By Marie Schutt
An inspirational figure for many, Temple Grandin and her work have much to teach us about the true spectrum of learning ability. Listed in the TIME 2010 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Temple is an inventor, a PhD holder, a professor, a consultant, and a bestselling author. She is also an advocate for neurodiversity and for people with autism, and is herself a person with high-functioning autism. Her work with livestock animals is world-renowned, and she has won several awards and honors for her humane livestock facility designs and her insights into animal behavior.
In a TED talk from last year titled “The World Needs All Kinds Of Minds”, Dr. Grandin discusses the immense value of the ideas that can be produced by a diverse array of thinkers. She notes that the autism spectrum is “a continuum of traits”, and asks, “When does a nerd turn into Asperger, which is just mild autism?” She discusses at length the different kinds of learners, ranging from visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, “music and math minds”, and verbal minds, “who know every fact about everything”. When listening to Temple Grandin speak or when reading one of her books, one becomes increasingly aware of the wide world of possibilities beyond what we are taught is “normal”.
In a previous blog post, we discussed multiple intelligences and learning styles, which have always been an integral part of Clonlara School’s educational philosophy. Learners whose needs don’t conform to traditional public school teaching methods are at the mercy of their instructors, and Dr. Grandin is an excellent example of the kind of success that these students can enjoy if they are given the support that they need. In the video, she talks about her high school science teacher, Mr. Carlock, who gave her special challenges and motivated her to pursue her interests in science, reminding us that “you’ve got to show kids interesting stuff.” Education is not just about bringing the student to the material; it is about bringing the material to the student, engaging them and facilitating their learning.
If this sounds too idealistic or too difficult to implement, let us remind you of something. Merriam-Webster defines the word innovation as:
“1 : the introduction of something new
2 : a new idea, method, or device”
Just think of the products, theories, technologies, and policies—the likes of which we may never have seen before—that we could have if every student were able to learn in a way that made the most sense to him or her. True innovation happens when ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. By embracing the unique talents and capabilities of each student, we embrace the potential of a whole generation of students and future contributors to society.
At Clonlara School, we consider it our goal to nurture the spark that every child is born with. We welcome learners of all abilities, needs, and backgrounds. Temple Grandin’s success and wide popularity reaffirm our belief that we can all benefit from an educational approach that brings the “interesting stuff” to each learner. In the words of Dr. Grandin: “Now, the thing is, the world is going to need all of the different kinds of minds to work together. We’ve got to work on developing all these kinds of minds.”