Positive Niche Construction, Differentiated Instruction, and Neurological Pluralism

…positive niche construction is a strengths-based approach to educating students with disabilities. Armstrong describes positive niche construction in this way:

In the field of biology, the term niche construction is used to describe an emerging phenomenon in the understanding of human evolution. Since the days of Darwin, scientists have emphasized the importance of natural selection in evolution-the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. In natural selection, the environment represents a static entity to which a species must either adapt or fail to adapt. In niche construction, however, the species acts directly upon the environment to change it, thereby creating more favorable conditions for its survival and the passing on of its genes. Scientists now say that niche construction may be every bit as important for survival as natural selection (Lewontin, 2010; Odling-Smee, Laland, & Feldman, 2003).

We see many examples of niche construction in nature: a beaver building a dam, bees creating a hive, a spider spinning a web, a bird building a nest. All of these creatures are changing their immediate environment in order to ensure their survival. Essentially, they’re creating their own version of a “least restrictive environment.” In this book, I present seven basic components of positive niche construction to help teachers differentiate instruction for students with special needs (2012).

Armstrong goes on to identify the seven components of positive niche construction in the classroom:

  1. Assessment of students’ strengths
  2. The use of assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning
  3. Enhanced human resources
  4. The implementation of strengths-based learning strategies
  5. Envisioning positive role models
  6. Activation of affirmative career aspirations
  7. The engineering of appropriate environmental modifications to support the development of neurodiverse students

Source: Reimagining Inclusion with Positive Niche Construction |

I like that list. I’m a cave orchid and need a compatible niche. Positive niche construction is an alternative framing to “least restrictive environment” that shifts us from deficit model framing to a strengths-based social model framing that supports neurodiversity.

Differentiated instruction is necessary to positive niche construction and both are necessary to neurological pluralism in our companies and classrooms.

Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.

Source: Socol, Ira. Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 3725-3739). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Related,

NeurodiVenture : an inclusive non-hierarchical organisation operated by neurodivergent people that provides a safe and nurturing environment for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.

Source: NeurodiVentures | Autistic Collaboration

An Anti-racist Reading List

The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’

The heartbeat of racism is denial.

— Ibram X. Kendi

It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.

— Beyoncé Knowles

Now is a good time to read these books, follow these authors, confront our history, and unpack what we need to unpack.

Systemic racism is a machine that runs whether we pull the levers or not, and by just letting it be, we are responsible for what it produces. We have to actually dismantle the machine if we want to make change.

Source: Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race (pp. 29-30).

When social scientists describe racism as “systemic,” we’re referring to collective practices and representations that disadvantage categories of human beings on the basis of their perceived “race.” The key word here is “collective.” Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power.

The thing about white supremacy is that it socializes all of us to minimize its terror, to systematically deny or underestimate the harm. “We’ve come so far,” “Things are getting better,” “It could be worse”—all of these tropes minimize racial terror. Americans have been socialized to look on the bright side despite centuries of colonial and racial violence, torture, and the oppression of minorities. Our problem is not and has never been overreacting to racial terror. Our problem is the hegemony of under-reaction, denial, minimization. Ours is a society that has always socialized white folks to live in the midst of racial oppression but go on with their lives like normal. At every turn, those who oppose white supremacy have been met with denial, violence, “race card” accusations, or magnificent claims about progress. It seems that in the minds of many white liberals, we should all be celebrating the fact that most of us are not physically in chains. White supremacy wants you to look at four hundred years of uninterrupted racial terror and conclude “Things aren’t so bad.”

Source: Fleming, Crystal Marie. How to Be Less Stupid About Race (p. 12, pp. 128-129).

Being seen racially is a common trigger of white fragility, and thus, to build our stamina, white people must face the first challenge: naming our race.

White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage. Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina.

Source: DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (pp. 1-2, p. 7).

White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. Too imperceptibly, certainly, for a nation consistently drawn to the spectacular—to what it can see. It’s not the Klan. White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its ends far more effectively, far more destructively.

The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.

The truth is, white rage has undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically, squandered billions of dollars on baseless incarceration, rendered an entire region sick, poor, and woefully undereducated, and left cities nothing less than decimated. All this havoc has been wreaked simply because African Americans wanted to work, get an education, live in decent communities, raise their families, and vote. Because they were unwilling to take no for an answer.

Source: Anderson Ph.D., Carol. White Rage (p. 3, p. 6).

History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress. Before and after the Civil War, before and after civil rights, before and after the first Black presidency, the White consciousness duels. The White body defines the American body. The White body segregates the Black body from the American body. The White body instructs the Black body to assimilate into the American body. The White body rejects the Black body assimilating into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

The Black body in turn experiences the same duel. The Black body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the White body. The Black body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Black body. The Black body separates from the American body. The Black body is instructed to assimilate into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power.

Source: Kendi, Ibram X.. How to Be an Antiracist (p. 33).

On Toxic Positivity

“Saying ‘be positive’ marginalizes and isolates people,” she said. “I’m autistic, I have depression and anxiety and I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. It’s not realistic to ask me to conform to these very specific, socially valued emotions.”

“If it works for you, it’s not toxic,” she said. “If it makes someone else feel invalidated, it is.”

Source: ‘It’s OK not to be OK’: Minnesota psychologists push back on ‘toxic positivity’ – StarTribune.com

If positive attitude changed everything, we wouldn’t need Universal Design. Precarity, systemic racism, ableism, and heteropatriarchy are built through policy and require changes in policies – not merely mindsets – to topple them. Sometimes we should be outraged and angry.

Judith Halberstam writes about the “toxic positivity of contemporary life”:

“As Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us in Brightsided, positive thinking is a North American affliction, “a mass delusion” that emerges out of a combination of American exceptionalism and a desire to believe that success happens to good people and failure is just a consequence of a bad attitude rather than structural conditions….. As Enrenreich puts it, ‘If optimism is the key to material success, and if you can achieve an optimistic outlook through the discipline of positive thinking, then there is no excuse for failure.’ But, she continues, ‘the flip side of positivity is thus a harsh insistence on personal responsibility,’ meaning that while capitalism produces some people’s success through other people’s failures, the ideology of positive thinking insists that success depends only upon working hard and failures is always of your own doing.”

Source: Making Room for Asset Pedagogies – Long View on Education

The more I loved myself, the less I was willing to accept toxic positivity that promised to heal me rather than help me exist in this body. The more I loved myself, the less I accepted momentary help at the expense of systemic change. The more I loved myself, the less I wanted acceptance from people who never bothered to know me outside of their own emotional need.

Source: Disabled And In Love With Me: The Ableds’ Worst Nightmare

My point, of course, is not that we should be relentlessly negative but that we should stop being relentlessly positive — and tiresomely stoic.

Source: The Overselling of Gratitude – Alfie Kohn

Positivity is often toxic, ableist, and steeped in deficit ideology. “Positive attitude!” is a fixture on ableism bingo cards.

See also,