I came across the article Rain men: In every boy there is a bit of ‘idiot savant’ by Philip Beadle in the Education Guardian. Since I’ve written before about idiot savant, I was obviously interested. The impetus for the article is Nick Hornby‘s book Fever Pitch.
I didn’t read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch immediately it came out. I’m dimly aware, however, that it struck a chord with women. My closest female friend told me she’d found it to be a unique insight into the male psyche, before revealing, “I’d hate to be man. It must be awful.”
Fever Pitch portrays males as hopeless creatures, all of whom are somewhere on the autistic spectrum. At the risk of reinforcing unhelpful gender stereotypes (and all women are merely a complex network of obsessions with flowers, make-up and shopping), I find it helpful, as a teacher, to remember it’s the rarest of birds that sorts its record collection into chronological within alphabetical. I’ll spell this out carefully for those in the back row: b-o-y-s a-n-d g-i-r-l-s a-r-e d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t.
We boys can be prone to monomaniacal obsession; to over-enjoying the repetition of surreal and meaningless nonsense. (On a four-hour car journey last weekend, my eight-year-old son and I ripped huge fissures into my wife’s psyche through fevered and non-stop repetition of the word “bungalow”.)
Beadle goes on to discuss some interesting experiments on the differences between men and women (boys and girls). The real take-away for me, though, is the last two paragraphs:
You can’t reverse evolution in a 45- minute lesson. If boys do display characteristics associated with the spectrum of autism, there is one element of their propensity for obsession we should encourage. Autistic people have been recorded to have near super-human powers in specific areas: the story of the “idiot savant” who cannot relate well to other humans, but who is able to draw a technically accurate picture of Chartres cathedral from memory is well known. There is an argument that within each boy there is a bit of the “idiot savant”. As an English teacher you are aware of nouns (idiot) being stolid, unchangeable labels and adjectives (savant) as fluid, therefore more optimistic.
With boys, our focus should be on celebrating and developing the adjective, rather than punishing the noun.
Not sure what my point is, or if I even have one this time. It was probably the reference to Hornby, whose books (and the movies that come from some of them) I’ve enjoyed. And who, by the way, has an autistic son.