Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are the Logical Deficient?

While working on the research for my dissertation, I have read page after page on writing pedagogy asserting that the goal of a university writing course should be to teach students that knowledge is socially constructed and that "truth" is relative to culture and community.

The problem with this assertion is that students with autism and similar conditions (my scrambled brain, apparently), are not relativists. Various researchers (Wellcome 2008, Frith 2001) have found that individuals with these conditions are more logical, unaffected by emotional inputs or rhetorical framing. I've found quite a bit of research on this aspect of brain trauma and autism and am including these findings in my dissertation.

If a group of people are "wired" to think there is a "truth" -- that knowledge is not created but discovered and then applied creatively -- who are educational theorists to consider such people "immature" or "simple-minded" in some way? In fact, I would argue that such clarity of thought is admirable and even a necessary counterbalance to the relativists.

As a culture, we are so certain that Maslow and Piaget knew what "maturity" and "self-actualization" must be that we are willing to dismiss as somehow undeveloped a mind that seeks rules and patterns. Just because some philosophers and psychologists decided relativism was a sign of maturity does not make it true. It's ironic that many educational theorists embrace as "absolute truth" the argument that there is no absolute truth.

Students with autism or brain trauma are attracted to the sciences, technology, and mathematical fields. The like the notion that truths are waiting to be discovered -- not created. How we apply knowledge is creative, such as the various gadgets we all love, but the knowledge itself represents truths that are outside human control or creativity.

The research indicating some brains are better at logic than other is interesting. The price paid for this logical seems to be deficient social skills. Not sure that's a bad price when I think about dealing with some people. I think I'd rather be logical and "rigid" in my thoughts.

Some of the research I have been exploring is if we can teach the "genius-level" students with autism and other disorders how to work better with others. As another researcher, working in London, responded: "unlikely." Most people don't like the rigid, pattern-seeking minds. Usually, the gifted are in some ways "handicapped" by their neurology and reason. Not everyone wants to believe "truth" is definite, waiting to be discovered.

And, yes, I realize this only applies to some fields. Not sure we can have a "truth" to painting or dance, but we can have a "truth" in science. Anyway, I was pondering this tangled mess while editing my dissertation.

Also, a reminder that my project on autism and educational technology is continuing through December 2009:

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