I teach….and I make lists. When I’m not teaching, I’m thinking about teaching. After I’ve taught something, I’m already revising my strategy for the next time I teach it. I look for teachable moments everyday for my own children. It’s not only what I do, it’s who I am. In the education world, I’m categorized as your basic left-brained thinker. I outline, plan, schedule….and I make lists.
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, why right-brainers will rule the future. In case you need your own memory refreshed, the left-brain is the center of sequential order, memory, facts, etc. The right-brain is the center of creativity, art and music appreciation, etc. Pink is a self-described left-brained thinker who, as a college and law school graduate, has become a successful free agent and writer. His books focus on the new technological age, and the changing world of work.
In this speech, he candidly discussed success in America through the last 100 years. He started with my grandparents’ generation. In their generation, a high school diploma secured opportunity for middle-class America. Many stayed in their home towns, worked in factories or other businesses. Hard work paid off, and provided well for their families. Their children, my parents, were encouraged to continue their education, as was my generation. Each generation has seen more education necessary after high school, be it trade school, technical institute or academic college. Almost every career requires advanced training beyond high school and, usually some sort of certification. Success isn’t guaranteed because of the extra parchment, but it looks good on another paper—the resume. Businesses have begun to look below “education” on that resume to things like extra-curricular activities, and volunteer work. Job interviews include questions about problem-solving techniques, co-worker relationships, and work experience.
Like it or not, the recipe for success has changed. In the past, linear, sequential thinking and organization coupled with a good work ethic were the main ingredients for that recipe. Now, while the left-brained thinker is still important, he, too, must think outside the box—something I hate to do.
As Pink spoke about this shift, my eyes were opened to the world my children will maneuver as they climb their own career ladder. An ipod world. Five years ago, I’d heard of the ipod, and liked the idea of ditching all my CDs in favor one small device to hold all my music (as any self-described left-brained, organized person would), but now it sits carefully next to my cell phone and purse as part of my everyday wardrobe. Think about that. Innovation has always been important, but it will be crucial in the future. Our kids will need to invent the ipod again and again.
For research, Pink elected to participate in a six week art class. He showed the audience his first self-portrait. It was flat, asymmetrical, awkward, and to be honest, not very good. He discussed how his art teacher spoke in a foreign language, a language that included words like “shadow,” “depth,” and “negative space.” When he asked about negative space, the teacher explained it as the “space between space.” Laughing, Pink said there wasn’t space between space—that it was a ridiculous notion. The art teacher produced the logo for Federal Express:
He then asked Pink to point out the arrow in the logo. Pink, still brooding in his left brain, could not find it. Look between the E and the x. Once Pink’s eyes were opened, he became obsessed with negative space, seeing it everywhere. He joked that he lived in a world of negative space, a world without boundaries, but mere suggestions of limitations. After his art class was completed, he again drew a self portrait. It stunned the audience. It seemed he had grasped the ideas of shadow, depth, and that all important negative space. A lesson learned in six weeks through observation and innovation.
To say that Pink’s lecture rattled my perfectly formed teaching strategies and philosophies doesn’t do justice to how my brain has mulled over his sound bytes and statistics. I immediately looked to my own children and grasped at how to teach them to think with that other side of their brain. I bet every kindergartner you know thinks he/she is an amazing artist, but how many 7th graders still think so? The love of creativity and innovation is sucked out of our kids as they progress through their schooling and their childhood. As a teacher, I’m looking at my lessons and wondering how I can teach Science (a lovely, organized, logical discipline) with innovation at its foundation. How can I make my students think?
I don’t have the answers here, and, therefore, I think that is the answer. I can’t answer all my own questions at once because that would undermine the very thing Pink discussed as creative and innovative. As I struggle through the jobs of motherhood and education, I have to continually ask myself to look at the “space between space” and see what else is there to teach my kids. Hopefully, I will teach them to see it before I do, and then…I’ll add it to my list.