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.