Monday, June 17, 2013

June 17th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I watched the Pied Crow land majestically on the threshold of runway 19, my soul found pleasure in every movement of every feather. As he walked around, pecking a the surface, my gaze rose towards the Black Kite soaring on the mild thermal, just with teeny weeny twitches of the wing tip and tail feathers to maintain perfect control, as he swept his gaze around for a titbit to snatch up in his powerful claws. A Red Bishop flashed across my visual trajectory, taking my eye to the long piece of grass that he placed his feet upon with the dexterity of a surgeon, simultaneously folding his wings and resplendently shining his bright plumage in the sunshine as the thin stem wavered under the new load. Birds are amazing creatures, and I can watch them for hours, learning from them at every moment, drinking in concepts and ideas from their varied forms and plumage as they find unity with the skies and suitable foliage!

Birds don’t go to ‘bird-school’, no. They learn to fly in the same way that human children learn to walk and talk – at an early age, skills passed on by people without any teaching qualifications, but with a natural desire to protect and develop their fledglings.

We have recently started working with a young lady who has neither perceivable hearing nor functional speech. She is about 20 years old, with a smile and positive demeanour that could win over the hardest hearted person in the world. She has never had access to a hearing aid, and we do not know if one would help her hearing. What we do know is that it would be unlikely to help her learn to speak. We also know that she learns quickly and is able to overcome her disability in a functional manner beyond our expectations, using the existing observational and practical skills that she has learned to live her life with thus far.

Learning to speak is best done when the mind is young, flexible and nimble. Our mother tongue is exactly that – the language we learned from the loving talk of our mothers – possibly from even before the day we were born. As we get older, learning certain things becomes harder. We know that those children who learn more than one language before they are five years old are empowered with abilities, through the development of their brains, which sets them apart from others in linguistic flexibility and other learning skills.

We see young violinists in Asia, mastering one of the most challenging musical instruments with dexterity and confidence simply through early exposure – often as young as two years old. We hear of children becoming mathematical geniuses before reaching the age of ten, through being exposed to the patterns of numerical expression and design from very before they can talk.

Each child is different in relation to genetic advantages, and disadvantages, physical ability and disability, mental strengths and weaknesses. However, we also know that the human being can overcome almost any barrier – especially if given opportunities during the early stages of development. The way a challenged person overcomes is different to how it happens with the physical or mental enablement of the ‘average person’.

In many of the developed nations, health systems are geared towards solving physical challenges of the pre-toddler to give them the best opportunities later in life. Likewise, parents spend small fortunes on educational toys – even for new-borns – to give them the stimuli that could make positive differences to their futures. When we consider the mother bird in a nest, feeding those hungry beaks and teaching their young to fly, for the long term good of their progeny, or compare that to a human mother ensuring optimum nutrition for her baby whilst providing verbal, visual and tactile stimuli to boost the growth and development of their loved child, we see natural parallels of care towards optimised self-sufficiency of the young.

In the human world, it is easier for those in a position of financial security to provide for their children, and consequently we often see that children from the more wealthy families appear to be better equipped for educational development. They tend to be well fed, stronger, fitter, larger and overall healthier, as well as not having to undertake many household tasks instead of studying. The hindrances to learning and development are fewer for the more financially secure children.

All the same, those from the less well-off circles have different advantages. They are often better equipped for certain types of challenges. Those who have struggled to achieve through poverty may be more ready to work harder to achieve their goals. They may never catch up on the academic side of their lives; the opportunities may have simply been snatched unwittingly from their path. However, they will succeed in ways that those from the ‘easier side of life’ may never consider – if they have the determination and personality to do so.

After many years of teaching, and coming across many challenged background young people, I have come to accept that the classroom is not for everybody – especially if the individual has not been given the necessary equipment from a very early age – long before that first day in school.

Such individuals benefit far more from practical, hands-on learning environments – apprenticeships that focus on being in the workshop more and in the classroom less – or even not at all. Some of the best workmanship you will come across will be from somebody who did not have opportunities or successes in academia. In fact, for some it seems that the classroom is more akin to a torture chamber that a place of learning exposure.

Likewise, it is almost as if a certain type of creativity is overwritten in the hard-drive of our minds through certain academic over-exposure at a young age. We consider the nervous breakdowns of the gifted ones, hot-housed before the age of seven, by the time they reach their early teens – as if some sort of data corruption has occurred in the complex wiring of their brains. It is a difficult balance to achieve.

I do not know the right mix of stimulated ‘v’ passive learning – but I do know that far too many young people in the developing nations are suffering from lack of positive stimuli, exposure and nutrition, and it is a major cause of lack of educational success in later life – and a reason for more vocational opportunities for teenagers and those in their early twenties.

I see so many six to eight year olds bouncing along the road, their eyes bright, the skipping steps, the pointing fingers, the inquisitiveness that shows the fertility of their minds – and yet it appears that the seeds of inspiration, innovation and enlightenment fail to get firmly planted, watered and nurtured, allowing the furrows of their minds to become chocked with weeds, sapping energy and dulling a brilliance that might otherwise have flourished.

I really believe that we need to help parents to understand the importance of early day’s stimulation, nutrition, support, encouragement and the very practical, supportive love and protection that will allow children to grow to become the commercial, industrial, economic and political leaders of tomorrow, with a sharpness and brilliance that we find hard to come across around the world of today.

If the birds can get it right, so can we.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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