TED Talks Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups?
An intriguing discussion of brain development research that may have profound importance in teaching across the curricula and in the case of this blog's focus, particularly in the teaching of literature.
Just a tease... The speaker makes reference to "The Winter's Tale" where Shakespeare describes adoblescence as follows: "I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting...Having said that, would any but these boiled brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt in this weather?"
It provides a laugh line amongst the audience but Blakemore goes on to discuss recent brain research evidence that indicates distinct differences in the still developing adolescent brain directly related to risk taking, emotion processing and reward processing.
Blakemore also noted that it may be as of yet incomplete brain development in particular areas of the brain that may explain limitations in adolescent "ability to take into account someone else's perspective."
And, of course, "point of view" is one of the core elements of literary analysis. It isn't that adolescents can not emphasize; it's more that they do so on less complex levels. I remember well how often while discussing the motives that might explain a character's actions, I'd ask a question phrased as follows, "So, if you were wearing so-and-so's shoes, what do you think you would do in this situation?" And quite often I would get a response to a very different question. I'd essentially get a response as though I'd asked the question, "If so-and-so was wearing your shoes, what do you think he/she would do in this situation?"
Of course in the very writing of this point I can see that the phrasing of my question may well be or at least be perceivable as being ambiguous. Yet, in so many cases responses quite frequently were more likely to reflect answers to questions like "If Huck (or Holden, or Hamlet) were you wnat would he do?" than "If you were Huck (or Holden or Hamlet) what would you do?"
And I remember now with the kind of embarrassment that reflection sometimes brings into clearer focus, too often wondering if I was so-self-centered when I was their age. Assuming, therefore that they're difficulty in feeling empathy and compassion was their fault and therefore a reason to be disappointed, perhaps even annoyed by the student's "inability" to recognize that not everyone sees the world the way they do.
Blakemore's interesting explanation of this phenomenon beginning at about the 7 minute mark is an eye openers in demonstrating this point from a point of view I had not taken into consideration myself when I "blamed the kid" for self-centered tendencies.
Lest my thoughts be misunderstood, I am NOT building a case against teaching point of view. For all I know the very efforts we make in attempts to use literature in order to help our students develop empathy and thereby compassion, may be like doing push ups in PE classes. They may be the very exercises that build the brain's "strength" LITERALLY. (hmmm, I'm wondering if that's another play on words that I'm so fond of)
Might it be that our efforts are actually promoting brain development at a biological level? That "late bloomers" are just that. They are not less intelligent, they may not even be lazy or slow to find their way. They may simply be moving along the brain development stages of adolescence at a different pace, that may well also be absolutely normal and not a sign of intellectual limitations.
I kind of hope there's some truth in my contemplations. If so, it would certainly go a long way towards explaining my own "late blooming." Okay, perhaps I was immature and foolish, but maybe, just maybe, I wasn't any "dumber" or lazier" than my "smarter" contemporaries after all.
Writers always get asked the same questions: where do you get your ideas from?
I always find articles like this fascinating. I'm amused by the use of the term "Weird Writers' Rituals." Okay, they are weird in comparison to a strictly logical process that we assume is the antithesis of "weird."
They may amuse us as we consider the extreme anal retentiveness of the C.S.Lewis-types or the extremely odd writing places of the Gertrude Stein-types, or the peculiar writing attire practices of the John Cheever-ish, the 2-hole vs. 4-hole paper insistence of the Phillip Pullmans of the profession, or the relationships with alcohol and other substances of the Truman Capotes, Dylan Thomases, and, well a boat load of others.
On the other hand, what has always been far weirder to me are some of the things we lead students to believe are signs of good writing when we teach them how to write.
Of course organized writing is better than unorganized writing. And, there are certainly elements of organization that are within the grasp of our students, regardless of grade level, that can move them towards having an ability to organize their thoughts and then articulate them in increasingly clear and coherent fashions.
Brainstorming, researching, outlining, emphasizing the value of facts, experts, and secondary sources certainly leads to better writing than tossing around off the top of the head hearsay (assumed to actually be one's opinions), that have no actual value in articulating thoughts and ideas worthy attention.
So we teach outlining, and five-paragraph essay structures. Yes that writing is "better" than attempts to articulate ideas without any effort to inform ourselves and organize our thoughts.
Ironically, it was one great author criticizing another great writer who articulated this distinction. Truman Capote who said of Kerouac, "That's not writing, that's typing."
Neither author is without his critics of course. But the distinction between writing and typing is not unlike the relationship between five paragraph essays and good writing. Even though the similarity between the improved efficiency and ease of reading of typing and the slow and quite often difficulty of reading clumbsy penmanship is remarkably similar to the distinction between a well-written essay and five-paragraph robot writing.
We like to believe that the five-paragraph robot writing is merely a transitionary phase serving the purpose of moving towards organized writing and leading towards better writing that robot writing. We see this transition before our eyes in our better students.
But what do we sometimes overlook in the "rest of our students." Some actually have quite fine ideas but their spelling or their sentence structures or their failure to include transitions, or to place their topic sentences in the robot writing expected, yet completely arbitrary, position in a paragraph works against them in our assessment structures. Too often what they say is trumped by technical issues associated with how they say it.
Meanwhile spilling all that read ink on a kid's writing mistakes in hopes of corraling the skills that still need refining can sometimes lead a kid to conclude that he or she "hates writing because they aren't any good at it" ahead of their realization that robot writing is an interim skill on the way to becoming a good writer.
This is certainly not to say that mechanics, useage, and grammar are unimportant. Of course they are. But a young writer's blossoming understanding of complex ideas is also important and a kid's engagement with new ideas should not be inadvertently trodden upon while we also attend to that kid's as of yet still unpolished "basic writing skills."
What's weird is not the vastly different writing practices of these successful authors (many of whom could not survive as respected authors without the extensive support of their editors). What is weird is the idea that template based writing leads to achieving goals as effectively as we sometimes believe it does.
The one-size solution is not terribly common among the best writers and that's a lesson we can bring to our young writers.