Left Brain : Right Brain
The late Neil Postman once remarked, “Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” There are many reasons why this is generally the case, but perhaps one of the most convincing causes is our education system’s built-in bias for logic and detail over feeling and imagination. This of course connects back to the left brain right brain discussion, which all stem from the research of Nobel prize winning psychobiologist Roger Sperry.
In a long series of experiments Sperry found that the human brain has specialized functions on the right and left, and that the two sides can operate practically independently when not bridged by the corpus collosum between them. From this came the now-familiar notion that each side of the brain has a characteristic way that it both interprets the world and reacts to it. The left: uses logic, detail oriented, facts rule, words and language, present and past, math and science, can comprehend, knowing, acknowledges, order/pattern perception, knows object name, reality based, forms strategies, practical, and safe. The right: uses feeling, “big picture” oriented, imagination rules, symbols and images, present and future, philosophy & religion, can “get it” (i.e. meaning), believing, appreciates, spatial perception, knows object function, fantasy based, presents, possibilities, impetuous, and risk taking.
The main theme to emerge… is that there appear to be two modes of thinking, verbal and nonverbal, represented rather separately in left and right hemispheres respectively and that our education system, as well as science in general, tends to neglect the nonverbal form of intellect. What it comes down to is that modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere. -Roger Sperry (1973)
I find that this is always a topic I end up coming back to when discussing generalism with others. In a diverse, information satuarated, hyperinnovating, and interconnected world it’s not hard to find the merits of generalist thinking – especially in the realm of ideas, the base of so-called knowledge economy. However, we continue to steer kids into very specializing education systems and we’re doing it to them earlier and earlier in their lives.
After my brother’s university convocation (ironically, graduating teachers) a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to speak with a retiring elementary school principal. She shared with me that there’s a movement in many systems to specialize grade schools around particular subjects so as to both consolidate resources and to “fast track” kids in areas where they show an early aptitude. It used to be that one began to seriously select a career path by college or perhaps the final years of high school. Soon it will be kindergarten. It seems we can’t remove that question mark fast enough.
In our haste to train a better specialist to develop things faster, better and with more precision we’ve built a process that is relentlessly shortchanging society of those people – generalists – that can think with wide-open imagination, big picture synthesis, and an informed sense of context.