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Saturday, 26 July 2014

Myelin and Deep Practice are good, but question CBT

Daniel Coyle's 'The Talent Code' has some useful ideas but should not be a blueprint for education, says Swheatie of the KUWG

I took good advantage of my recent break from London and from Internet by gaining some perspective on things regarding personal development and what I had learnt through life and am learning. 

The Talent Code: Greatness isn't born. It's grown'

In the Monday-14 July to-Sunday 20 July lead up to my departure and up till Wednesday morning 23 July, I was reading 'The Talent Code: Greatness isn't born. It's grown' by Daniel Coyle. (I ordered that through my local independent bookshop.) My cue for ordering it was a reference on youtube where a musician was talkingabout the importance of 'deep practice' as emphasised in 'The TalentCode'. The book talks about the newly emerging scientific understanding of myelin as an insulator of skill-related circuits in the brain, and its role in people developing 'automaticity' through hundreds of hours of practice. 'Deep practice' is where, say, a musician goes through a piece they have already practised, and takes each phrase and slows it down to a point where they no longer make errors. I have also found deep practice to be very helpful in, say, my:
  • silent explorations from string to string of baritone ukulele, acoustic guitar and classical guitar, so that I could, say, more clearly identify the string my parallel fretting fingers were on by the gauge of the string under those fingers
  • going beyond the physical motions of following the musical tadpoles with hand-eye-coordination, to developing a greater capacity to 'hear the notes' in my head and mimic them with my voice
  • etc.
Coyle's book emphasises the perspective that there is no such thing as an 'overnight success' and that talent is developed through hours and hours and months and months and years and years of practice, and that practice leaves its mark in the brain's development of myelin to insulate skill circuits: “Skill is insulation that wraps around neural circuits and grows according to certain signals.”

I took my baritone ukulele away with me as a more portable travel companion than either classical guitar or acoustic steel stringed guitar. The first four strings of the baritone ukulele are tuned the same as the first four strings for either guitar. I also took with me the self-reappraisal that I am a persistent person with a learning difficulty rather than an unmusical person.

Where it comes to my musical development that perspective adds to my drive to practice. Re myelin, ageing and skill development, Coyle notes, "As one neurologist pointed out, the mantra 'Use it or lose it' needs an update. It should be 'Use it and get more of it.'"

Michélé Gallucio, my Information and Communication Technology (ICT) course leader at the now defunct Camden Itec noticed my persistence as a learner in 1997/98 as I went beyond the jobcentre-funded period totalling 18 weeks, to complete my NVQ Level 1 in a total of nine months with continued help from Camden Itec, before I went on to a more frustrating time at a more robotised establishment called Direct Computer Training when the local Training and Enterprise Council refused me further funded training at Camden Itec. (They said that they did not want learners to become 'institutionalised'. While TEC and jobcentre practice was to reward profiteers who short-changed learners, I say that the local TEC could not stand the idea of learners taking real charge of their learning and rewarding excellence.) Thus through maintaining my connection with Michélé, I got his support in writing a letter to my mum to help persuade her to buy me a PC on which I could further my study of ICT.

Thus I am transferring what I have learned through self-directed learning with the guidance of training manuals on a home PC that I would not have been able to afford on Jobseekers Allowance. From 1998 to 2011 I consolidatied my ICT skills learning through self-directed learning projects and through teaching [other] slower learners very basic computing skills. Learning guitar and musicianship via self-directed learning with manuals and half-hour per week, one-to-one tuition with a patient guitar teacher. In my 61st year I now have a goal of attaining some sort of Grade 1 certificate in guitar within a year.

Cause for concern

In some ways though, I find Daniel Coyle's book deeply disturbing for the wrong reasons. In the early chapters there is a hint of the potential of this new science of myelin in exploring the biological basis of certain impairments/diseases/disabilities. And yet in all the stories of the 'talent hotbeds' the author has visited, the intricacies of involving disabled fledgeling talents is never really considered.

Further, I find the chapter 'How to Ignite a Hotbed' more disturbing than inspiring. I take the viewpoint that the so-called 'Knowledge Is Power Program' is, as its critics have stated, more 'Kids in Prison Program' in that it does not really encourage independent thought and veers instead toward robotising children through a 'college is all that there is' view of life's goals. Instead it uses group coercion as I witnessed on 'New Deal Intensive Activity Programme' at A4e Holloway in 2008. Thus it is little wonder to me that “KIPP received a $15 million donation from Donald and Doris Fisher, founders of the GAP clothing store.”

In the 'Epilogue: The Myelin World' chapter, Coyle goes on to venerate Albert Ellis and his 'Cognitive Behavioural/Behavioral Therapy' (CBT) at the expence of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Thus he limits the scope for examining, say, the impact of physical, economic, and social structures that turn a person's impairment into a disability. A psychoanalytic approach would also help to reveal why something is important to a learner, especially an introverted learner who does not merely take on board the values of the social matrix into which they are thrown. I also point out that some people, through devoting far too long in the scale of things to their chosen discipline, have become unhappy and frustrated in other areas of their lives.

The dodgy well-springs of the rationale behind neo-liberal welfare reforms

I have already expressed concern on this blog regarding 'Happiness guru' Lord Layard's delight in CBT and his view that 'work makes free'.

And above I have pointed to Coyle's failure to address the matter of accommodating disabled learners in 'talent hotbeds'. Yet I am reminded with the references to CBT, that there is a dodgy rationale behind the 'Work Capability Assessments' used by Atos Healthcare for the Department for Work and Pensions in the UK and formerly used by another 'disability denial factory', the American disability insurance company Unum. That is known as the 'bio-psychosocial model' and has been swallowed wholesale by investment banker turned Tony Blair's 'welfare reform guru' who is now the Tory Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud. That 'model' conveniently overlooks matters of social class that allowed, say, Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill to accomplish what poorer disabled people would not. Beyond this blog piece, you can read about the 'bio-psychosocial model' and how it compares with the Social Model of Disability here.

About the authors:

Swheatie of the KUWG is a lifelong learning disabled adult. He has recurring nightmares of 'lagging behind in coursework on courses that are not sufficiently welcoming to learning disabled people, due to lack of investment in disability equality.

Four years on from 2009 publication of 'The Talent Code' and eight years on from being ghost writer for Tour de France cycling champion, Lance Armstrong, in 2013 Daniel Coyle went on to publish a book about the cycling hero's drug taking practices.

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