Monday, July 18, 2011

The Human Brain, Unplugged

Energy Man Emerges Connections, connections, the human brain is all about connections:  Pulling memories out of a storage vault with, what would you say, a zillion gigs of capacity?  Shaping responses to stimuli in a nanosecond.  Putting discrete pieces together into patterns with a glance.  It's already the ultimate quantum computer, and getting more sophisticated by the generation, so it is no wonder that today's kids just aren't going to put up with doing traditional "school work" that is, at best, a conglomeration of isolated knowledge.  Human brains are designed to synthesize a multiplicity of factors and functions and to BUILD webs of meaning.  When are we going to translate that reality into modes of learning that do NOT force children's brains into narrow, linear, carefully circumscribed channels of thought?  The next stage of human development is here, and we're standing flatfooted at the door, arguing about irrelevant details like "test scores" while the world passes us by.  
If you're not already feeling left behind, especially in the too-tight strictures of the education world, then you probably haven't read A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink's racy paean to Big Picture Thinkers and the need to move beyond Knowledge Workers and into "The Conceptual Age."  I know, in schools, we're still trying to figure out the "Information Age," so somehow we're going to have to both immerse ourselves in technology and simultaneously leapfrog into what's going on right now, and Mr. Pink argues a great and compelling case, backed up by research, readings, and resources we can all use.
With the advent of Abundance, Asia, and Automation, Pink says, we're moving into a new era, where RIGHT-brain thinking (he calls it R-directed)--that part of us that schooling tends to pooh-pooh and ignore--is rising into a new prominence.  You know what that's all about, the part of our brain that is simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, the part that creates a Gestalt of experience and allows us to be "emotionally astute" and "creatively adroit."  Well, how much of that new "success and fulfillment" modality are we stimulating in schools?  That's right, very little to none at all.  Instead we have defined school success as filling in the right bubbles on woefully narrow "standardized tests," an approach that has given us lots of statistics but has held us back from moving to the next stage: A new agreement about the  meaning and purpose of school, a smart policy that articulates a supportive structural WEB around which states, communities, and schools can spin their own designs.
As we work piece by piece to achieve that smartbomb of national leadership, we can also work Pink's concepts into our policy discussions and teaching, subversively fulfilling our students'  real needs--and our own as well.  Here are the Six Essential Attributes that Pink discusses at length as markers of the new Conceptual Age:  Design, not only functional but beautiful and engaging.  Story, not only argument but a compelling narrative.  Symphony, not just focus but synthesis, creating a new whole.  Empathy, not just logic but caring and understanding.  Play, creating a balance of work and play for general well-being.  Meaning, not just money but purpose, transcendence and even spiritual fulfillment.  If you're like me, Pink's articulation of what we have always intuited to be true  is enough to make a frustrated teacher or parent cry.  Finally, someone creative enough to give us a framework for a new way of thinking about how we can connect our children to the REAL "real world."