If you have ADHD or autism, you will be familiar with the term executive function. If you are not familiar, here is a definition: “the executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation”. I define executive function (EF) as the ability to get stuff done, particularly stuff that other people want us to do, and the ability to turn up on time.
Someone I follow on Instagram called @neuroemergent_insurgent has an alternative perspective on EF. She posits that EF is a set of values, not a set of skills.
At first I found her perspective a little extreme, but I am starting to see it now for myself. With the world turned topsy-turvy, the true values of the mainstream are shining through, seen in the people who are used to neurological privilege from being in a world that suits them.
(I want to be very clear here that I am not purporting an “us and them” dynamic. We are all in this together. But the best way to get through this is together, and that means listening to the perspectives of marginalised groups.)
Autistic people are known for hating change in routine, but everywhere I look and hear there are allistic people unwilling or unable to change their routines in acknowledgement of our new reality, to keep us all safe.
When an autistic person has a meltdown because we all agreed we were going to go to the pizza place for dinner, and then one person decided we should go to the pasta place instead and everyone changed the plan at the last minute, that is seen as inconvenient and unreasonable. But the allistic boss who insists on her team coming into work because she hasn’t set up remote systems yet? That is somehow allowed to happen. (And note the power dynamic present in these two scenarios. In the first scenario, the autistic person has to go along with the group and suck it up. In the second scenario, the employees have to pander to the allistic boss’ fear of being destabilised.)
I see three mainstream values at play at the moment which are taking precedent over what should be our core values of safety (including mitigation of viral infection and also mental wellbeing). These values are convention, productivity, and institutional learning.
We see this value played out in workplaces where meetings are held indoors when an outdoor space is available and perfectly adequate. A simple, evidence-based solution which would make a massive different to risk of infection-spread, is dismissed for no other reason than “it’s not how we do things”. Convention is privileged over safety.
In places where the virus has been kept under control, leaders acted quickly and put measures in place which were disruptive to everyday life and bucked convention. I heard that in Singapore, children’s temperatures were taken when they arrived at school and again at lunchtime (although I couldn’t find a reference for this – can anyone else find a reference for me?). Why didn’t we do that here? Probably because it’s not how we’re accustomed to doing things, as in it’s not convention.
In Australia, our mainstream value system is heavily influenced by capitalism. Under ultimate capitalism, there is no rest and regeneration. There are no rhythms and no seasons. There is just endless productivity.
We are seeing health sacrificed to the god of productivity time and time again. Non-essential businesses staying open. Parents expected to keep up a usual work-day at the same time as homeschooling their children. The federal government should have taken up Endgame C weeks ago and shut everything down for a number of weeks. But they didn’t, because they had to keep feeding our endless grind to the beast of the capitalist economy.
Even schools have fallen into this. We have kept schools open because we don’t want children to “fall behind”. (Apparently school is when children are initiated into the expectation of productivity and progress.) Parents at home with their kids are feeling pressure to mimick the formal learning environment of school by slaving over the kitchen table with stressed-out children.
This brings me to the third value: institutional learning.
- Institutional learning
Last night, while agonising over whether to send Finley to family daycare today (spoiler: I decided to keep him home), I was researching reasons for and against keeping kids home from school. (The resources and information on daycare are sorely lacking. The lack of guidance is very stressful.) Several times, I encountered the argument from parents that “the teachers would do a better job than me at educating my child/ren”.
I was astounded by this perspective. I come from a very different point of view. Finley is only two, but when he reaches school-age I would strongly prefer to homeschool him, or more accurately “unschool” him, rather than send him to a traditional learning institutional.
So I know my perspective diverges massively from the mainstream. But where did we get the idea that children need the tutelage of trained professionals in order to learn?
The biggest leaps of learning have already taken place by the time children start school. The ages of 0-5 are when they learn to breastfeed (or 97% of Australian babies do), communicate with caregivers, develop relationships, control their bodies, eat solids, roll/crawl/walk/run, talk… the list goes on. Parents don’t feel the need to send their babies/young children to development institutions where trained professionals change their nappies. Countless research has shown that the loving, attentive care that “good enough” parents give to their little people sets them up for life in all the best ways. Yes, we call our childcare workers “educators” and rightly so as kids definitely learn at daycare, but most of us send our children to daycare so that we can go to work, not because their learning at home is inadequate. And we are content that children’s learning at daycare is play-based.
So what is it about the age of 5 that indicates that the time for play-based learning is over and they must enter the factory model of learning (1)?
If you are a parent at home with your school-aged kids at the moment, I want you to know that your “good enough” parenting is enough, and that you don’t have to mimic the school environment in order for your child to learn from you. As many professionals are saying, at the moment your children’s mental health is the most important thing, not your productivity.
Thanks for reading this far. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Have you seen some mainstream values take precedence over safety and health? Have you noticed people (or even yourself) taking stock and sifting through what really matters in life?
(1) I feel like I owe it to all the amazing teachers out there to put in the caveat that yes, progressive teachers are incorporating play-based learning and child-led investigative learning. But I would still argue that the mainstream education institutions are still structured around the factory model of learning.