Sunday, March 24, 2013

Autism Diaries XLV: J on the virtues of groups--in criminal justice

So J and I were sitting in the kitchen the other day, discussing one of his favorite topics: crimes and punishments. We discussed burglary, booby traps, impersonations, disturbing the peace, and all their various legal consequences. When he cited 13 (his favorite unlucky number) as the number of people on a jury, I noted that only 12 make the actual decision. Thinking about this group of 12, he suddenly said "Are animals smarter than germs?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are many cells smarter than one cell?" 

Oh, ok. He's proposing that single cell bacteria are less intelligent than multi-cellular animals, and then connecting this to the intelligence of a single juror vs. a group of 12.

It's sort of a variation on the wisdom of crowds--a popular meme that J, who rarely reads or listens, has apparently come up with totally on his own. Who'd have thunk that a child on the spectrum would appreciate the virtues of group think--even in the best sense of the term?

For there are some virtues in this kind of collaboration. I know: I've served on a jury. And I still remember how relieved I was that I didn't have to decide that really bizarre case all by myself.

It occurs to me that jury deliberations are perhaps as close as you get to K12 group work in real adult life. They're a heterogeneous cross section of people, not grouped together by choice; their activity is unstructured, open-ended, and unsupervised; they are theoretically egalitarian (though certain personalities dominate); and all the work occurs in the group setting--no divvying up according to skill and going your separate ways.

But the thing is, juries have been around for many long centuries--way longer than K12 groups. And as to whether today's classroom groups will improve tomorrow's juries, that particular jury is still out.

1 comment:

C T said...

Jurors get a bucketload of instructions. Wouldn't it be nice if K12 groups were similarly instructed in such a direct fashion?