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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Writing Sample

Yesterday, as Lawrence was about to leave for the day, he asked in passing: "Why do you think Bow can't write?"

It seemed like a strange question, since I never said I thought he couldn't write. "It's not that he can't write, it's that he won't."

Lawrence handed me an index card sized rectangle of cardstock and said: "See, this is what he wrote. I wrote the letters on top, and I made a box, and he wrote the letters inside the box."

I glanced at it, and he seemed to be disappointed that I wasn't more enthusiastic. "Now, they don't all look so good, but some of them are pretty close." And then he explained how he had been writing something, and Bow wanted to write, and how he had had to hold Bow's hand to steady him, but it was Bow who had written the letters in the boxes, without being guided by Lawrence. "Now, I know for proof, the fact that I held his hand means it's no good, but he can do  it!"

I reassured Lawrence that I believed him, and that I wasn't surprised because I'd seen it before.  I knew Bow could do  it. He wrote his name in  Hebrew when he was much younger. It was sloppy but recognizable. He did it with nobody holding his hand at all. But after that, he scribbled all over it, so  it wasn't visible any longer. When I let him keep the pen and paper too long, he scribbled so hard there were holes. Bow's problem isn't intelligence. It's self control!

He can read, but if you let him have a book, he will tear it apart. He can write, but even if he does write, he will destroy the paper if you let him keep at it. He can use a computer, but he's rather take it apart.

There are probably hyperactive humans with similar problems. Getting them to settle down is the hard part. Getting them to write is easy. If we had a breakthrough in self control with Bow, everything else would fall into place. But getting to that breakthrough is the hard part, and it's not likely to come with maturity.  Older male chimpanzees are typically less cooperative, not more so. We need to  have the breakthrough now, when we can still  go in.


  1. Oh, Bow sounds (or rather writes) like a promising young fellow!

    I wonder what it would be like for him to achieve what seems to us, people, to be such a remarkable feat for non-people as being able to write patiently and comfortably his thoughts.
    Probably a banana.

  2. נוצות, thanks for your comment. I'm afraid, though, that the solution to the patience problem involves more than food reward. Bow is self-motivated, and I cannot bribe him into doing what I want.

    Imagine a hyperactive little boy who won't settle down. Do you think he will suddenly change from a whirling dervish to a scholar if you offer him a banana as reward?

  3. I wonder if Bow and/or Sword might take an interest in this: ... if you can stop Bow from taking it apart, of course?

  4. Hi, Kate, thanks for stopping by. I will take a look at the link and let you know what I think.