Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Reply to John Derbyshire

The following is a comment on a posting by John Derbyshire entitled The Dream Palace of Educational Theorists.. Derbyshire seems to relish being a provocateur, assailing the bastions of American public education (not to mention almost every other institution along the way!). He is also an exceptional writer and has written highly regarded popularizations of serious mathematics. I'm a believer in listening to all sides, no matter how extreme and then making reasoned judgments of my own.

John, Since I referred to myself as an iconoclast before finding your fascinating blog, there may be some common ground here. I'll leave it for you to discover the rest if you choose to visit my blog... The particular post in the link above addresses a critical piece of the 'big picture' of the expression of intelligence that has been systematically (intentional use of that term) overlooked. Here are a couple of excerpts I'd like you to consider: This is an expansion of comments I made in Richard Colvin's excellent Early Stories blog... The Carnegie Report, Starting Points, alluded to by Richard Colvin stressed the importance of nurturance and stimulation of the infant in the first 6 months to 1 year - a lot of prewiring and hardwiring of neural pathways is taking place in that first year and the simple verbal and non-verbal interaction between mommy or daddy with baby appears to be more critical than any Baby Einstein tape! Further, the first year is surely the most critical for developing a sense of stability, security and trusting one's environment - just feeling 'safe!' Picture an infant removed from the primary caregiver and institutionalized or placed with different caregivers during that first year and how terrifying that can be to that child. This is a commonplace occurrence for the thousands of babies born crack-cocaine addicted each year whose mothers are unable to care for their children. The bonding process with the mother or grandmother or one primary caregiver is so vital for the later psychosocial development of the child. John, I absolutely accept the importance of genetics, but not its preeminence over all other factors. If generations of a societal group have been systematically deprived of the physical and emotional necessities for proper brain development, it is poor science (not to mention discriminatory) for anyone to conclude anything about group inferiority. Paul Tough made it clear that these children need significant advantages to compensate for their initial start in life. This goes way beyond HeadStart programs, selfless dedicated teachers and unique programs. Neither you nor anyone else in my limited readings is willing to tackle the pernicious effects of poverty and deprivation during the first 3 years of life. Trying to reverse the damage that takes place in this critical period may be insurmountable, but we don't really know, do we? It hasn't been done yet. Other nations provide far more during the prenatal and postnatal period than we do. Again, I do not discount the significance of heritable factors. However, how would you have turned out if your mother was a crack addict and you were born drug addicted and suffered violent withdrawal symptoms for the first 12 months of life. How would your genetics have overcome this? Having swaddled a dozen or more of these infants in the past 25 years provides a limited but telling empirical base for my own theories. BTW, I think I'm also enjoying the advantages of Senior Tourette's to which you referred in an interview! It's delightful to not give a **** about what anyone thinks of me!

No comments: