I just finished reading Daniel Pink’s A whole new mind the other day and some of his ideas fit in really well with the discussion that’s been going on about the need for vision for technology and learning during the last couple of days, including Wes Fryer, Graham Wegner, Sharon Peters, and myself. While Pink does not really focus on technology or education, his argument for an increased emphasis on what he calls R-Directed Thinking (emphasizing right hemisphere skills), can provide us with more ammunition for putting forth the kind of vision that many of us think is missing in education.
In a nutshell, Pink describes how the Western world has historically tended to favor skills that are predominantly associated with the left hemisphere of our brain: sequential, logical, and analytic thinking. However, three recent socio-economic trends will force workers in the U.S., Western Europe, Japan, and Australia to shift their focus more on right brain skills, as abundance of goods, outsourcing of technical work to Asia, and automation of work by computers, will cause major and long-term changes in the job market.
So what are we to do? According to Pink, we should focus on developing these R-Directed skills which he calls “six senses”. They are (Pink, 2005, pp. 65-67): design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning.
1. Not just function, but also design: products must be beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging;
2. Not just argument, but also story: being able to fashion a compelling narrative;
3. Not just focus but also symphony: synthesis, seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries;
4. Not just logic but also empathy: forging relationships, caring for others;
5. Not just seriousness but also play;
6. Not just accumulations but also meaning; purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.
To cut to the chase here, take a close look at this list of six senses, but instead of looking at the words in bold, take a look first at the “not just…” phrases, or the L-Directed skills. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t function, argument, focus, logic, seriousness, and accumulation still major components of what we teach our kids as being important to succeed, especially in an era of accountability and high stakes testing?
A good example of this is a recent Newsweek article, with the telling title, “For today’s school kids, pressure starts early,” and subtitle “Kids as young as 6 are tested, and tested again, to make ensure they’re making sufficient progress. Then there’s homework, more workbooks, and tutoring.” According to the article, all of this is done to give these kids an “edge” (Note, btw, the stack of books on the Newsweek cover, no digital technology in sight!).
Obviously, there are many questions to ponder here, such as:
- An edge over who or what?
- What will give them the edge?
- Why the need to test so much?
- Are we really testing what we should be testing?
- What is the role of technology in all of this?
The answers to these questions should be pretty obvious ones, and much has been written about them. However, in the grand scheme of things – and I’m using my right hemisphere here – it all comes back to vision, or lack thereof.
What to do? So far we’ve come up with a solid list of suggestions in the blogosphere discussion, including the need for EVERYBODY to have a vision for educational reform that will actually help kids in the long run, including administrators, teachers, support staff, and parents (of course everybody forgot to include KIDS in the equation here, but I definitely think they should be involved in the decision-making process. We adults could learn a thing or two from them as well!). At this point, it seems that only some have a solid grasp on the present and likely trends in the future.
Above all, I think that PARENTS need to be educated more on what is going to happen to their kids if we keep educating the way we are today (at least in the Western world). We also need to make parents understand that mobile and connected technology (and the connections that kids make with this technology) are going to be a big part of their children’s future. As a result, learning can and will be anywhere, anytime, anyone, and no longer be confined to the time and space of school as we know it today.
Finally, we need to get ALL stakeholders to see that just teaching kids L-Directed skills is not sufficient anymore. R-Directed skills such as creativity, big picture thinking, empathy, and meaning are becoming evermore important in our society. Will technology play a part in that? You betcha!