Friday, August 19, 2016

Neurotypicals and the Rest of Us

All teachers who have more than one pupil work with a diverse body of students who have different backgrounds, needs, learning styles, and methods of effective communication. It is very much part of our gig to figure out how to best reach every student individually, so at the very minimum they know the door to learning is being kept open for them; and there are a few useful techniques we learn for accommodating a diversity of student learning styles in our graduate teaching programs (along with a heaping helping of lip service and tokenism).

Most teachers, however, realize they have a much more complex task at hand when they actually step into the classroom and attempt individualized instruction. Some teachers work with student populations where individualized instruction isn't something solely for a few struggling or exceptional students, but rather the only way to reach any of your students. You will find that quite a few of these teachers also happen to be punks, because our entire culture is essentially a cult populated by beautiful weirdos who see the world differently from everyone else.

The Teaching Resistance column in MRR for January 2016 is by Ash, who teaches very young (5 – 7 year old) children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in urban England. She also plays in some bands you may have heard of like Frau and Good Throb, and she helps make pretty rad things happen with the beautiful weirdos of the London punk scene.

I teach year 1 children with severe ASD in an inner London school. I have 7 students who are all killer people. Their learning happens at a painstakingly slow pace sometimes and that’s fine. There are benchmarks that neurotypical children will reach before the age of two that some of my students are still working towards and that’s fine. It's all fine because at school, at least, we don’t exist in the neurotypical world, we exist in the realm of the spectrum. And that’s great. Because fuck integration politics, ASD is something that clearly (to me) demands that we change ourselves, our environments and our teaching methods to be personalised to each individual child.

Going backwards from that list lets look at teaching methods – change the learning experience so it becomes visual, kinaesthetic and relevant to that child's needs – once you know the child, that’s easy enough. We do this in punk too right? We encourage new bands to be experimental, we celebrate the addition of a hammer against a bell because when that thing hits we feel like, ‘fuck, I see’. Experiences are vital to our understanding, otherwise its just something that looks questionable on paper. I could say I saw Asesinato Del Poder play one of the toughest gigs I’ve ever seen in a basement in France, but unless you were there you won’t know what it felt like to stand in that room with your fists balled into the side of your ribs so hard you thought you’d puncture a lung and possibly die happy and angry all at once, screaming “INFIERNO”. Second – change the environment – my class is a low-stimulus room (and we have a playroom, and a separate workroom, and two outdoor pods – but who’s bragging – did I mention this is a state funded school? Who loves ya Hackney) and that’s exactly what each child needs – then they are way more able to focus on me and my teaching, ergo themselves and their learning. In punk we make our environments as open and safe as possible right? Right? Right?

Now the first thing I mentioned is what I mostly want to talk about in this article. This is the big one. Changing myself is something iv been learning to do slowly and begrudgingly over a long period now. Punk shows us that you either stick with something that’s already there (oh hey your band sounds like discharge, cool) or you steer off course and make something new (oh your band is a gothy plus sized greek woman singing about nightmares, hello dream lover - EFIALTIS is my girlfriend). Either way changing ourselves is something that to do actively we have to struggle with. To be reflective enough to say, ‘I don’t know what I'm talking about here’ or ‘maybe if I tried to be less A, I wouldn’t suffer so much B’ – whatever the thing that you don’t really want to admit about yourself is, be assured that to be truly reflective that stuff is gonna come up and you’d better be prepared to look at it if you want to handle your shit and change yourself. To look at yourself under a glaring light of ‘how do I make me better’ isn’t anything new – women have been taught to be self critical from birth so in a way perhaps we have an advantage with this – but it's important to remember that there is a history to your thought patterns, your responses and reactions, the way you organise yourself and the lifestyle you have chosen. The point is to have an objective – you can’t reshape all of that history, but you might be able to understand how it has left you and choose which specific parts of that might need tweaking, fiddling with or just straight carving the fuck out.

Things like misogyny for instance. You might not know that its there until you’re faced with someone saying that you did a fucked up thing. You might not have even seen your actions as harmful at the time or even a few months down the line. You still might not really understand what all the fuss is about when people stop wanting to hang out or won’t really look you in the eye at shows anymore all because one time this one girl said that one thing about this total non-event that you didn’t even think twice about. That’s something you might want to get the carving knife out on – I give you permission to bleed over this one. Just til you think its all gone, then I'm gonna need you to go for regular check ups in the mirror with a hefty dose of ‘what am I bringing to the world and why?’

What about validation? We all seek that in a myriad of interesting ways, you ever stop to ask why? You ever stop to question if its meaningful – or purposeful or harmful and how? And again, WHY? You ever just stop?

At work I have to be reflective, anything less is a disservice to the community I work in. I guess my question is why this isn’t more of the norm in punk – and I don’t mean sitting around discussing intersectionality (though HI, that’s always good) I mean looking deeply in to yourself, the words you say, the body you control, the actions you choose and the cultures within cultures that you promote. You feel okay with them all? A good teacher is always reflecting, I reckon a decent punk will be too. --Ash 

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