My mother is left handed. She remembers the nuns at her Catholic school sternly admonishing her for this trait. Instructed that it was improper to favor one’s left hand, she was pressured to perform with her right. She was lucky. Many of her peers, suffering remnants of the Middle Ages philosophy that left handedness is “evil,” had their left hands tied behind their backs in an attempt to “make” them right handed.
This attempt to constrict makes me think about the current state of discontent in our schools. Is it possible that students are still suffering confinement from their natural individualities? However, instead of their left hands being restrained this time is it their right brains?
Our left brain deals with logic, rational thinking, math, language, analysis and so on. Our right brain deals with inspiration, exploration, colors, feelings and the much maligned, day-dreaming. The majority of subjects studied in our schools require left brain thinking. Kids whose processing relies more upon on their right side of the brain tend to be viewed as unorganized and easily distracted.
“What may seem unorganized,” writes Philo Hagen, a teacher and self-proclaimed right brain thinker, “is merely the brain tapping into learning through visual clues, preferring to get all of the information at once…………… We’re not big on observation because right brainers are subjective, not objective.”
In the past, kids who relied more on right brain thinking were seen as disobedient - earning either a dunce cap or a paddling. More recently, easily distracted and unfocused kids are “diagnosed.” We’ve progressed from paddles to “plans.” In a school system that favors left brain attributes, many right brain thinkers find themselves with IEP’s, 504’s and behavior charts. And, of course, let’s not forget, medication.
Not to say all kids on plans or medication are merely misunderstood right brain thinkers. Many children have discovered a potential they may not have otherwise thanks to properly prescribed medication and IEP’s. However one need only look at recent news about our schools (principals keeping low achieving kids home on test days, doctors prescribing attention meds to disadvantaged kids who do not have ADD, and, the success of “Race to Nowhere” ) to see that there is a significant disconnect between the expectations of many educators (and parents) and the realities of who today’s children are and what they are telling us.
Now that my son is a teenager it’s become obvious that the traits our school system found to “be of concern” when he was young (distractibility, day dreaming, difficulty focusing on tedious tasks) are the very traits that are helping him master his creative pursuits. While he did need to learn and fortunately did get help with analytical and mathematical challenges, it was only the astute, wise and unfortunately, rare teacher who found time to stray from the imposed curriculum to celebrate what he was able to do with the other side of his brain; hence school was rarely a source of fulfillment in his world.
Creativity is most certainly not limited to our right brains. Terrific leaps of creativity have been made in every field from math to poetry by people using their left brain capabilities. The problem is when this way of coming up with ideas and solutions is given priority within a setting that our kids spend the majority of their day. Would it be so difficult for educators to recognize the equal value between focus and attention as well as chaos and intuition? Sometimes it’s not until one relaxes and indulges in distractions that one discovers answers to important questions. Consider the following:
- In a University of Memphis study students diagnosed with ADHD got significantly higher scores on difficult creative tasks. Their ADD turned out to be a creative blessing
- Stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin and caffeine, taken by many to increase attention, can make creative epiphanies less likely. “You might be able to work for eight hours straight but you’re probably not going to have many big insights.” notes neuroscientist Martha Farah.
Why is it that in the last decade creative innovations have boomed in domains such as medicine, technology, the culinary arts and businesses like Google, yet our education system is moving at a relative snail’s pace? Although innovative learning techniques such as mindfulness and breath awareness are being brought into some classrooms in an effort to put kids in touch with the workings of their brains, we clearly have a ways to go.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for focus. Sustained focus is advantageous in what is regularly an over stimulating world. Nevertheless, there are unquestionable benefits to daydreaming and distractibility.
Children are evolving - now it’s the schools turn. Maybe the desire and need for performance enhancing drugs would dissipate if educational institutions placed more value on and incorporated into their curriculum right brain activities such as outdoor exploration, “daydreaming,” (aka mindfulness and meditation) inventive cooking and the arts.
Let’s untie those right brains and let them soar. Why should so many children have to wait till college to feel successful and smart? For children lacking an adult that recognizes their creative potential, this opportunity may never come without access to it in the school environment.
If we had succeeded in keeping those left handers tied up we might never have had known the potential of Einstein, Lewis Carroll, Jim Carrey, Paul McCartney or Helen Keller to name a few.
We look back now at those dunce caps and paddles and shake our heads. I wonder how future parents and educators will look back on things now.
"Creativity is the residue of wasted time..."