From an early age, we are encouraged to pick a side. Admittedly, I once was a card-carrying member of the Left, however, experience has taught me that the challenges of this era demand solutions from both sides of the divide. The time has come to stop the partisan bickering. Right Brainers and Left Brainers, let’s end the feud today!
According to the stereotypes, right-brain dominant individuals are outgoing, intuitive and nonlinear thinkers. Their ranks include novelists, artists, musicians and the like. Meanwhile, left-brain dominant learners prefer to employ logic and deductive reasoning, choosing careers in science, math, and engineering. By the time they graduate, most students have taken at least one assessment informing them which model they best fit. Paradoxically though, the careers we are preparing students for are becoming increasingly difficult to segregate into those same two boxes.
Consider the latest summer blockbuster you watched or video game you played and it becomes apparent that the digital revolution has created a new medium requiring aspiring artists to master traditional left-brain associated skills such as algorithm design and computer coding. Similarly, the data deluge that is pouring out of scientific research has made sifting through experimental results line by line humanly impossible. To cope, scientists now consult with graphic designers, or learn how to acquire the appropriate skills themselves, to create novel data visualizations to promote new scientific insights.
Mental ambidexterity is the new norm in science. I once asked a colleague of mine who’s resume spans everything from cancer research in Boston to software development for a fashion design company in NYC, what side of the brain he thought he relied on more. I deeply admire my friend’s talents, but upon hearing his answer it occurred to me that perhaps some (if not all) of his success came from simply realizing the absurdity of the question.
“Left Brain or Right Brain?” my polymath friend repeated, “Honestly, I really don’t know how to think without both.”
Few people ever score entirely on one side or the other of cognitive inventories. Nonetheless, some educators still argue that teaching students about their orientation on the Left-Right spectrum helps students better understand their learning style. To borrow a phrase from statistics, “All models are wrong… some are useful.”
I would respectively like to argue that the emphasis we place on the left vs. right brain model in education has outlived its utility.
Submitted by Matt Schu, Landmark Teacher 2003-2008, Current PhD candidate in Bioinformatics at Boston University, (former card-carrying Left Brainer)