standard time interval. Seventeen and fifteen, however ,are safe numbers. It is not until thirty-two or some other multiple of sixteen is reached that a breakdown recurs. Like the piano wire that hums or like the glass that shatters, we all have our critical frequencies in a variety of areas. Development of identity is the process of discovering with what kinds of experience, at what levels of intensity and frequency, we resonate in satisfying, in safe, or in self-destructive fashion.

Development of identity involves: (1) comfort with body and appearance, (2) comfort with gender and sexual orientation, (3) sense of self in a social, historical, and cultural context, (4) clarification of self-concept through roles and life-style , (5) sense of self in response to feedback from valued others, (6) self-acceptance and self-esteem, an d (7) personal stability and integration. A solid sense of self emerges, and it becomes more apparent that there is an I who coordinates the facets of personality, who “owns” the house of self and is comfortable in all of its rooms....

6. Developing purpose. Many college students are all dressed up and do not know where they want to go. They have energy but no destination. While they may have clarified who they are and where they came from, they have only the vaguest notion of who they want to be. For large numbers of college students, the purpose of college is to qualify them for a good job, not to help them build skills applicable in the widest variety of life experiences; it is to ensure a comfortable life-style, not to broaden their knowledge base, find a philosophy of life, or become a lifelong learner.

Developing purpose entails an increasing ability to be intentional, to assess interests and options, to clarify goals, to make plans, and to persist despite obstacles. It requires formulating plans for action and a set of priorities that integrate three major elements: (1) vocational plans and aspirations, (2) personal interests, and (3) interpersonal and family commitments. It also involves a growing ability to unify one’s many different goals within the scope of a larger, more meaningful purpose, and to exercise intentionality on a daily basis....

7. Developing Integrity. Developing integrity is closely related to establishing identity and clarifying purposes. Our core values and beliefs provide the foundation for interpreting experience, guiding behavior, and maintaining self-respect. Developing integrity involves three sequential but overlapping stages: (1) humanizing values-shifting away from automatic application of uncompromising beliefs and using principled thinking in balancing one’s own self-interest with the interests of one’s fellow human beings, (2) personalizing values-consciously affirming core values and beliefs while respecting other points of view, and (3) developing congruence-matching personal values with socially responsible behavior. _Chickering's Seven Vectors

The ideas have to be adjusted as appropriate for different ages and stages of development, of course.

One of the most important strengths adolescents should develop -- as part of developing identity, purpose, and integrity -- is to build a healthy resistance to propaganda and ideology.

In modern life, schoolchildren are immersed in propaganda and ideology -- as is anyone who is in contact with popular or news media. If one cannot separate his own identity, goals, and purpose from the prevalent propaganda and ideology in which he happens to be immersed, he cannot develop an autonomous self.

What are some differences between ideology and philosophy?

1.Philosophy refers to a pragmatic approach of looking and analyzing life. Ideology refers to a set of beliefs and rules belonging to a particular group or set of people
2.Philosophy aims at understand the world as it exists whereas ideology is born out of a vision for the future and aims at changing the current state to that particular vision
3.Philosophy is objective whereas ideology is dogmatic and refuses to participate in any discussion that does not agree with that ideology
4.Philosophy does not have as much impact as an ideology would have on the world ‘“ for ideology aims at spreading the beliefs and imposing them on the rest of the society irrespective of its relevance
5.All ideologies have some underlying philosophy but it is not vice versa. _Difference Between

A broader look at differences between ideology and philosophy
(Note: The link above goes to a chapter in an online book on philosophy. The link to this chapter is not an unconditional endorsement of the entire online book. But several of the book's chapters are useful as general introductions to various topics in philosophy.)

PDF slideshow looking at different modern political ideologies

Dangerous children will learn to avoid propaganda and ideology, as a general rule. But they need to be exposed to the phenomena in order to recognise and become relatively impervious to them.

The above is in the way of background information, to prepare the way for a discussion of an important societal transition which is underway. This transition will serve as the springboard for a more important transition -- of which The Dangerous Child movement is but a part.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who Will Educate the Dangerous Child?

The answer to the question, "Who will educate the Dangerous Child?" contains one of the reasons why the Dangerous Child is so dangerous: The Dangerous Child will educate himself.

Until the child becomes interested -- becomes motivated -- there is little likelihood that he will ever grow to become a Dangerous Child. And in the typical government school classroom environment which primarily utilises the teacher : student relationship as the pathway to learning, there is little likelihood that the student will grow motivated in the self-directed manner necessary for Dangerous Child development.

In a traditional teacher : student classroom, a dependency relationship between the student and the teacher tends to develop -- and is in fact encouraged to develop. The student is expected to approach learning via the teacher, and is encouraged to comply with the teacher's preferences in a wide variety of ways -- both explicit and implicit. This pathway leads to a greater dependency which makes the development of motivation and self-direction more difficult, the longer it goes on.

This implies that those who wish to raise a Dangerous Child need to find ways to fire the flame of motivation and self direction in the child from an early age. This is not generally difficult, given the normal hunger for learning exhibited by the typical child from infancy onward. In fact, it is often the artificial approach to learning and teaching forced onto young children which tends to destroy that natural early flame of motivation and self-directedness.

The field of Adult Education has developed quite differently from the field of childhood education, and understandably seeks to place more control over the student's learning in the hands of the student himself (PDF). More (PDF)

Most adults would not tolerate the dictatorial environment of the traditional classroom, nor the relatively low quality of education typically provided in K12 through university. They would particularly object to the indoctrinating nature of much of what passes for "education" in modern classrooms.

But many younger children and adolescents would also be more self-directed, motivated, and particular about the nature and quality of education, if they were given a choice. And suddenly, it seems that a number of choices are springing up.

A rapidly blooming area of learning at this time is online learning, which is coming to take on some of the self-directed and self-paced characteristics of adult learning.
Characteristics of Adult Learners with Implications of Online Learning Design (PDF)

Traditional educators are beginning to perceive a threat to their livelihood in the growing number of alternatives to traditional teacher : student dependency learning. And yet it is clear that the traditional pathways to education are leading modern societies to a dangerous impasse, where the quality of graduates has declined alarmingly. This leaves societies without the type of strong, independent, and objective sort of problem solvers which they so crucially require.

The way beyond this impasse is to grow ever larger crops of Dangerous Children, because independence and self-directedness, as well as problem-solving ability, are some of the key characteristics of the Dangerous Child.

It is not particularly helpful to directly import the techniques of Adult Learning wholesale into infant and early childhood learning. Rather, it is crucial for parents and those responsible for the child's education to aid in the development of the child's particular tendencies and competencies which grow the child's competencies and motivation to the point that he can pick up the self-directed learning methods developed in the field of Adult Learning on his own.

Make no mistake: The conflict between the advances in Adult Education and the regressive traditions of so-called "progressive childhood education" forms a deadly pivotal battleground which may determine the futures of several modern societies. The covert war is not so much between the political right/libertarian and the political left/socialist. Rather the war is between persons with a more expansive and dynamic view of the future, and those with a more static and "imposed" view of the future.

It is not my purpose here to convince readers of anything. My only purpose is to suggest that things might be done differently, should the reader see a need for that to happen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Levitin: 10,000 Hours to Mastery

Academy/Beck: One of the many things I appreciated in the first book was your discussion of the "10,000-hour" rule. Can you please review that?

Levitin: Yes, of course. It's not a rule so much as it is an empirical finding. But in the final analysis, it comes down to that in order to be a world-class expert in anything, be it audiology, drama, music, art, gymnastics, whatever, one needs to have a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean that if you put in 10,000 hours that you will become an expert, but there aren't any cases where someone has achieved world-class mastery without it! So the time spent at the activity is indeed the most important and influential factor. We find this with music all the time. Some people may have a biological or genetic head-start in music. In fact, we know that people, and children in particular, may all start at different levels when they get interested in music, but without 10,000 hours of practice, they probably won't achieve world-class status, regardless of their innate ability. So on a pragmatic level, it takes about three hours a day over 10 years to acquire 10,000 hours. Of course, this is consistent with what we know about how brains learn new tasks and skills. In other words, learning requires the assimilation and consolidation of knowledge within neural tissue. As the experience is repeated and enriched through practice and skill development, the stronger the memory and learning of that experience becomes. _Daniel Levitin Interview (PDF)

Daniel Levitin's "10,000 Hour Rule" is reminiscent of K. Anders Ericsson (PDF)'s maxim that 10 years of smart practise is required for world class mastery of a subject, or complex skill, by a top prodigy -- and between 15 and 25 years are required for those who are "mere elites."

Always keep in mind that practise alone is not enough -- one needs to indulge in "smart practise."
Practice is, of course, the crucial element to be a great performer. But smart practice will take you to the same place faster. It is important to distinguish practice from playing though. Playing in orchestra, chamber music and any other kind of rehearsal is not considered practice. You still perfect things as an ensemble but your technique as an individual musician is not being worked at is best potential.

Music performance is a preparation of many hours in the practice room for that one day, for the moment where everything comes alive through you and your talents- that is why having a plan beforehand is essential. You can repeat things for 8 hours and not come up with the greatest results- it happens especially when you are under pressure.

...You can practice as much as 4-5 hours a day but know that resting is extremely necessary and that there are other ways to grow as a musician and learn your music like: listening to a recording with the score in hand, make an analysis of the piece, find out some of the hit points or key places where music changes suddenly, etc. You can also read about the composer and the time the piece was created. All of the above will be reflected in you music making. _Tips for Classical Musicians
The musician's experience above provides a crucial lesson: Time is required to achieve mastery. You cannot fruitfully compress 15 years of training into 5 years. You must put in the time, but you must also pace yourself so as to allow your brain to create the proper circuitry.

This brings us to an important point: When should a child begin training toward mastery in music, chess, athletics, foreign language, or other complex skills?

The earlier a child starts on the road to mastery, the sooner he can arrive at his destiny. But it isn't quite that simple.

If you give the child a sufficiently stimulus-rich early environment, and pay close enough attention to the child, he or she is likely to tell you when they are ready for a trial beginning. Over a period of time, it should become clear whether the child is ready to embark on the voyage to mastery for this particular skill -- or whether this area of training is a "false start" or "red herring" which may keep the child from finding a path to mastery better suited for him or her.

Remember the concept of the "critical developmental window?" The concept of the critical period is important, but different children may pass through a particular critical period at different times.

Daniel Levitin looked at the concept of "absolute pitch," or perfect pitch -- an auditory sense important to composers and elite musicians. He found that different persons who possessed perfect pitch began formal musical training at different ages.
It is not possible for every young music student to acquire AP sense. But apparently most of those who do acquire that skill, begin training at a relatively young age.

In reality, most of our children will not grow to be world class golfers, chess masters, or musical prodigies. Most of them will not win Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals in advanced mathematics. In the same way, most children will not make world changing discoveries, nor become mega-billionaire tycoons.

But we do want our children to grow up to be competent across a range of skills, and to be masters of themselves, experiencing a deep sense of confidence, fulfillment, and satisfaction in the living of their lives. We want them to be able to support themselves financially, to raise a family if they wish, and to be able to pass along lessons of competence and mastery to their progeny and those whom they mentor.

And we want them to be dangerous to the status quo of global incompetence and decay which seems to slip in unannounced at any opportunity. Children are not born competent in the skills and complexities of adult human life.

It takes many years and thousands of hours of smart practise to achieve that.

More: An interesting blog riff on the 10,000 hour to mastery concept (including comments)

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Road to Mastery

We talk a lot about competence in the dangerous child, and certainly competence is crucial when dealing with dangerous (and valuable) skills. But on the road to mastery, competence occurs somewhere near the half-way point.

In 1980, Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus described A FIVE-STAGE MODEL OF THE MENTAL ACTIVITIES INVOLVED IN DIRECTED SKILL ACQUISITION (PDF). In the document, they describe 5 steps, or stages, in the growth from beginner to master:
  1. Novice
  2. Competent
  3. Proficient
  4. Expert
  5. Master
Since then, the Dreyfus and Dreyfus model has been altered so that the 5 stages are now:

Novice -- Advanced Beginner -- Competent -- Proficient -- Expert

When reduced to just 3 stages common to both ancient and modern guilds, we would describe the model as Apprentice -- Journeyman -- Master.

Slideshare presentation of the Dreyfus & Dreyfus model

The road to mastery is a long one, which modern western educational systems are reluctant to follow. The resistance to mastery learning among modern educators is extremely strong, perhaps due to the time and effort required of both teacher and learner.

Famed psychologist of expert learning, K. Anders Ericsson, says that world class mastery requires at least 10 years of directed practise by the most gifted, and more like 15 to 25 years of hard directed practise by the merely elite (PDF).

In Ericsson's view, it is the duration and quality of practise which determines who will master the skill, rather than innate talent or IQ. Perhaps it is best to adopt that view, and teach students to enjoy the hard effort required to achieve mastery, even if it is not entirely correct.

After all, even among the elite, there are those who are clearly superior, who took much less time and practise to achieve higher levels of mastery than the masses of those who are considered "expert" or "master." But again, perhaps it is best to focus on teaching students to enjoy mastering challenges, and solving difficult problem after difficult problem. Students who incorporate persistence and grit along with expertise, are more likely to succeed.

But each child is different, with different propensities and likelihood of achieving mastery, for a wide range of skills and practises. Some children are more likely to be happy as specialists, while others are more naturally generalists. Not only must we provide the child with a likely path to mastery in his general field of choice, we must also learn to gauge his optimal balance of depth vs breadth.

For students who wish a shallower level of mastery for a large number of different fields, the mastery of "heuristics" in each field is likely to be very important.

For those who wish to master a smaller number of fields, the utilisation of customised "mastery learning" should take them to a deeper level, as appropriate.

And for those who are compelled to take the field or profession beyond the level of its current masters -- to achieve creative innovation and genius level work -- a working through the entire 5 stage Dreyfus and Dreyfus model is required, plus just a little extra.

When a master is doing genius level revolutionary innovation, he is working at a hypothetical "level 6" or higher. He is devoting his entire being to the problem, over an extended period of time. This is something that is not easily taught -- if it can be taught at all.

Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow, illustrates some of the problems in making decisions and judgments at different stages from novice to expert.

Typically we think of the early stages of mastery as involving more conscious and deliberative thinking, while the more expert stages involve more automatic and intuitive types of thinking.

But if experts and masters cannot "keep their hand in" with the earlier skills of deliberative and conscious thinking and fact-checking, they may be at a loss when entirely new problems arise which do not succumb to their intuitions and learned automaticities.

Early stage learning -- before the ages of 12 or 16 -- will provide the child with a wide range of competencies and mid-level skills which fall far below mastery. But if sometime between the ages of 5, and 12 to 16, the child experiences a special affinity to and talent for one or more skills, he should be encouraged along a road that might lead to mastery of the special skill or skills. The more high quality directed development time the child can put in for a particular skill, the closer to world class mastery he can come.

Early stage learning focuses upon heuristics and rules of thumb. These are practical and easy to remember scaffolds of learning, for building more detailed structures of learning later.

Many people go through their entire lives without ever going beyond the early heuristic level of learning for any given field. And some do not even get that far.

For those who wish to raise truly dangerous children, it is important that you learn to provide the important heuristics which will keep the child safe even in a dangerous environment. And should the child show a marked preference for any particular dangerous environments, the child should not only be given the crucial heuristics to keep him safe, but should also be helped further along the road to mastery so that he can shape both himself, and the environment itself to his own advantage.

Finally, a caveat: IQ and innate ability do play an important part in the road to mastery along with innate inclinations -- despite what well-meaning experts such as KA Ericsson may claim publicly. Pay close attention to cues which may indicate an especially fulfilling direction of development for a particular child.

Children can become infatuated with a particular field without understanding the incredible amount of difficult work that is necessary for mastery of it. It is important that children be given a chance to prove themselves, but in a realistic -- not pampered or sheltered -- way. Force them to see what the thing really is, and what it will take to achieve it. Be brutally honest here, or you may do far more harm than you realise.

The child does not have time for a large number of abortive attempts at mastery, if it takes between 15 and 25 years for him to achieve top level mastery. And most parents don't have the time, patience, or the money to support multiple failed attempts.

Yes, you want the child to aim high. But: Do not pamper. Do not shelter. Do not encourage fantasy dreams which are without realistic possibility. Make the child prove himself each step of the way, but be sure to provide the opportunity for him to do so.

More: We have pointed out in previous articles that dangerous children should be able to support themselves economically -- in multiple ways -- by the time he or she is 18. This is due to the multiple skills and competencies which the child will have learned on the path to becoming dangerous.

This is a very good thing for parents, who will no doubt have their own uses for their hard-earned wages. A widely-competent dangerous child should be able to finance his own long experimentation into mastery over the decades of early to middle adulthood.

Dangerous children typically remain dangerous over entire lifetimes. They are far less likely to sink deeply into time-killing entertainments and mind-wasting amusements and intoxicants. Parents give dangerous children their start, but it is the children themselves who must find their own way.