The Science of Humans, and the Way We Educate

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The Science of Humans, and the Way We Educate

A few years back I took a course at UofT by a teacher who enlivened her students with her seemingly never ending enthusiasms and elan vital. She was a good teacher, yet, I found some incoherencies in that she often acted in ways that conflicted with what she claimed; for instance, she once took me aside to tell me "we neeed to help this student; he's just come out of prison and needs support from the class". Knowing what I do about the science of early life development, I concurred. 

A few weeks passed, and this very student got into a rather contentious conversation with another student in the class, who was speaking in frankly unproductive ways, vis-a-vis the vulnerabilities of the student in question. In any case, this teacher was trying to manage the conversation from the side, finally resolving it by saying she would talk to him (the student with needs) after class. 

I observed what was happening - sensing, as I tend to do, the tensions that must have occurred within the experience of the teacher - knowing what she does about this particular student - with his tattoos and a way of being that seems likely to have another, unexpressed side - and the girl on the other hand who usually has a 'bit of attitude' when she spoke. I understood the conflcits; and secretly hoped she would find the words to relax both of the parties. 

When class finished, I noted that the student stood at the side while the teacher cavorted with other students in a group conversation. Waiting, respectfully, for their conversation to end, he then went outside the class and waited against the wall i.e. expecting that she would follow through with her promise. After getting my drink of water and coming back into the class, I saw the teacher moving on to other conversations, which got me thinking, "is she trying to avoid speaking to him"? Psychodynamic processes are real, yet this teacher, I suspected, was too deeply immersed in a morally "grey" world to recognize that the student in question had activated her insecurities i.e. her sense of safety. Like all animals, humans function in terms of just such principles i.e. whether the cues being presented by another party are amenable to what our system considers 'coherent', and therefore, safe. 

She was now frankly simply ignoring what had promised him, and so I went outside to see if he was still there - and he wasn't. He tolerated maybe 6 or 7 minutes of waiting for her to finish talking before he left; and frankly, she kep't talking, perfectly unresponsive to how she basically enacted precisely the sort of unconscious biases that liberals are supposed to be offended by. I emailed her, and brought this particular idea up as softly and therapeutically minded as I could muster, for the purpose of hopefully helping her be more responsive in the future i.e. so she could be as helpful as she would like to be, but struggles being because she can't transition out of the state which keeps her rigidly "held" in her typical way of being with students who are easier to-be-with. 

But no response. I found it weird, and a bit disconcerting. We once had a conversation this teacher and I on the subject of morality, and I told her there was a moral standard by which we can judge things, but such a standard can only be found by accepting the provenance of biology and evolutionary theory. Within such a perspective, I explained (I study this subject) movement and embodied affects become the official referents which underlie the reason and basis for human functioning, and so, from here, we can discern the rightness and wrongness of actions in terms of the asymmetry of the interaction (i.e. power) itself. For instance, sexual relationships between adults and children are categorically and fundamentally wrong because the developmental processes which result in a mature adult human cognition do not normally appear until around age 21, and can sometimes emerge as late as the early 30's. By "mature adult", what is understood is recognizing the differences between self and other, and the limitations therein. Adult maturity means knowing your limits and respecting the rights and needs of others. It means not confusing your own feelings, and your own idealizations (i.e. what you want), for what exists in the other. For example, Anthony Weiner is now going to jail for 22 months because he somehow allowed himself to interface with and develop a relationship with (a two part process) a teenager who was 15 years old, whom he felt it was ok and normal to send dick pics to.

With stuff like this, I honestly find myself worried: if these are the liberals, what hope do we have i.e. of creating a better world, which entails being reasonable? There is a power asymmtry between an adult and a 15 year old. At 15, hormonal changes are still undermining the coherency of neurological/psychological dynamics, and so, the self is more idealized, less refined and nuanced, and so, less able to act with awareness towards probable consequences if a certain behavior is engaged with. 

The problem is, most people do not have much of a clue what "psychologically healthy" even means - yet systems theory is unabashedly certain about what it means; Dan Siegel describes psychological health as "being differentiated" i.e. having a nuanced understanding of things, which entails regulating your "affects", or feelings, which is something many people nowadays are struggling more and more with. 

But psychological health is also about "being integrated". Understanding is not for any other purpose than to put things aright; and what is aright is exactly what our system i.e. body-mind, desires: caring and being cared for; knowing others and having others know us positively. Human mentality is ineluctably intersubjective and dialectical; our needs are determined and satisifed only by the others response: if we don't get what we feel we need from an other, we experience cognitive dissonance, which, at its tipping point, becomes the visceral feeling of shame. 

Thus, with what is looking more and more like the end of western civilization (it's perfectly reasonable to experience Donald Trump's present position as most powerful person alive as potentially catastrophic) I see on the horizon the possibility to finally create a system of education where the culture from K-12 is recognizing and understanding yourself within the context of the whole i.e. the universe. 

Modern science is quickly morphing into something that looks strangely spiritual. The Human mind is not something that is inherently "individual", but dynamically and ontologically social. It is something we mutually share and affect one another by. Self-states are shared; and the ways of being me, if you relate with me, could become a way of being you the next day. The blockage, or the trouble, which prevents an individual ego or conscious minds acceptance of this truth is shame, and all of the "ego" which has needed to be erected to protect ourselves from being harmed and injured by others. Mourning, and the need to mourn, prevents us from acting wisely, and investing in protecting the brains of our children, so that the plague of developmental or relational trauma can be subverted. Alas - - myths, or narratives, have a staying power about them; they do not die without putting up a fight. 

The recent work of Stanford scholar Walter Scheidel on the reduction of inequality shows that inequality reduction seems to go hand in hand with the collapse of a society, international wars, civil wars, and sometimes even plagues. In short, equality has been most effectively gained by destroying the very system that elites exploit and manipulate to maintain their power and advantage over others. 

This finding is very disappoint to most people who believe that love is powerful, but its not surprising to a person who studies the neurological and evolutionary nature of psychological dissociation; beliefs which create inequality are by definition "imbalanced"; unbalanced views ignore the self-states that make up human behaviors, and so, without acknowledging and integrating the self, the "hubris" of the self leaks out i.e. contempt for others; feelings of entitlement; wasteful behavior, etc. Such wanton states - stamped as "good" by the ego which indulges in them, are simply confabulations that stave off what is inevitably going to happen: the 'tragedy of teh commons', where identical parties subject to identical interests (materialism, consumerism, etc) push the system (inequality; lack of justice) to the threshold, and then, it collapses on itself. 

As Ken Wilber has recently wrote (Trump and a Post Truth World), this is largely the work of postmodern deconstructionism and the 'cult of critical theory', which has ignorantly ignored the biological and physical sciences and have ignorantly claimed that the ignorance they trumpet is equal to the fact-based 3rd person (i.e. equally accessible) approach of the empirical sciences, of which developmental psychology, modern attachment theory, interpersonal neurobiology, and relational psychoanalyses is based. 

There is something childish in thinking life is only about "liberty to act", without a corresponding, and counterbalancing, "responsibility to preserve". I truly do hope that we can help cultivate in our young the capacity to 'tolerate conflict', which is to say, not see themselves always in the victim mode; to realize that, given reality works as it does (which entails an appreciation of human development) we must find a pathway forward that respects and honors the needs of everyone, which can only work if we all reference the facts of human development, as can be found, for instance, in the work of Dan Stern, Beatrice Beebe, Ed Tronick, Alan Fogel, Peter Fonagy, Karlen Lyons-Ruth, and Colwyn Trevarthen, among others, who have worked out the minute details of how relational communication "gets inside the brain", and becomes the core of self-experience, and so, the way and manner we think and behave as adults. 

Allan Schore has argued persuasively that early life relationships are primary; and are sacrosanct for the simple reason that the homeostasis of brain-body functioning is being wired in relation to environmental cues/situations, which means, how life is like relationally (affectively) in the first years of life are highly determinative, which speaks, first of all, to how utterly significant the mother-child bond is, to how important the society-mother/child bond is, and how, ultimately, the successful rearing of children depends upon how truthfully we are able to understand what prevents us from scaffolding and supporting what is needed to make sure all parents have the means to understand the ways they relate to their children.