Friday, 30 April 2010

What am I? What do I learn?

Children with Asperger's Syndrome often have trouble at school.

I know of one in particular.

He attempts to be himself which is a perfectly reasonable stance to take; however, through being himself he does not conform to what school wishes him to be and that is a malleable, biddable pupil.

Witness the word pupil.

Pupil, student, schoolchild, class, sixth former, kindergarten, freshman, graduate

All words for children or collections of children or young people.

A boy with Asperger's, R, doesn't like school.

He shows signs of physical stress and anxiety, and stays off a lot.

When he is there, the school responds with warnings about behaviour then detentions.

Detention. Word for imprisonment, punishment.

The medium is the message.

"...the most important impressions made on a human nervous system come from the character and structure of the environment within which the nervous system functions; that environment itself conveys the critical and dominant messages by controlling the perceptions and dominant messages of those who participate in it. Dewey stressed that the role an individual is assigned is an environment - what he is permitted to do - is what the individual learns. In other words, the medium itself, i.e., the environment is the message. 'Message' here means the perceptions you are allowed to build, the attitudes you are enticed to assume, the sensitivities you are encouraged to develop - almost all of the things you learn to see and feel and value. You learn them because your environment is organised in such a way that it permits or encourages or insists that you learn them."

From Teaching As a Subversive Activity, p. 28-29, talking about Marshall McLuhan's 'the medium is the message'.

So what does the boy learn?

R learns that he cannot be himself. His 'I' is unacceptable and it is unacceptable to him to substitute a mask for the 'I' which he expresses. He learns that he is 'outside' the zone of approval. Many other children are 'inside' the zone and so receive positive reinforcement for their non-'I'/conforming behaviour.

R cannot do that. He sees no need to conform. He is true to 'I'.

Is this boy learning to be accepted?

Since he is frequently punished, no.

Is he learning to conform?

Quite the opposite.

Is he learning that the 'I' of him is OK?

No, anything but.

What is he learning?

R is learning that people who are supposed to guide and look after him in the school do not. He learns that it is OK for those who have a duty of care towards him not only to fail him but to actively seek to undermine him, abuse him and bully him. R knows now that it is fine for another human being to abuse him, and he realises that he has no power to fight back or protest against the maiming of 'I'.

All that the teachers are teaching in the way of useful knowledge is being lost for R because the boy is employing all his psychic energy in the constant battle to try to keep himself safe.

The battleground is his soul. His very being.

Anything extra is draining away. Maths, English, Science, all going to waste.

When will the school realise?

Schools do not realise. They are set up to induce conformity. They will seek to punish those who retain 'I'. They will bring in educational psychologists/counsellors to label the boy in order to shift the blame from school to boy and boy's parents/home. They will muster their weapons: other children, social workers, teaching assistants, even police.

The school will continue to fail the boy.

The parent will revolt at some stage of the closing of professional ranks and seek to home educate the boy.

That day cannot come soon enough.

During the non-coercive education process inside and outside the home base the child will receive reinforcement for 'I'. The 'I' will strengthen and recover. This process may take years - post traumatic stress syndrome is not easy to alleviate.

One day the boy will see he is 'I' and 'I' is worthy and strong and has its own place in the world.

Home education - putting the 'I' in CHILD


  1. Wonderful, so important to stop them bringing that abuse into our homes!

  2. This made me cry. It is so true. Beautifully expressed.

  3. I wrote something earlier that seems to have vanished into the ether.
    I truly hope more parents will feel able to take that step to remove their miserable and unlearning (if that's a word-it is now) child from the institution that stifles them.
    I hope more children speak up and ask to be home educated.
    I truly don't understand those who want to make it more difficult to help children get out of a situation they find untenable.

  4. beautiful post... so true.