As I write, my eldest sits and does online aptitude testing for career guidance. She reads the word based questions and I wonder if testing verbal strength will dominate the assessment. The next set of questions reveal intricate visual spatial testing and I smile at how some Wonderfully Wired kids would knock that part out of the park.
Should you and I be ok with just letting such spatially strong kids grow that intelligence and steer away from verbal processing, from reading and writing? Can’t they simply learn to use AI to ‘write for them’ when it’s absolutely necessary?
Julie Bogart would argue that writing has a bigger function in raising critical thinkers.
I love writing, I love the process of putting my words down, then sifting, rethinking and killing my clever expressions that didn’t add value. Writing isn’t only a form of self expression but a process by which I discover what there is to express, a process that unveils us much as it reveals.
When writing is a test, its educational value is limited to assessing accuracy and technicality. In the real world, you and I read much that is accurate and grammatically sound but fails to move us, influence us or add any value for us.
When writing is used instead as a formative tool it gives the student a place to discover new insights and more about himself and his place in the world.
Julie Bogart says “The child in front of you has expertise, start there”. When you and I approach a child with the expectation that what he has to say, draw, write and build has value, that child remains willing to offer those things to the world.
As a teenager, I performed a bit of an unsettling poem. Little did I know then how much the words would chase me into the work I do today. It’s called ‘About School’
HE ALWAYS WANTED TO SAY THINGS, BUT NO ONE UNDERSTOOD
He always wanted to say things but no one understood. He always wanted to explain things but no one cared.
So he drew.
Sometimes he would just draw and it wasn’t anything. He wanted to carve it in stone or write it in the sky. He would lie out on the grass and look up at the sky and it would be only him and the sky, and the things that needed saying.
And it was after that, that he drew the picture. It was a beautiful picture. He kept it under the pillow and would let no one see it. He would look at it every night and think about it. And when it was dark, and his eyes were closed, he could still see it. It was all of him and he loved it.
When he started school he brought it with him. Not to show anyone, but just to have like a friend.
It was funny about school. He sat in a square brown desk, like all the other square brown desks, and he thought it should be red. And his room was a square brown room like all the other rooms. It was tight and close, and stiff.
He hated to hold the pencil, and the chalk, with his arm stiff and his feet flat on the floor, stiff with a teacher watching and watching. And then he had to write numbers. And they weren't anything. They were worse than the letters which could be something if you put them together. The numbers were tight and square and he hated the whole thing.
The teacher came and spoke to him. She told him to wear a tie like all the other boys. He said he didn't like them and she said it didn't matter. After that they drew. He drew all yellow and it was the way he felt about morning. And it was beautiful.
The teacher came and smiled at him. "What's this?", she said. "Why don't you draw something like Ken's drawing? Isn't that beautiful?" It was all questions.
After that his mother bought him a tie and he always drew aeroplanes and rocket ships like everyone else. And he threw the old picture away. And when he lay out alone looking at the sky it was big and blue. And all of everything, but he wasn't any more.
He was square inside and brown, and his hands were stiff, and he was like anyone else. And the thing inside him that needed saying didn't need saying anymore.
It has stopped pushing. It was crushed, stiff. Like everything else.
I’m really concerned that the message to Wonderfully Wired children is that what they have to say isn’t what scores well on a test and therefore isn’t valuable. I’m concerned that under such conditions the things inside that need saying, don’t hold onto the need to say them.
But I’m also afraid for neurotypical kids, the ones that write accurately and who are asked only to write ‘well’ not ‘honestly’ and ‘bravely’. When the world, equipped with AI to offer accuracy, needs their humanity, will they know how to word their most honest thoughts?
Will they even know the things inside that need saying?