Right Brain vs. Left?

Posted on May 1, 2010. Filed under: art and creativity, classroom related, right-brained, thinking aloud |

Is it just me?  Or do folks in education tend to espouse extremes on edu-issues? I am thinking whole language versus phonics, arithmetic versus “new math,” and now standards&testing versus whole-child&inquiry. Once the end of these false continuums have been selected, they get bifurcated into our two political parties: Republican and Democratic (does that happen in other countries, too). Lest you think I am exaggerating, try this completely unscientific test for which side of these education ideas are Republican versus Democrat. Select below which party you think is best identified with the following edu-practices/issues:

  • Phonics?
  • Whole Language?
  • Math Concepts?
  • Arithmetic?
  • Grammar?
  • Creative Writing?
  • Whole Child?
  • Content Standards?

I am guessing, perhaps incorrectly, that folks placed Phonics, Arithmetic, Grammar, and Content Standards in the Republican camp and Whole Language, Math Concepts, Creative Writing, and Whole Child in the Democratic Camp.  Although today, given the ed-policies of our current federal government, perhaps people found the division less distinct, more muddy than they would have 4 years ago.

In any case, it is the “either” “or” of splitting these ideas that drives me a bit bonkers.  I call these false continuums: whole language vs. phonics; math concepts vs. math procedures; grammar vs. expression; and so on.  I am unclear why I am advised to pick one or the other as if these edu-topics are sides in an issue or ends of a continuum, when I know they are parts to a whole, an integrated universe in the classroom. I would never want to participate in a writing class that spends every moment identifying parts-of-speech and where to put commas.  Nor would I want to participate in a writing class that ignored the role of grammar in my ability to express myself. Is higher math accessible to children who learn only concepts or who learn only calculation?

I bring this up because right now the bifurcation appears to be testing vs. learning.  Really?

  • Does testing mean we do not bother learning anything but what is on the test?  Everything important will be on the page?
  • Learning?  Really?  Students cannot really do any deeper learning if testing is included? Testing somehow removes our ability to teach creative and critical thinking?

Frankly, I do not see these as polar, and I become worn on the debate.  I guess they need to appear polar to make the discussion clear?  Is that it? Maybe I am just too obtuse to see why these are sides.

It reminds me of a decade back when I was really “into” right brain versus left brain reading materials.  Being an art major turned math methods instructor, I was probably trying to figure myself out.  I finally ran into some brain reading that stated that the splitting of these two brain regions into “artistic/creative” versus “linear/traditional” were very incorrect ways to perceive the two roles of the brain hemispheres.  The left brain is better equipped to deal with logic, sequence, and calculating, and the right brain is better equipped for spatial awareness, music, and facial recognition.  But the point is, these two hemispheres work together to allow us to create, express, learn, and so on. They do not, and really cannot, work alone, not even in the minds of creative people.

I suppose critical and creative thinking in the classroom can happen without tests, so I am choosing an inadequate comparison here.

I am also reminded of the qualitative versus quantitative research in my doctoral classes. Both forms of research together, constructed over time and in various sites and studies, were much more convincing and powerful to me than either form of research alone. Of course, scientifically-based has somehow come to mean quantitative, so I am back to the same conundrum.

Why do we polarize? Maybe that is my real question?


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2 Responses to “Right Brain vs. Left?”

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Thank you for clearly pointing out these are not either/or choices and that we need to get off our argumentative podiums and equip our children using all tools available.

Thank you, Karen. I am so excited to hear great edu-thinkers like Mike Rose and Diane Ravitch saying similar things about the polarity that does us no good: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2010/05/12/roseravitchschoolreform.html?tkn=RXNDJqcrynpp2RIEoZOqxlXVVBbv2YQWZyjo&intc=es
Mike said it so much better than me!

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