March 17, 2015

On being an unexpected kinesthetic learner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 1:38 pm by chavisory

(Crossposted today at We Are Like Your Child)

I start to rediscover that I’m a kinesthetic learner, and it’s odd. It’s so contrary to everything I’ve ever been told about myself, and it feels so good.

When we started learning about multiple intelligences theories, kids who were described as kinesthetic—as learning most naturally through movement or action—were dancers, naturally talented athletes, the class clowns, physical actors, the kids who could never sit still. Kids who were always in trouble for not being able to stay in their seats, likely to pick up a diagnosis of ADHD somewhere along the way. High-energy, daring, uninhibited, and loud.

And I was very quiet, very still, very inhibited. I was always in trouble in PE for not knowing what in the world I was doing or being totally unable to keep up with the rest of the class. I was badly coordinated and nowhere near fast enough for any team sport. I never placed in any event in Field Day. I failed out of gymnastics.

Kinesthetic learners were generally thought not to do well in school because of their need for activity and movement. I sat quietly in class and got all A’s. I had a photographic memory. Teachers were always scolding, “You can’t expect to only study the night before and do well on this test!” But I could. I got into the gifted class and kept my hands rolled up in my sleeves.

But all the while, I just ached to be taught how to do things. I clawed my skin off from having not enough to do with my hands. And I could feel the terrifying void that existed between the fact that I knew about a lot of things, but I didn’t know how to do almost anything. The scrutiny of other people was literally paralyzing. I resented more than anything as a kid when we’d be told that we were going to learn how to do a really cool thing, but then what we actually got was obviously a fake, dumbed-down version, of making gingerbread houses or uncovering fossils. People told me a lot about how I was never going to make it in the real world, but nobody seemed to want to teach me anything real.

But writing is movement, too, and I was better at that than most people. So is beading. So is loading electrophoresis gels.

As a child, making tuna salad or cutting up fruit for myself, people try to take knives away from me, sure that I’m going to cut myself, but I never do. (They do.) I never fall on steep hills or icy sidewalks when adults are sure I will. I never sprain an ankle toe-walking.

I could feel that if I could know a thing in my body, in my joints, in my bones, in how it behaved in my hands…anything I could make a physical habit out of, was a thing I’d always be able to do, that I could never really lose or forget, the way I’ve forgotten calculus almost entirely from disuse, and chemistry, and how I’ve lost my photographic memory to other cognitive demands. (That one makes me mad.)

I start stealing opportunities to do that. Time without a well-meaning adult hovering over my shoulder was time to steal fire.

We have typing class in 9th grade, and once I start learning, my fingers twitch constantly, ghost-typing out any sequences of overheard words against my thigh. I had no idea what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t stop.

I was in high school, and may’ve been listening to a lecture from my grandfather about the difference between people who work with their minds and people who work with their hands, and thought silently, “If I don’t work with my hands, I’ll go insane.”

My acting teacher tells me to get my hands out of my sleeves. I turn out to be good at acting.

At a new job, I initially panic when I learn that my nightly duties will involve moving pianos by myself. But I quickly get a sense of the individual moods and idiosyncracies of the Hamburg, the New York Steinway, the Fazioli—their resistance and center of gravity. They almost have individual wills, like baby elephants.

I get told at a meetup that I have very loud hands, and it makes me so happy.

I start teaching myself a little ASL to make up for the apocryphal childhood gesture language I was trained out of, that I have no conscious memory of, and it feels like breathing air instead of doing complicated sorcery.

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May 30, 2014

It’s not a sin to be awkward.

Posted in Marginalization, Schooling and unschooling, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 2:02 am by chavisory

I’m was in the office at work with my boss and a coworker, and I do not even remember how the topic of conversation has turned to public schooling vs. homeschooling.  But it has.  My coworker starts in on an anecdote, and I have a bad, bad feeling about where this is going.

“We had a homeschooled girl in my high school chemistry class.  She was like 12.  She was just so far ahead.”

(Maybe not.  Sharp intake of breath.  Slightly too-long pause.)

“But she was so awkward.  And it made the whole class awkward, and it was just awkward to have her there.”

And here we are.  At the moment in which, prior to this, I had actually thought that my acceptance in this place, to these people, wasn’t based on me passing myself off as the right kind of person instead of the wrong kind.

The awkward kind.

But it was.  And I am.  She hadn’t realized, in the way that people usually don’t stop to think whether it’s possible that the people they’re about to mock or denigrate are actually the people they’re talking to.

Oops.  Fuck.

And I don’t want to start a really nasty fight right then in front of my boss, so I say something moderate and reasonable-sounding about how what really matters is not whether a kid is homeschooled or not, but whether they’ve been isolated or allowed to have outside social opportunities.  How some homeschooling families actually just isolate their kids, and that’s wrong, but as long as they’re giving their kids chances to interact with other groups…choir, scouting, church groups, music lessons, art classes…

…instead of “Fuck you very much.”

And I didn’t say what I actually should have, either…in the interest of starting my shift on time and also…not having an awkward argument in my boss’s office.

It’s not a sin to be awkward.

Can we stop talking about it like it is?

A 12-year-old girl hasn’t done anything to you by being awkward, or by taking advantage of her legal right to a free and appropriate public education while awkward.

While we’re at it, can we also stop using “awkward” as a euphemism for incompetent, irritating, immature, overbearing, invasive, inappropriate, or probably autistic but we can’t be seen as scorning someone for being actually disabled so we’re gonna say they’re “awkward” which is obviously just a personal failing that’s fine to use an excuse for their ostracism?

Here’s another newsflash:  I know a lot of people who in fact went through 13 years of mainstream public schooling, who are still awkward people.  Because it actually isn’t being confined in a cell-block building with a limited number of people, exactly your own age, for over a decade, isolated from your community and adult company, and subjected to sufficient peer pressure to just stop being different, that makes you non-awkward.  It’s already possessing a manner of speech, body language, common interests, and gender presentation that’s consistent with those of the vast majority of other people.  It’s having a native language of social engagement that is the same as most people around you.

I served my full term in the public school system, I went to the second-largest high school in my state, and I followed that with four years at one of this country’s most regularly top-ranked party schools.

I am still an awkward person.  And if you thought I wasn’t, you just haven’t seen me in the right—or the wrong—situation.  But I guarantee you it wasn’t lack of ridicule or social pressure to be anything other than what I was that caused this.

It also isn’t being allowed to do your academic work outside of a classroom setting, at a pace that works for you, that makes you awkward, because plenty of non-awkward people do that.

I’d really like people to consider, before the next time they scorn a kid for being awkward, or homeschooling or unconventional schooling for making kids awkward, that they are likely committing a fundamental chicken/egg fallacy.

A homeschooled kid probably isn’t awkward because they were homeschooled.

They are probably homeschooled because they are awkward.

Because they have probably already been forced out of the school system by bullying and abuse or discrimination, or because the school couldn’t or wouldn’t meet their academic needs.

(Being academically precocious: also not a sin.)

I mean, mandatory, universal public school attendance wasn’t even a widespread thing in this country until the early-mid 20th century.  Were we really just a nation of incredibly awkward people until the 1920’s or so?

Even if it really were homeschooling that caused awkwardness, I would so much rather a child of mine be awkward than a whole lot of other things that are nowhere near as socially stigmatized as awkwardness:  Mean, bigoted, superficial, callous, snide and scornful towards people different from or more vulnerable than themselves.

I’ll take awkwardness any day.