Creating Value for the Right-Brained Learner

Warning:  Rant Pending . . . and although I reference Willa’s post, this rant in no way is directed at her but simply an extension of my frustration at society’s educational value system and how hard it is to shift our thinking because of its prolific nature . . .

Willa at Every Waking Hour wrote a post called “Thinking Outside the Box”.  I would like to make yet another attempt at sharing my perspective compared to how our culture views the right-brained learner.  This societal view is so prevalent and so accepted that even as we parents come to discover that we need to understand it better because one of our children fits the description and are struggling in the typical valued learning environment, it is still filtered through this viewpoint.

Frankly, it frustrates me.  Am I the ONLY person who “sees” what I see?  And, of course, since I’m a parent, I must wonder if I’m insane to think that the lowliness of who I am can actually think I’m onto something that needs to be investigated.  But, upon attending the conference held by Pat Farenga called “Learning In Our Own Way” where he brought in a handful of professionals outside the realm of homeschooling who support the premise that each person is unique with their own learning style and should be valued for it; not negatively labeled for it, I realized there was professional support for my perspective and experience.  Pat brought in Thomas Armstrong; John Taylor Gatto was there, of course; and a panel was convened to discuss “learning disabilities” which included Dr. Richard Falzone, Dr. Robert Kay, and Dr. Ken Jacobson who each specialized in their own areas.  Each of these people shared eloquently about the value of various learning styles, which included the right-brained learner.  During the panel, there was a general consensus that each understood that various learning styles should be honored versus labeled.  During the question and answer period, I stood up and asked why it is that these professionals are not being heard about their valid views?  Dr. Armstrong frankly didn’t know except that the cog of current acceptance of the status quo is hard to stop and be scrutinized.

I think some professionals totally get it; people like Thomas Armstrong (who was a learning disability specialist and quit because he no longer believed in it), Howard Gardner, Jeffrey Freed, and John Taylor Gatto (a New York Teacher of the Year who doesn’t believe in the system).  Then there are professionals who seem to get it, but direct their knowledge toward how to work in the existing system and seem to believe in it as useful; people like Linda Krieger Silverman, Mel Levine, Dana Scott Spears, and apparently the author of the article Willa quoted.

Again, I’m frustrated.

For instance, Willa said these things in response to a document she read from a professional’s point of view:

Of course, you want a VSL to be able to communicate this perceptiveness and order it, so he may need some strategies to cross over to his left hemisphere. But auditory-sequential learners, the article points out, can benefit from some crossing over to the other hemisphere — they can learn to access a more holistic, perceptive way of acquiring knowledge.

How big of the author of the article to include the “crossing over” benefit for the left-brained learner.  When you read the excerpt that Willa includes in her post, I “see” something completely different from the conclusions reached by the author.  There is always things spoken of regarding the right-brained learner such as there is “confusion” at times or the two hemispheres are “not communicating correctly” or, hey, but the brain is elastic and can form “new pathways” that then create a person who has “unique traits” that cannot be measured, yada yada yada.

Remember, any person can take any data and any observations and bend it to their perspective.  How about there is “confusion” when a right-brained learner is forced to learn in a left-brained fashion?  How about there is a lack of communication between hemispheres because this particular person doesn’t need to communicate in the manner in which you desire it to.  How about “problems” arise or are noticed because they are not yet ready to learn in that manner or those skills yet because it has not yet hit the timeframe in which this particular brain processes interrelate?  Why do we continue to measure everything about a right-brained learner by our left-brained value system?

So, in other words, when a “professional” makes these types of conclusions, it is simply because he/she was looking for a solution to a “problem” that others say exists.  What if the problem doesn’t exist, but we created it?  How about supporting right-brained learners in a right-brained value system and THEN do some studies and testing to see if that learner’s brain doesn’t work out its own way to interrelate?  Oh, but when it does, they simply say, “oh, look how elastic the brain is . . . it ‘fixes itself'”.  NO!  How about it was never broken!

Alright, so we then are still so conditioned to think in a left-brained fashion that when this author concludes that there are ways to “intervene” with our right-brained children in order to help them “connect to their left-side” because, hey, they will benefit . . . How will they benefit?  So they won’t “think outside the box” so much anymore?  They will conform a little bit here and there?  Why does a right-brainer have to “order” their gifts?  Isn’t their gift the very fact that they are random thinkers?  This author just finds yet another fancy way to convince parents that “here is a broken piece that I can give you exercises to fix or to improve upon” (i.e., conform to society’s expectations, systems, and educational values).

Right-brainers are not broken!  If there are left-brained learners and right-brained learners, why isn’t there a plethora of negative labels for the left-brained learner?  Each type of learner should be valued for what it offers.  Each learner should be allowed to flourish in the environment that supports their timeframe and process.  Just because the left-brained value system is so prolific in our society and culture doesn’t mean it is superior.  It means it is accepted, which means the supports are in place, which means it is easier to value what already exists.  “The box” isn’t necessarily meant to be a good thing.  It means that our culture created a common practice, a “norm”, a stereotype, a mold.  So, when the term “thinking outside the box” is used, it means one is outside the norm or the common practice, not that they are weird, eccentric, broken, or disabled.

I feel we are at the place in our society and intellectual freedoms and pursuits to dismantle the box completely and finally recognize each learning style and its inherent optimal timeframes and processes as valid and embraced for what it offers!  The intellectual and emotional health that would prevail would be enormous, and these would be the benefits from which I feel our world would prosper!

Rant done . . . does anyone “get” my perspective?  I believe with all my heart that it is we parents that can affect real and lasting change in our culture for our right-brained learners!  What the professionals are unable to do, our voices, when united, are unstoppable.  The parents of children with autism proved that in their realm.  We can, too 🙂

8 responses to “Creating Value for the Right-Brained Learner

  1. Pingback: Throwing Marshmallows » Fixing Right-brained Learners?

  2. I like your rant very much!

    I think the articles I read– perhaps not that one in particular, but others I read — said that there are two types of identified “right brained learners”. There were the gifted ones and then the ones that become identified as RBLs because they have other issues — like ADD, for instance. There is a theory that the latter kind need some strategies to cross over.

    SO I am curious — do you think that this is a wrong tack?

    I noticed while I was weeding through ALL those articles the other day that there was a strong bias towards the left-brained approach and a seeming acceptance that kids should adjust to fit the “schooly” system, not vice versa. So I totally think your rant needed to be written. I LOVE Gatto’s writings by the way and will love rereading them from a VSL perspective!

    But the question that remains in my mind is about whether some kids have “cross-over” difficulties that lead to difficulties in function — not just in school, but in day to day life.

  3. Pingback: everywakinghour » Global Views

  4. Good points. I keep meaning to write a post about post-modernism and what it means about how we think about diversity. Because that is exactly the kind of people (well the good ones anyway, there are idiots in every camp) that would agree that we need more flexible understandings of “normal” which do not mean that everyone is the same. Exlode the box!

    But I think I agree with another comment of Willa’s that it isn’t the whole of society that is left-brain oriented, mainly the school system. There are others saying how this means that the school system is way out of whack with where society is going. See this post from Karen and go watch the video she links. It is really good. And will make you think that at least one specialist is thinking your way without worrying about specific kids with “problems”.

    http://lightingthefires.blogspot.com/2006/11/creativity-in-education.html

  5. Just chiming in here on this wonderful and fascinating conversation: as a right-brained, very visual-spatial learner *with* ADD myself, I can honestly say that not only our school system but most of western society (post-world-wars) is set up so we don’t “fit” in the box.

    I so TOTALLY get your rant and agree wholeheardtedly. In other parts of the world, ADD does not exisist. At least not how we label it. Other societies do not see it as a problem, we’re just different souls. I’ve read how the researchers have asked people in Eastern countries about those who have ADD and/or right-brained symptoms, and the answers have been along the lines of “These people’s souls have been here before”. 🙂 I should see if I could dig that up again…

    Anyway, when we start to touch on words like fixing or strategies or coping mechanizims, that’s where we really need to tread carefully, because I think it’s detrimental to the child for adults to think there’s something wrong or different with them – something that needs to be fixed or “dealt with”. I think I was lucky as I was diagnosed early enough in the game (late 70’s) that the adults in my life weren’t set on “fixing” a problem in me, just trying to deal with how I saw the world. In other words, ways of doing thing differently that worked *for me* and not according to other’s standards.

    Sometimes, in conversation loosely related to this and more to unschooling, Ron and I describe not boxes to put our kids in, but a wide-open field. The walls are there as a fence is there, but it’s *way* out there. 😀 We see a lot of ourselves in our kids, sometimes it’s pretty scary, but most times with a lot of reflection we’re able to help them navigate not a coping stategy, but a way that works – even if it’s just a way “for now”.

    Everything changes, and when these kids grow up, most will be considered to have “grown out of” it, but I see it more as learning to handle themselves in a way that makes sense to them. The chaff exposes itself and falls away over time.

    Short example: all the adults in this house are left-handed. My right-handed kids (all but the oldest) have grown up in a “backwards” house, sicne many things are set up for *our* convenience, not theirs. You could say they have coped with it, adapted to it, but they mainly learned to deal with things as they were, because that’s just how it is.

    I hope that all makes sense. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Apple Stars » Blog Archive » Helping vs. Changing

  7. Willa,

    I hope I answer your question in my follow up post above about helping versus changing. And, yes, I think the tack of making a right-brained learner more left-brained is not good. That’s not helping; it’s changing. I think helping a right-brained learner be all he/she is meant to be in their own right is the way to go; not changing them into another being.

    -Cindy

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