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Batman Pt. 1

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Batman Pt. 1

Batman Pt. 1

Batman Pt. 1

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  • Transcript

Can your private thoughts and expectations influence how well a rat runs a maze? The answer may surprise you. You'll also meet Daniel Kish, who is blind and uses echolocation to get around.

ALIX SPIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is Invisibilia. I'm Alix Spiegel.

LULU MILLER, HOST:

And I'm Lulu Miller.

SPIEGEL: And today we're going to tell you a story that we think is going to make you believe something that you do not currently believe.

MILLER: Right.

SPIEGEL: And to begin to explain this story, we want to introduce you to something - a rat.

MILLER: (Laughter) Hi, buddy.

SPIEGEL: Recently, Lulu and I got a rat, and we brought it to NPR.

MILLER: So can you just describe what we got here?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's a rat.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Pinkish ears.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Red eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Long nose.

SPIEGEL: And we invited people into this room, one by one, to sit in front of the rat, look it in the eye and answer one question.

Do you think that the thoughts that you have in your head - OK? - the private thoughts that you have in your head could influence how that rat moves through space?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No.

SPIEGEL: And it was almost unanimous.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No.

SPIEGEL: People did not believe that their personal thoughts about the rat would have any effect on the rat at all.

BOB ROSENTHAL: Because that would suggest some sort of telepathy.

SPIEGEL: Now, maybe this is your belief as well. And if it is, you're wrong.

ROSENTHAL: (Laughter) Yes.

SPIEGEL: This is a man named Bob Rosenthal. And early in his career as a research psychologist, he did something very devious. Late one night, Bob secretly crept into his lab, and he hung signs on all of the rat cages. Some of the signs said that the rat in the cage was incredibly smart and some of the signs said that the rat in the cage was incredibly dumb, even though neither of these things was true.

ROSENTHAL: They were very average rats that you would buy from a research institute that sells rats for a living.

SPIEGEL: So then Bob brings this group of experimenters into his lab and says for the next week, some of you are going to get these very smart rats and some these very dumb rats. And your job is to run your rat through a maze and record how well it does.

ROSENTHAL: That's right.

SPIEGEL: So off the experimenters went.

Can you just pick up the rat?

We actually did a very lo-fi unscientific version of Bob's experiment here at NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Is that OK to do?

SPIEGEL: Yeah.

MILLER: Yeah.

SPIEGEL: In Bob's real study, the experimenters did just as Bob told them to do. They ran the rats that they had been told were smart...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: She has sort of an intelligent-looking face.

SPIEGEL: ...And the rats that they had been told were dumb...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Yeah, he seems kind of lazy.

SPIEGEL: ...Through these mazes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: There he goes.

SPIEGEL: So what did they find? It was not even close.

ROSENTHAL: The results were so dramatic.

SPIEGEL: The smart rats did almost twice as well as the dumb rats...

MILLER: Even though they weren't...

SPIEGEL: ...Even though the smart rats were not smart and the stupid rats were not stupid. They were just all the same kind of average North Dakotan rat (laughter).

MILLER: So, Alix?

SPIEGEL: Yeah, Lulu?

MILLER: Let me just break in here and represent all the people who are just hearing about that study and thinking, like, what would what I think a rat is - in terms of dumb or smart - what on Earth would that have to do with what a rat actually does? Like, that almost to me sounds like the stuff of science fiction, like telekinesis, like...

ROSENTHAL: Got you, got you.

SPIEGEL: Yeah, no one really believed him at first.

ROSENTHAL: I was having trouble publishing any of this.

SPIEGEL: But what Bob eventually figured out was that the expectations that the experimenters had in their head actually translated into a whole set of tiny behavior changes. That is, the expectation subtly changed the way that the experimenters touched the rats and then, in turn, the way that the rats behaved. So when the experimenters thought that the rats were really smart, they felt more warmly towards the rats and touched them more carefully.

ROSENTHAL: We do know that handling rats and handling them more gently can actually increase the performance of rats.

(MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: And in people? Because it turns out that this kind of dynamic happens in people, too.

CAROL DWECK: You may be standing farther away from someone you have lower expectations for. You may not be making as much eye contact. And it's not something you can put your finger on. We're not usually aware of how we are conveying our expectations to other people, but it's there.

SPIEGEL: That's Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford. She was one of several researchers who explained all kinds of surprising things that expectations can influence. Like teacher expectations can raise or lower a student's IQ score. A mother's expectations can affect the drinking behavior of her middle-schooler. Military trainers' expectations can literally make a soldier faster or slower.

MILLER: Think about that. As you go through the world, the expectations of other people are constantly acting on you, literally making you stronger or weaker, smarter or dumber, faster or slower.

SPIEGEL: Yeah, so my question was, how far does this go?

So, Carol, clearly these expectation effects exist on a continuum. So, for example, if I expect that if, you know, somebody jumps off a building, they will be able to fly. That's not going to work out so well, right?

DWECK: Right.

SPIEGEL: So what does science know about where we should draw the line? Does it have a clear sense of that?

DWECK: No. That line is moving. As we come to understand things that are possible and mechanisms through which a belief affects an outcome or one person affects another person, that line can move.

SPIEGEL: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

MILLER: And I'm Lulu Miller.

SPIEGEL: And what we do on our show is look at these invisible things like emotions, beliefs and assumptions and we try to understand how they affect our lives.

MILLER: And today the invisible thing we are talking about is expectations. We're going to poke at that line Carol talked about, see if we can get it to move over a little bit. And to that end, I had one question for Bob.

ROSENTHAL: OK.

MILLER: Could my expectations make a blind person, who literally has no eyeballs, see?

ROSENTHAL: No way. Expectations will not make them see.

MILLER: How sure are you about that one?

ROSENTHAL: Positive.

SPIEGEL: We're not. So stay with us and at the end of the program, you can decide who you believe. OK Lulu, so you're going to lead us through this story. So, where does it start?

MILLER: Well, it starts deep in the woods in Southern California with me and a man named Daniel Kish. We've been hiking for hours and we are just sitting down in the dirt to take a break.

Could we look at your eyes?

DANIEL KISH: In terms of them being out?

MILLER: Yeah.

KISH: Yeah.

MILLER: And then in a somewhat surreal gesture, Daniel pulls down his lower eyelids and removes his eyes.

KISH: OK.

MILLER: They're prosthetic, of course, and they clink a little bit as he hands them over to me.

That's so cool.

Two of the most beautiful hazel-blue eyes I've ever seen, in the palm of his hand.

Can I hold them?

KISH: Yeah.

MILLER: OK. Wow, they are so lifelike. Does it feel odd to not have them in?

KISH: Yes.

MILLER: Oh, it does?

KISH: Oh, yes.

MILLER: OK.

Daniel's eyes had to be removed when he was just a toddler because of cancer.

KISH: Retinoblastoma, which is basically eye cancer.

MILLER: And yet he's the one who's led me on this hike deep into the woods. So how does he do it?

KISH: I think we've passed what I was looking for.

MILLER: Well, he's got a cane and a hiking stick. But mainly, he clicks.

KISH: You press the tongue on the roof of the mouth.

MILLER: Is it kind of like (clicking)?

KISH: You're creating a vacuum.

MILLER: He clicks with his tongue as a way of understanding where he is in space. This is basically what bats do, echolocation, as the scientists call it. It's like sonar. From the way those clicks bounce off the things in the environment, Daniel gets a sort of sonic representation of what's around him.

KISH: So here (clicking) I can sense trees poking up.

MILLER: Now, Daniel just happened to intuitively invent this when he was a toddler. No one taught him or trained him, he just made it up. And since he's been doing it his whole life, he's now so good at it that he can tell all sorts of things about what's in front of him - if there's a sudden drop-off in front of him or a wall, if the vegetation is dense or sparse.

KISH: So here's a bench.

MILLER: Yes.

KISH: Garbage bins.

MILLER: Ding, ding, ding.

KISH: Outhouse.

MILLER: Wow.

And not only does this allow him to hike, navigate foreign cities alone, rock climb, horseback ride, but the one that gets all the attention is that he can ride a bicycle.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Meet Daniel Kish. He's blind, but that doesn't stop him from riding his bike.

(APPLAUSE)

MILLER: You may have heard of Daniel Kish before.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Daniel Kish is completely blind.

MILLER: He is usually called the Bat Man.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This real-life Batman.

MILLER: Because he is the man who clicks like a bat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: His remarkable, bat-like abilities.

MILLER: And he has made the media rounds to demonstrate what is usually described as this most amazing...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Extraordinary.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Phenomenal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Remarkable.

MILLER: ...Nearly superhuman ability of being able to ride a bicycle even though he's blind.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: As you watch, remember - he can't see a thing.

MILLER: A narrative Daniel thinks is all wrong.

BRIAN BUSHWAY: Step right up, step right up. The amazing Daniel Kish will demonstrate one of his greatest tricks to date.

MILLER: This is Daniel's buddy Brian Bushway (ph) who has had to watch his poor friend wheel out the old bicycle so many times for the media that he couldn't help but mock the whole setup when asked him to do it for me.

BUSHWAY: And then he will proceed to mount himself on a bike and ride.

MILLER: And though Daniel indulged, pulling figure-eights and riding beautifully as I ran beside him with my microphone, the two of them made it clear that my amazement was kind of offensive.

BUSHWAY: So step right up, step right up and see the amazing Daniel Kish do something that everybody can but most people don't.

MILLER: And here is where we get back to expectations. See, Daniel thinks there is nothing amazing about him. He thinks most blind people who don't have other disabilities could do things like ride bikes.

KISH: I definitely think that most blind people could move around with fluidity and confidence if that were the expectation.

MILLER: See, he thinks the reason that more blind people don't isn't just because they haven't learned to click, but is because the expectations that you, or I, or all of us are carrying around in our own heads about what blind people can do are simply way too low.

KISH: They wouldn't be able to hike, they would be able to run, they wouldn't be able to engage in manual labor.

MILLER: Daniel, like Bob, thinks that those expectations, those private thoughts in our heads, are extremely powerful things because over time they have the ability to change the blind person we are thinking about.

KISH: That psychology becomes inculcated in the blind person. Absorbed and translated into physical reality.

MILLER: And so, Daniel has a theory that if by some miracle we could all change our expectations of what blind people are capable of, then not only would you see lots more blind people on bikes, but...

KISH: More blind people could...

MILLER: In a very real way...

KISH: See.

MILLER: Yeah, he just said see.

KISH: It's actually pretty simple and straightforward.

MILLER: And it turns out, neuroscientists are looking into this very idea and seeing some pretty shocking results. And we will get there. But first, to understand what Daniel means how expectations could give a blind person vision, we need to first see how Daniel himself shot through this force field of low expectations, a story which starts back in 1967 when Daniel was just 13 months old and that second eyeball had just been removed.

PAULETTE KISH: Oh, my gosh.

MILLER: This is Daniel's mother, Paulette Kish. And a few days after taking her son home from the hospital, Paulette realized she was facing a really difficult choice.

PAULETTE KISH: My mom thought that I should put him in cotton.

MILLER: Cotton?

PAULETTE KISH: Wrap him in cotton so that he didn't get hurt, so that he was so protected. That's really how she felt.

MILLER: See, Daniel was a very rambunctious little guy.

PAULETTE KISH: He started climbing when he was 6 months old, before he even walked.

MILLER: And that didn't change when he went blind.

PAULETTE KISH: We had bookshelves he would climb, so I'd have to move everything off the bookshelves because he'd get into them.

MILLER: So Paulette needed to decide - was her mom right? Was it time to start putting some restrictions on him, or was she going to raise him like a seeing child, allow him to explore his world with very few restrictions on him for blindness? And for reasons that will become clear shortly, Paulette went with option two. She was going to banish her fear.

PAULETTE KISH: Just put it away. In the beginning, I think that's what I did. I just put it away.

MILLER: And so when two police officers showed up at her door...

PAULETTE KISH: Two big huge police officers holding my child.

MILLER: Having picked up Daniel for climbing the fence into their neighbor's yard.

PAULETTE KISH: You can't let him do that - he could fall.

MILLER: Paulette felt their same worries...

PAULETTE KISH: It's very scary.

MILLER: But didn't make Daniel stop.

KISH: I just climbed everything I could find.

MILLER: And when the elementary school called and asked her to make Daniel stop clicking?

PAULETTE KISH: It's not socially acceptable, is what they would say.

MILLER: Paulette said, too bad.

PAULETTE KISH: He needs to know what's around him and that's how he does it.

MILLER: And so Daniel clicked, past people doing double-takes on the street, occasionally bumping into things.

KISH: (Laughter). Yup.

PAULETTE KISH: And then pretty soon...

MILLER: Your blind kid is not only scaling trees and fences by himself, but walking to school on his own, crossing busy streets, exploring his way into neighbors' driveways.

KISH: A friend of the family had an undersized bike and I started riding alongside this retainer wall until I realized, I didn't really need the wall and I could roll alongside the wall without having to touch the wall. And then...

PAULETTE KISH: Oh, goodness.

KISH: I just could ride it.

MILLER: He'd have to click way more than usual.

KISH: Peppering the environment with a barrage of clicks.

MILLER: But by 6 years old, he could do it - ride completely comfortably on the bike. Look ma - no eyes. And when neighbors would pop their heads out the door?

PAULETTE KISH: How can you let him do that?

MILLER: Were their concerns.

COMPUTER GENERATED VOICE: How can you let him do that? How can you let him do that...

MILLER: She'd look at his smiling face and think...

PAULETTE KISH: How can I not?

MILLER: So did anything bad ever happen to Daniel? I mean, did he ever get really hurt?

PAULETTE KISH: Well...

KISH: I used to have this game - get to the top of our road and yell dive bomb and I would ride insanely fast down the road and everyone would have to scatter. Well, one day I did the dive bomb thing and as I was screaming down this road - bang. I just collided into a metal light pole - blood everywhere.

MILLER: And this was not the only pole in Daniel's life. On the schoolyard, he ran into a pole and knocked out his front teeth. A few years after that he ran straight into a soccer shed

KISH: And it just destroyed my whole mouth.

MILLER: I mean, his childhood was punctuated by some pretty grisly injuries. And the way in which Paulette reacted to all of these injuries was that she always let him keep going. I mean, shortly after the bike thing a bicycle appeared under the Christmas tree.

SPIEGEL: And why - like, I am a mother and I think that if my kid kept showing up with his front teeth knocked out, I would begin to wonder if I had made the right choice.

PAULETTE KISH: Yeah.

MILLER: Paulette knows it seems extreme, which brings me to that reason she decided to banish her fear.

PAULETTE KISH: It was my first marriage. It was not a good marriage.

KISH: My father was an alcoholic and he was abusive.

MILLER: Daniel's biological father, who's now deceased, was extremely abusive with Paulette.

KISH: Sort of a barroom brawler type.

MILLER: And he could be tough with Daniel and Daniel's little brother.

KISH: We had to learn to sort of take physical punishment, as it were, and be able to dish it back.

MILLER: And Paulette says this is why she ended up being so hands-off with Daniel.

PAULETTE KISH: Everything that happens in your life has its effect - has its effect.

MILLER: She said that after spending so many years feeling small and powerless in that marriage, when she finally made it out she vowed never to be ruled by fear again.

PAULETTE KISH: I mean, there's life and then there is living your life. There is a difference.

MILLER: In the same would go for Daniel. She refused to let those scary thoughts of what could happen make her keep Daniel too close.

But what if Daniel ended up being hit a car and killed?

I asked her.

Like, what if? What if a car just hits and just plows him down, you know?

PAULETTE KISH: But that can happen to anyone. It can happen to anyone. There was a group of four kids on the corner up about a block. A car went up the curb and hit them - killed two of them. It can happen to anyone.

MILLER: And so bikes were bought for Christmas and tree climbing was permitted.

PAULETTE KISH: OK, I'll just close my eyes.

MILLER: And this blind as a bat little boy was allowed to wander the world as freely as any sighted child.

KISH: From the fifth grade on, I walked to school almost every day. I had to cross major streets. I participated in extracurricular activities. I made my own breakfast. I made my own lunch.

SPIEGEL: I mean, were they considered outside the norm? Did they consider themselves outside the norm?

MILLER: I don't think they noticed it much. I don't think they thought about it much. Particularly Daniel didn't know that there was anything odd about the way he got around the world.

KISH: Until Adam.

ADAM SHAIBLE: My name is Adam Shaible. Excuse me for a second.

MILLER: So, Alix?

SPIEGEL: Yeah.

MILLER: This is where the story takes a kind of complicated turn because Adam is basically the first other blind person Daniel ever encounters. They met in the fifth grade when Adam suddenly enrolled in Daniel's elementary school.

SHAIBLE: I will say I was a rather small fellow at the time. When I was 11-12, I was under 60 pounds.

MILLER: Wow.

KISH: Yeah.

MILLER: And Daniel was not exactly welcoming.

SHAIBLE: He just wasn't a nice - nice fellow.

MILLER: Daniel said that Adam completely unnerved him because of how incapable he was of getting around on his own.

KISH: Literally just running into walls. I mean, he would just walk along and his forehead would connect with a wall and we'd be on the other side of that wall and we would say, OK, that's Adam, he's coming, kind thing.

MILLER: Is that true? Was it like - was it that bad?

SHAIBLE: Yeah.

MILLER: Adam says he had simply never needed to get around on his own before.

SHAIBLE: I went to the School for the Blind from age 5 to age 7.

MILLER: And there he was taken around on someone's arm almost all the time. In the lunch room, people brought him his food. They helped him carry his books.

SHAIBLE: I don't know why people did things for me. They just did.

MILLER: And Daniel was baffled by Adam.

KISH: At the time, I had not really conceptualized blindness in that way for myself, and I just didn't understand it.

MILLER: He'd come home to his mom mystified.

PAULETTE KISH: He'd say Adam can't do anything on his own.

SHAIBLE: If I got lost I used to get terrified.

KISH: Why?

SHAIBLE: I just - I didn't feel safe.

KISH: Why?

MILLER: And then what happened is that the kids at school started to mix up Daniel and Adam.

KISH: People started just lumping us together as, you know, the blind kids. We were the same age.

MILLER: You were the blind boys.

KISH: Yeah. They'd mix up our names, and I didn't like that at all.

MILLER: And so almost to prove his distinction from Adam...

KISH: I did the things that kids will do in situations like that.

MILLER: What did you do?

PAULETTE KISH: He made fun of Adam.

SHAIBLE: He just, like - he put up a wall around him.

KISH: I was pretty brutal.

MILLER: He'd tease him in front of other kids.

SHAIBLE: I used to try to walk away from him.

MILLER: And he even beat him up a few times.

SHAIBLE: I wondered if there was something I had done.

KISH: And that, in my aggressive little mind, was the thing that set me apart.

SPIEGEL: So then what happened?

KISH: Time moved on.

MILLER: Adam and Daniel went off to different schools and Daniel just tried his best to forget this vision of a kid so like him who couldn't get around the world.

KISH: And we just lost track of each other.

SHAIBLE: We just lost track of each other.

MILLER: Daniel goes off to college, doesn't really associate himself with the blind community. His plan was to work with abused kids and at-risk kids. And then one day he happens to pick up this book.

ROBERT SCOTT: The title is "The Making Of Blind Men."

KISH: "The Making Of Blind Men" by Robert Scott.

SCOTT: I go by Bob. You can spell that either way.

MILLER: (Laughter) All right.

This is the book's author, Bob Scott, a former professor of sociology at Princeton. And inside this book was the idea that would change Daniel's life, an idea that when you first hear it sounds kind of out there - that blindness is a social construction.

SPIEGEL: Wait, was Bob saying that people are not physically bind?

MILLER: Kind of, but let me just tell you how he gets there.

SPIEGEL: OK.

MILLER: OK.

SPIEGEL: OK.

MILLER: So fresh out of grad school, Bob got this job to conduct a huge multi-year long survey to see how effective blindness organizations were at helping the blind.

SCOTT: Yep.

MILLER: And so he begins interviewing hundreds of blind people, goes out on hundreds of site visits.

SCOTT: Basically gathering information in any way I could imagine that I could get it.

MILLER: And then one day, many months into the process, he had...

SCOTT: What might be called an aha moment.

MILLER: He was out walking in a snowstorm in New York City when he happened to see...

SCOTT: A blind beggar.

MILLER: Asking for money.

SCOTT: Standing on the corner at Bloomingdale's.

MILLER: And he thought, hey, someone else to interview for my survey.

SCOTT: I said would you allow me to buy some of your time and I gave him, I don't know, $25 or something like that. We went in and sat down at a restaurant and I said tell me your story.

MILLER: Turns out the man had worked at a paint factory until a few years before, when an accident there left him blind. And the people at the factory really liked the guy, so they said, look, why don't you go to an organization for the blind, get some training and then come back and work for us? So the guy said, great. He went to an organization for the blind. He said, I've got this job all lined up. Can you just help me with a few basic things? And the blindness organization said, no.

SCOTT: Oh, no. You can't do that. Blind people can't do those things. What we're going to do is put you through a program of rehabilitation and then move you along to our sheltered workshop that manufactures mops and brooms.

MILLER: And Bob said there was one sentence in that response that jumped out at him.

SCOTT: Blind people can't do those things.

MILLER: And he began to wonder, wait, is that true? Could this guy really not work in a paint factory? Because over the course of his research, he's seen blind people that could do all sorts of things.

SCOTT: This is sort of starting to open up in my own thinking a much more complicated world than I ever imagined I was walking into when I began the study.

MILLER: The more that Bob looked around, the more he started to see that message.

SCOTT: Blind people can't do those things.

MILLER: Being communicated to the blind people by the blind organizations that serve them - not necessarily always as explicitly as in the case of the paint guy.

SPIEGEL: Like, how else, then?

MILLER: Well, take the fact that, at that time, of the nearly 20,000 blind kids who were in public schools, two-thirds of them were being kept on the sidelines during gym class - play tag, run around on your own.

SCOTT: Blind people can't do those things.

MILLER: And then there was the organization's insistence that adult blind people get help getting around.

SCOTT: They are picked up at their homes. They're driven there. They're met at the sidewalk, walked into the agency, escorted to wherever they're going. Everything is being done for them.

MILLER: And even though all of this was intended to help, Bob began to wonder if maybe - just maybe - the organization's low expectations for what blind people could do was in some way actually limiting the blind people that those organizations sought to help.

SCOTT: What I came to realize is that how they function was a process of learning. It was not imposed on them entirely by the fact that they couldn't see.

MILLER: So is Bob saying that blindness isn't a real thing?

SPIEGEL: Like it exists mostly in your head? Because my father is blind, and he is very, very limited in what he can do. And I have to say, like, I don't feel like the obstacles that he faces are obstacles that he wouldn't face if he'd just thought about his blindness differently.

MILLER: Well, Bob would say that, of course, loss of vision is an absolute and real limitation. But it is not the complete wiping away of vision we so often think it is. It's more like a wiping away of long-distance vision.

SCOTT: Exactly - anything that I can't reach out and touch.

MILLER: And Alix...

SPIEGEL: Uh-huh.

MILLER: Bob wasn't actually the first person to come up with this idea. Blind people were. A group called the National Federation of the Blind has, for a long time, advocated this kind of idea. This is a group formed by blind people for blind people. And they think that the physical condition of blindness...

SCOTT: It doesn't explain nearly as much as people believe it explains.

SPIEGEL: So if you buy this logic, people who are blind, like, the only thing that's standing between them and walking around the world, like Daniel does, is our beliefs.

MILLER: Yeah. You know, that sounds totally crazy. And that is exactly what he's saying, which brings us back to Daniel. Daniel reads this book, and he starts thinking about Adam.

KISH: If I got lost, I used to get terrified.

MILLER: You know, maybe it wasn't that Adam was this weirdo, tentative kid but that he was a very typical product of a system.

SPIEGEL: You mean, like, the system taught Adam that he would have trouble moving around?

MILLER: Yeah. I mean, he was led around school. He was - people brought him his food.

KISH: I don't know why people did things for me. They just did.

MILLER: And when Daniel looked at the world around him, he thought, you know, a lot has changed, but a lot is frighteningly similar.

SPIEGEL: From then until today, things are similar?

KISH: Yeah.

MILLER: Yeah. I called around to dozens of blindness organizations all over the country.

DANIEL NORRIS: Name is Daniel Norris, supervisor of adult services for the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

MILLER: And supervisor after supervisor told me that what Bob Scott saw is still very much alive today.

SPIEGEL: In what way?

MILLER: So most children who are blind in America don't actually go to schools for the blind anymore.

NORRIS: Right.

MILLER: Thanks to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, most blind kids stay in their local public schools, which is great. But on those public school grounds, says Norris...

NORRIS: There is a lot of pressure to keep a child safe and especially in a litigious society.

MILLER: So many of the blind students are still placed with a paraeducator, which can be good, but sometimes...

NORRIS: Those paraeducators can end up doing the work for the kid and...

MILLER: Like Adam.

NORRIS: ..When you lighten someone's load, you don't allow them to expand.

(MUSIC)

MILLER: I talked to mothers whose blind kids were pulled off of playground equipment. And perhaps the most chilling thing is the fact that most blind kids will intuitively start clicking or snapping or stamping to test out their environment with sound, but they are so often discouraged...

PAULETTE KISH: It's not socially acceptable is what they would say.

MILLER: ...That they never get the chance to develop their skill to the level Daniel did.

NORRIS: So how are we doing as a nation? We have not taught independence.

MILLER: You can see this most clearly, says Norris, in the numbers.

NORRIS: When you look at the statistics among the academic scores for those who have impairments of any kind, the visually impaired score very high. But when you look at the statistics on how many visually impaired people are unemployed, I think it's around 75-80 percent.

MILLER: The number we found was 64 percent.

NORRIS: And that's sad.

MILLER: Because, Norris says, that's on us, from the teacher to the parent to the bystander on a subway platform who looks at a blind person and assumes they need our help.

KISH: What we are doing is we are creating slaves to others' thinking...

MILLER: That's Daniel Kish again.

KISH: ...Slaves to others' perception, slaves to what others think they should be doing. And somehow we're comfortable with that.

MILLER: And so, though he had never wanted to work in the profession of blindness - in fact, he had wanted to get as far away from it as he could - Daniel Kish decided he sort of had no choice.

KISH: It sucked me in kind of kicking and screaming.

MILLER: He could see what was happening, and he held in his tongue (clicking) a way out. So he decided that he would dedicate his life to trying to liberate blind children.

SPIEGEL: Kind of like Batman?

MILLER: Exactamundo, fighting for good in the world in a kind of vigilante way because actually the way that you go about liberating a blind child from the constraining forces of culture is a little bit grizzly.

SPIEGEL: All right, well, I guess we'll hear about that when we get back.

MILLER: Yes, bring your Band-Aids and ice packs.

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