Daughters and sons must follow the same curriculum of study, thereby promoting unity of the sexes. When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it. Mothers will not give their sons as sacrifices upon the battlefield after twenty years of anxiety and loving devotion in rearing them from infancy, no matter what cause they are called upon to defend. There is no doubt that when women obtain equality of rights, war will entirely cease among mankind.
(Compilation on Education)
As I explained in the earlier post, it is not the debate about the exact relationship between effort and excellence that provides me with the main interest of the book Gifted Lives. It is in the other areas I listed, some of which I will attempt to explore further.
The easiest place to start is with education. Education has an uneasy relationship with creativity and can therefore be a challenging situation for anyone who stands out from the crowd as a result of special abilities. We’ve been here before of course with Ken Robinson‘s talk on education and creativity which I include at the end of this post (see an earlier post for a different presentation of much the same material).
At one point Freeman links these considerations with insight in general not just gifts in particular (page 121):
Insight is not only the gift of creative people, though. It is a common everyday experience . . . [T]he more insight is used, the more frequent and better it becomes. Alternatively, when it is squashed, as when schoolchildren are forced to think in straight lines, the less easy it is to think intuitively.
To be an artist calls for tenacity in exploring light and colour and combinations of shapes and styles in the search for aesthetic satisfaction. Western education, though, encourages the more linear, rule-bound, left side of the brain to the detriment of the more creative right side from where insights originate.
This can pose problems for everyone as they grow up. It may be worse for women, even now. The link ‘Abdu’l-Bahá makes between intuition and women has interesting implications for the whole way our educational system works:
In some respects woman is superior to man. She is more tender-hearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense.
Sidelining their capacities will prove costly for us all. Freeman picks up a profoundly important aspect of this, which relates to the Bahá’í teaching on the equality of men and women, and why it is so important to bring the qualities we most associate with women into the field of governance in our society (page 138):
Looking at moral behaviour over the millenia, the evidence is unquestionable. Women rarely start wars, torture people or behave in other highly destructive ways; they are traditionally carers.
There is now no space to go more deeply into this or into the whole related area of morality that she raises. I may come back to it in a later post.
In terms of Freeman’s picture of a typical education, this was all an unwelcome reminder of my early working life as a teacher of English which was tainted by a stifling sense of prose trumping poetry almost every time.
I had been recruited to Tottenham Grammar School by the then Head of English, who appeared at the door of my pokey bedsit near Bush Hill Park dressed in an RAF uniform (he also ran the cadets’ Air Training Corps) and parading a bushy white moustache that matched it well.
‘D’you need a job?’ he asked crisply, after explaining who he was and what he wanted. As I was working in a cemetery at the time for very little money, it was a no brainer. Uniform or no uniform, this seemed better than working for a pittance among gravestones.
I got a strong sense of what was in store when I used the same classroom immediately after his lesson in the first week I was there. The entire blackboard was covered in clause analysis examples which displayed huge numbers of every kind of subordinate clause in different coloured chalk – red for adverbial, green for adjectival and blue for noun clauses. (How many people reading this post can honestly say they have an intense desire to know more about this? For those few who do, please see link.) I began to realise that death comes in many disguises.
The final straw came three years later when I was marking the mid-year English essay exam (that’s an adverbial clause, by the way!). There were two essays that became the litmus paper that detected the exact extent of my discontent.
One was written by the boy with the neatly parted hair and the smart blazer with his hand in the air to every question, who always came top. It was exactly the right number of words on two sides of paper, the handwriting was beautifully legible and the content completely predictable. I gave it 11 out of 20.
The other essay was written by the classroom rebel, forever slouching in his seat with an unkempt shock of hair, crumpled uniform and a scowl on his face. The essay covered eight sheets in straggling barely legible script and was so utterly original and compelling that by the time I finished reading it I didn’t even notice the scrawl it was written in. I gave it 19 out of 20: I took one mark off for the poor handwriting.
Steeped as I was in Dylan’s music and only a year or so away from enthusiastically joining in the widespread spirit of protest in 1968, I realise now I was a touch biased, but what followed was not a balanced and correct response, replacing as it did a mild injustice with a greater one.
I think the parents of the first boy must have appealed against my mark. The Head of English insisted on re-marking all the essays but the only marks I remember his changing were for these two essays. He gave the first boy full marks and failed the second one because of his poor handwriting. This was one of the main reasons I left the school at the end of that year and moved to a college of further education (and that was not without its challenges, of course). It is interesting how, after all these years, this incident has stayed with me so vividly.
It’s not only at school that these effects impact upon a life.
In words that echo McGilchrist’s concerns, Jeremy, now a jazz pianist, looked back at his life, having for over a decade studied medicine and trained as a child psychiatrist, a career he subsequently abandoned in spite of the respect and affection with which he was regarded (page 52):
‘I over-used my memory and the left side of my brain, instead of using my imagination.’
And David, an architect who emerged from his education relatively unscathed, gives a vivid insight into the experience of intuition (page 122):
I have an intuitive intelligence which I can rely on to take me towards a solution for a problem. After working in the usual way, I stop and then ideas suddenly come to me. Starting a new project, I collect all the information and just put it to one side, so it’s kind of around. Then after a few days, my mind has passively chewed over it for a bit and I’m ready to start. If I start designing straight away, I might miss exciting possibilities.
In my limited experience, this works for writing too. Meditation, such as I have described earlier, can lead to floods of ideas coming into my mind unbidden once my thinking on a topic has been primed in some way. It begins to seem as if I am taking dictation from within.
So, Gifted Lives is a rich and rewarding read. As I’ve written far more than I intended on this theme, I’ll have to leave the other aspects that intrigued me to a later date.