Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner


Originally posted on March 26, 2013

A recent correspondence: My friend Ed wrote about seeing the video of my son David’s presentation in Seattle about “Spectrums”—a book he had just published. He wrote, “You son David has inherited your exuberance and capacity for projection. I learned something .. of the existence of "tetrachromats": Amazing idea, that some people have sensory capacities beyond our ordinary perceptions. I’ve always liked the idea that we are born with capacities which become limited by the context (family, culture, etc) into which we are born. Imagine a child growing up in a family which does not have the sense of smell. Such a child would probably "tune out" his/her sense of smell. And perhaps we are all afflicted with such a state of affairs. Actually, your son’s exuberance is like this; clearly something which was encouraged by the fact that his father also exhibited this "thing."
I responded: First: Yes, I’m very proud! Extending your point, I think that musical talent was looked for and appreciated in middle-class 18th century Europe and the chances that a kid with talent would be noticed was a little higher than in a culture where that skill or type of intelligence was hardly noticed.
Could it be that some people like Jesus or Ramakrishna were the equivalent of Mozart in "spiritual intelligence"? And that some kids are naturally more connected to spirit and mystical pursuits than others?
In this light, I’ve been encouraging my son David to join me (or perhaps I’ll do it myself) to write about spectrums of the mind, noting that there are another whole bunch of variables that again might be good to recognize as a spectrum,  e.g. People who are naturally good with people and those who are clueless in this regard but sharp in another arena (e.g., Asperger’s syndrome). Also, at present we expect everyone to be a leader or good at people skills and therefore marginalize those who aren’t
My friend wrote back: “Also, culturally we are quite left-brain dominant, and reward people for their left brain skills. But this seems to be changing. We used to "punish" left-handed people, forcing them to be right-handed. We don’t do that any more. Still, in certain quarters, such as the Pentagon and the whole military-industrial-complex, left-brain rules!

But yes, as you say, especially in 18th century Europe, musical talent seemed to be handed down in family lines. I’ve just been reading up on Puccini .. coming from another musical family line. And yes, probably all those forms of intelligence of which Howard Gardner speaks, may well be at least amplified in family lines. It has so much to do with where the kid feels responded to within his environment. If his family doesn’t pay attention to music, he will probably not develop in that direction. Which means, I think, there are limitations on what an educational system can do, bereft as it is in its capacity to respond individually to the child.”

I responded: Yes, people are really different in so many ways. Professor Roger J. Williams wrote a book in 1967 (Random House) titled You Are Extraordinary, and notes that humans are characterized by innumerable anatomical and biochemical differences. Our culture still hardly addresses this and does little toward helping people find what they’re intrinsically good at, sensitive to, talented at, and dare I say it, to discover the opposite? The culture promotes the attitude that says, in effect, "If you try hard enough you could be good at everything." This thought complex is then unconsciously given a moral imperative, "should be" so that kids spend untold hours trying to remediate skills that in most cases didn’t benefit that much from all that work. They don’t like that kind of thing and very probably will never do that work; instead, they will gravitate to that which they like to do, which is generally what they’re naturally talented for.

I concede that some very basic skills can be remediated a bit and need to be to cope with the real world, but this policy should be re-evaluated in each case. In other words, we should help people to find out what they do NOT do well and give them permission to not do it. They can delegate it out, and it may be well worth their money to do so! If they can be helped to discover their natural areas of talent, they’ll be much happier.

We must also allow people to work at their own level. Lots of folks who shouldn’t be in college doing academic work are being pushed to do this because degrees imply competence. I fear, though, that many degrees imply no such thing and there is a spectrum of colleges that offer diplomas for abilities that range from high degrees of rigor to laughably incompetent—but they paid for the program and we need to pay the teachers and our executives a high enough salary. Is this a kind of corruption? Maybe so. The point is that grade inflation and people with degrees who can’t write a coherent paper has become a dirty-secret-standard in many fields.

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