Openness and Curiosity: Oceans Apart

Yesterday my wife Sue received an alert to an Economist blog post about James Heckman.

James had given a talk at the Centre for Economic Performance that was co-hosted by the Young Foundation and the Studio Schools Trust.

The title of James’ talk was Creating a More Equal and Productive Britain.

The summary note of his talk records that Professor Heckman discussed that openness and curiosity have a greater effect on academic outcomes than IQ scores. He argued that:

contrary to long-held assumptions that these skills cannot be measured – the evidence is available and should be incorporated much more actively into spending decisions –  particularly in times of cuts.

I liked the case James made for early investment in these skills, “through character education in schools targeted primarily at less advantaged pupils and proactive family policy”.

These character skills are:

Openness (curiosity, willing to learn)

Consciousness (staying on task)

Extroversion (outgoing, friendly)

Agreeableness (helpful)

Neuroticism (attention to detail, persistence).

Madeleine Bunting observes that:

These are the skills that enable children to learn; without them even the best teachers can do little. These are the skills that are predictive of outcomes such as educational achievement, obesity, offender rates, employment and smoking. The single biggest predictor of longevity and school achievement is conscientiousness – which is effectively a form of self-control.

James’ audio of the talk, the slides he used for his presentation and a 2011 paper on Personality Psychology and Economics are available on the Young Foundation’s website. I noted in the paper James and his co-authors observe that:

There is a small but growing body of intervention studies that establish that personality traits can be altered over long periods of time in response to interventions. Some of the major effects of early childhood intervention programs appear to operate through their lasting effects on personality. Family investment decisions also change personality.

By chance the Economist post took me to Katharine Birbalsingh‘s book. This link to Katherine’s writing came a few days after listening to Allan Brahminy.

Katherine’s website home page starts with these two paragraphs:

Katharine Birbalsingh has been teaching in the state school system in London for over a decade. Her dream is for all schools to become interesting and exciting places of learning, where children feel safe, happy and free to aim to be the best that they can be.

Children should be challenged to achieve all that they can and should be rewarded when they do. She wants the children in her care to have a sense of responsibility, to have a sense of ownership of their school, their lives, and their futures.

Allan runs a centre based in the Northern Territory, designed to rehabilitate profoundly troubled young people. “For many of these young hardened criminals and drug addicts, the Brahminy program is their last resort. They’ve been through the system and spat out the other side.” ABC Television is broadcasting a three-part series, Outback Kids, about Allan’s work.

The Brahminy Foundation’s Social Justice Statement is:

Brahminy recognizes that not all people and young people share equally in the benefits of society, and it is imperative that options exist for those most disadvantaged.

Therefore, all people and young people involved with Brahminy:

  • Will be supported without discrimination.
  • Should be treated with respect so that their dignity as individuals is preserved.
  • Should be recognized as people capable of making decisions and choices for their own lives.

I understand that James, Katherine and Allan have different approaches to “meaningful difference” and that there are contentious issues around Katherine and Allan’s work.

However all three have helped me reflect on James’s points that:

  • Adversity gets under the skin and determines the biology of the child
  • Society must supplement the parenting resources of troubled families
  • Prevention not remediation

James’ concluding slide indicates just how early the work must start:

I am keen to ensure that children’s learning is playful too. Recent research reports suggest that inactivity is having an enormous impact on wellbeing.

Photo Credit

Family picnicking under a tree

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Play and Playfulness

I have written a good deal about play and playfulness in this blog. In June I wrote about Sliding to Catch a Train and more recently wrote about Play and Display.

This morning I received an RSS feed from The Scholarly Kitchen with a delightful example of the play spirit central to Johan Huizinga’s play elements of culture (Homo Ludens, 1938).

The Scholarly Kitchen post took me back to Roger Caillois too. Caillois suggests that play is:

  • Not obligatory
  • Separate (from the routine of life) occupying its own time and space
  • Uncertain so that the results of play cannot be pre-determined and so that the player’s initiative is involved
  • Unproductive in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins
  • Governed by rules that suspend ordinary laws and behaviours and that must be followed by players
  • Involves make-believe that confirms in players the existence of imagined realities that may be set against ‘real life’.

In Les Jeux des Hommes (1958) he identifies four play forms (competition, chance, role playing and vertigo) and places these on a continuum that extends from structured activities with explicit rules (games), to unstructured and spontaneous activities (playfulness).

This is The Schorlarly Kitchen post that prompted these thoughts!

This one is dedicated to the parents out there. In this recently rediscovered clip of Mary Carillo’s rant about backyard badminton, every parent can take a moment to recall a day like this, which has certainly occurred at your house or at a house near you. Best line? There are many, but my vote goes for, “Then you see Christopher Berg — and it’s always Christopher Berg”.

Mary Carillo demonstrates in this video some of the cultural universals of play and playfulness. The video started out as a run of the day report from the 2004 Olympic Games and evolved into an absolutely delightful improvised story about backyard badminton. It is a story that will resonate with any parent and teacher. (Please excuse the quality of the audio!)

I thought it was a wonderful playful story about playfulness. It took me back to a remarkable experience my two children and I had in a park in Monmouth in South Wales in the mid 1990s. It was our first attempt to collect some conkers (horse chestnuts) in the park. We were happily throwing sticks at the conkers in the tree with very little success when I caught a glimpse of a policeman approaching.

Thinking we had broken some local bye-law we awaited our fate with trepidation. When the policeman got to us and uttered that time honoured line “Ullo, ullo, what’s going on here then?” We admitted that we were failed conker getters. I am not sure if it was the sad look on the children’s faces but the policeman decided to help us.

I have no idea what possessed him to throw his helmet into the tree but he did … and it failed to come down. Heroically he decided to throw his truncheon after it … and that got stuck too. At this point the children and I were desperately trying not to laugh but we were caught up in that uncontrollable fight with and enormous laugh trying to break out that sounds like a very large vehicle’s air brakes.

To his great credit the policeman did not give up and asked me to give him a bunk up into the tree to retrieve his equipment. I did so but to my great dismay he wedged his foot in the bowl of the tree. I am not sure if you have ever been in this situation but I wonder what message you would send on a police radio you are not supposed to use to request the fire brigade to extricate a policeman from a tree he should not be in retrieving equipment that should not have left his person.

Mary Carillo brought these memories back so vividly!

Photo Credit

Badminton (33)

Play and Display

Two items this week have prompted me to think again about Gregory P. Stone’s distinction between play and display (American Sports: Play and Dis-Play, in Eric Larrabee and Rolf Meyersohn (eds.), Mass Leisure. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1958. See too his discussion of wrestling, 1971).

The ABC reported that “Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade says he would not be surprised if AFL opponents were eavesdropping on his match-day coaching instructions.” The report notes that “While other clubs use more secure digital communications system that are encrypted, the Bulldogs have a cheaper analogue system, which Eade said needed upgrading.” Rodney Eade is quoted on the subject of technological vulnerability:

You know that it goes on, so I think as a club and organisation we’ve got to now work ways that it can’t be listened into. On grand final day, you’d hate to think it would cost you a game when a move was predicated and actually didn’t give you the advantage you hoped.

In a second report, the ABC noted that “New Zealand-born photographer Scott Barbour has been banned by the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) from covering the All Blacks’ Bledisloe Cup build-up after he deliberately exposed the team’s game plan.” His image “of coach Graham Henry holding the team’s tactical move was reproduced in Australian media outlets.” The NZ Herald analysed the moves in detail.

The ABC report suggests that “All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen described Barbour’s actions as a “breach of trust”, saying he broke an “unwritten rule” by photographing the blueprint displaying moves from lineouts and scrums.” A TVNZ post quotes Steve Hanson: “With any breach of trust you take your time and talk about it. It’s not the end of the world. We will deal with that in our own way.”

Reading both these reports I wondered how these experiences help us clarify:

  • What constitutes fair play?
  • What role should (any) technology play in sport?
  • How skilful can we be in he art of off-field disclosure?
  • What role on-field deception should play?
  • Will the call for fairness off the field be reciprocated on the field of play?

Photo Credits

Listening to Podcasts on a Mobile Phone

Photographing the Photographer