The Motor System
Alcindor is frustrated and exquisitely self-conscious about not being able to ride a two-wheeler when all of his buddies can do so effortlessly. He feels like a klutz. The poor kid is living with a breakdown in his motor system, at least at this point in his development. The motor system is supposed to govern the very precise and complex network of tight connections between the brain and various muscles all over the body. A child's motor functions determine whether or not she will excel in sports and, if so, whether it will be field hockey, tennis, or track. Other neuromotor functions make possible cursive writing, playing the fiddle, and guiding scissors. Motor coordination is important to children; being able to show off proficiency makes an important contribution to overall self-concept and confidence. Clumsy children may come to feel globally inferior to their agile classmates.
The Higher Thinking System
Melinda just can't seem to grasp the concept of mass in her high school physics class. The difference between velocity and acceleration, the meaning of resistance in a wire, and the phenomenon of static electricity have also eluded her. She willingly fesses up, "I don't get physics; I don't get it at all." Melinda is struggling with inadequate higher thinking, a system that represents the real summit, the very peak of our thinking abilities. Jackson can't seem to decipher the symbolism in a poem by T. S. Eliot but has no trouble with symbols in his advanced algebra class. He has a very specific breakdown in higher thinking when he is using language. Myrna is great at figuring out what's wrong when her computer isn't functioning but she has trouble figuring out the point of view expressed in an editorial on global warming. Higher thinking includes the ability to problem-solve and reason logically, to form and make use of concepts (such as mass in physics), to understand how and when rules apply, and to get the point of a complicated idea. Higher thinking also takes in critical and creative thinking.
The Social Thinking System
Bethany never gets invited to parties. The phone rings off the hook for her brother and sister, but never for her. At school she is picked on, jeered at, taunted, and avoided like a venomous snake by her classmates. She has no friends and is understandably crushed. Bethany is lacking in the kind of social thinking that is needed for maintaining successful relationships. Her mother laments, "Bethany would give her right arm to have a true friend, but it seems as if every time she comes close to having a satisfying relationship, she messes up. She either says or does something that upsets and puts off her new friend. And Bethany has no idea what she's doing wrong, no idea at all."
Children's social abilities occupy center stage in school. The social spotlights are glaring. They illuminate a galaxy of interpersonal strengths and shortcomings. Interactions with peers yield the bulk of the gratification or humiliation a student experiences in life. Some kids seem to be born with distinct social talents that allow for friendship formation and a solid reputation; others have to be taught how to relate. A child (or adult) may be strong in the seven other neurodevelopmental systems yet seem to fail in life because he or she is unable to behave in a way that fits appropriately with others of his age group. He may have trouble establishing new friendships and keeping old ones afloat, working collaboratively in groups, or coping tactfully with flammable conflicts involving classmates. Even the most brilliant child can end up frustrated if he is too shy, socially inept, or antisocial. School affords little or no privacy. Those who have stunted functions for social interaction are condemned to feel the pain of exposure and daily humiliation. They are likely to be the most downtrodden students in a school (and also the most anguished employees on the job).
Copyright © 2002 by Mel Levine
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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