Sunday, March 14, 2010

* Spanning the Brain: A Real Bridge to Nowhere

Clowning Around

In 1973 I took a Clown Workshop at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven. I had been experiencing what are now called "panic attacks" but then was called "free floating anxiety" after witnessing the Kent State shootings three years before, in 1970. This was before the term "PTSD" was even thought of.

The workshop worked, somehat. The panic attacks abated. But I discovered that I ---who had been the class clown through most of my public school career --- had turned into a stuffy old man at 29: rigid; competetive; devoid of playfulness.

It is as if that well developed part of my childhood brain had been "lost", starved of oxygen and choked off.

Such thoughts came to me as I watched the remarkable story of Derek Paravacini on 60 Minutes 4/14/10.

Born months premature and weighing a pound and a half, he was blind and severely disabled. When his father noticed a musical talent in the blind son at age three, a piano teacher volunteered his services and has since devoted decades to developing Derek's remarkable talent.

Although unable to count and unaware of his own age, Derek can play almost any piece of music on the piano on command, and transform it to a different style (blues, classical, jazz) in any key requested.

This amazing talent, combined with his extreme extroversion ("I'm Derek, what's your name") has made him an emblem of achievement for the disabled.

It doesn't hurt that he is the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, either.

My experience with my own "dead" clown circuity, makes me wonder if there isn't some way to span the "lost" highways and rediscover the capacities which seem unavailable in the disabled. (I am much more of a clown these days than I was when I took that Clown Workshop in 1973, for instance: My brain has rewired itself, bridging the lost part. But it took decades for me to clown around again.)

Are Autism and Asperger's and other forms of "disability" merely regions of the brain requiring the throwing out of a daring and imaginative bridge to reach?

What Ever Happened to "Recess"?

Howard Gardner's theory of the Multiple Intelligences suggests an answer to "disability" deficiencies.

Our schools universally dwell and obsess on TWO of the intelligences (linguistic and logical/mathematical) and ignore or trivialize the rest (spatial; bodily kinesthetic; interpersonal; intrapersonal; musical; environmental).

Perhaps we need to examine the drudge regime we call public education and devise a curriculum which speaks to ALL the intelligences--addresses WHOLE people, not just lingusitic/mathematical brain areas.

In so doing , we may throw a bridge across regions of the brain heretofore thought to be lost in the so-called "disabled" : A REAL "Bridge to Nowhere" where clowns hide out behind synapses.

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