47 Chapters
Medium 9781782200901

Chapter Sixteen: Dysnumeracy: The “Third r”

Miller, J.F. Karnac Books ePub

“Reading (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic”: no discussion of learning difficulties would be complete without including the difficulties that many children encounter with numeracy. While being numerate is obviously as much a part of education as being literate, numeracy somehow seems to be viewed as the poor relation of literacy or at least, to be put in a separate category. The first thing to which this draws our attention is that most of the population does seem to divide quite naturally into those who have more of an inclination or aptitude for things expressed in words—what is loosely put under the heading of arts and humanities—and those who take more naturally to number-based subjects—maths and sciences.

The Scottish psychologist Liam Hudson put forward convincing evidence in his book Contrary Imaginations (Hudson, 1966) that everyone naturally falls into one of two categories. These were what he called “convergent thinkers”, those whose aptitudes were for mathematics and science, and “divergent thinkers”, those whose natural aptitudes were for humanities. This certainly tallies with most teachers’ impression of how children are and it is rare to find someone who is equally at home with both sides of the picture.

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Medium 9781782200901

Chapter Nine: Secrets, Lies, and Hidden Agenda

Miller, J.F. Karnac Books ePub

The way in which guilty secrets or buried history can contribute to problems or crises in the present is the staple diet of thrillers and detective stories. Most people have secret hopes, fears, and memories. In the literature of psychotherapy, a lot has been written about the issue of “the secret”, a situation where the client or patient is obsessed with guilt, anxiety or embarrassment about something which happened which they have never dared share with anyone. Most commonly, when such a secret is eventually revealed to the therapist, the biggest problem is that of understanding why the patient felt so awful about it. What this highlights is how personal and irrational feelings of guilt and shame can be and how much, consequently, they can interfere with a person's capacity to function normally in life.

In this book so far, we have been mainly examining all the different ways in which ordinary, everyday fears, anxieties, and confusions can contribute to learning difficulties in children and students who in other respects are fairly normal and healthy. In this chapter, we will be examining and discussing some of the more common ways in which secrets, trauma, and guilty feelings can interfere with the child's capacity to learn. Sometimes there are dark and disturbing secret issues at the root of the problem, such as sexual abuse. More commonly, there is nothing particularly sinister or dark at the root of the problem, but the lack of interest or imagination on the part of the adult world stops them finding out what might be wrong or understanding what it means when they do. I was once called to see a boy of eight whose class-teacher complained was uncooperative and disobedient. When I asked her to describe what form this took, her main example was the way in which every time she asked the class to write a story, whatever subject she specified, this boy always wrote the same story: about a little child going into a forest and getting attacked. Evidently she had so little imagination and emotional responsiveness that it didn't occur to her that this was likely to be a communication of some kind of anxiety or trauma as opposed to disobedience or not paying attention. It wasn't as if this little boy was actually devoid of signs of anxiety: the teacher also observed, with similar lack of curiosity, that he had such a strong habit of tugging nervously at his hair that he was actually starting to develop a bald patch!

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Medium 9781780490571

Chapter Twenty - From Victim and Blame to a Saner Society

Miller, J.F. Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER TWENTY

From victim and blame to a saner society

The clearest evidence of the victim culture in which we now live is the preoccupation with litigation. For many years now, it has not been possible to turn on a commercial television channel in the daytime without being encouraged to find someone to blame for any mishap you might have had, and to sue them. This is sadomasochism in its true colours: no one must take responsibility for themselves, there are no such things as accidents or bad luck because everyone is in some way a victim.

At a purely practical level, this has all sorts of negative effects. Insurance premiums rapidly increase and insurance companies become more and more resistant and obstructive about paying even genuine claims. The Consumers Association has even quoted examples of insurance companies treating an enquiry about their policy as an increase in risk and putting up the premium. One local authority reported that they had to spend so much money settling claims for damages on accidents blamed on the road surfaces that there was little left actually to repair the surfaces to prevent further accidents.

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Chapter Eleven: Go for It! The Function of Aggression

Miller, J.F. Karnac Books ePub

Aggression is a fundamental part of being alive. The moment we make that statement, however, we are confronted with the fact that aggression, out of context, always has connotations of hostility or destructiveness. The expression “an act of aggression” automatically suggests some kind of violence or attack. It doesn't take much reflection, however, to see that everyday life is full of examples of what we might call benign aggression whenever we engage in an action which is aimed at achieving something. This is reflected in everyday language. Attempting to do something is often described as “having a go at it”, “having a stab at it”, “having a bash”, and so on. Anything which is perceived as possibly difficult or unfamiliar is thought of as “a challenge” as if it is an opponent who has to be faced in some form of combat.

In the educational world more than any other, it is vital to understand the role of aggression in mobilising the child's attitude and energy towards the task of learning. Anything which contributes to a child being unduly inhibited and afraid to harness his or her aggression is bound to interfere with learning, regardless of how much ability or understanding the child as. A punitive or authoritarian home situation, for example, is likely to produce a spirit of timidity and caution where the child is forever anticipating being told off or humiliated in response to any mistake.

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Chapter Eight: Family Matters: The External Situation

Miller, J.F. Karnac Books ePub

Most teachers—particularly in primary-schools recognise that a sudden deterioration in a child's behaviour is likely to be related to circumstances in family life. It is also obvious that some major events in a child's home-life—a bereavement for example—can be expected to have an effect on school work, even if there are no behavioural or management problems. Nevertheless, the general assumption that still seems to be made is that even small children are relatively autonomous systems, carrying around inside them their in-built equipment and that the dynamics of family life (particularly the relationship with the parents) is of little relevance to their cognitive development and capacity to learn.

The main evidence for this is the way in which the response to any significant learning difficulties or lack of progress tends to take the form of devoting resources or special teaching exclusively to the child and seldom, if ever, to the parents or the family situation. Most commonly, the only contact with parents takes the form of reporting on progress or problems and discussing what is needed to be done with the child. The idea that the parent–child relationship and the family dynamics are likely to be the main factor in the child's learning difficulties, let alone that these difficulties may be little more than the public expression or acting-out of problems in the family situation, is seldom entertained. Yet there is ample evidence that, particularly in the case of small children in early stages of their development, child–parent relationships and family dynamics are always relevant. Moreover, the more serious and pronounced the problem in the child's behaviour or learning difficulties, the more important it is to assess them in the context of the family.

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