Question and Learn

8 Oct

I have always found it curious that we live in this technological, information-rich world, but we are highly selective about when we actually access this information. Somehow, parenting is not always viewed as a category worthy of in-depth research.

When “people” decide to buy a car, for instance, they seldom go about it lightly. They research online, compare models, speak to their friends, speak to knowledgeable persons and they test drive the vehicle before making a decision.

Yet, when “people” are raising a child, they choose to fall back on outdated ‘tried-and-tested’ methods that their own parents used. Alternatively, they take advice from their well-meaning friends, even though the advice is not always sound. Another trend is buying a popular “how-to” book. After all, if we follow a fixed set of rules, we should have success with raising our kids? Right??

In this quagmire of information sources, it is not always easy to discern what information will be most useful to our individual circumstances.

My answer to this dilemma is firstly, to keep an open mind. If we are not receptive to new ideas, we will not be able to change our mindset and our behaviour. Secondly, we should try to be close to the cutting edge in research. This knowledge can empower us as parents and educators. It can be used to mould our viewpoints and to initiate change. Lastly, and most importantly: use your common sense and make your own enquiries. There is no reason to rely on third-hand accounts of the “truth” without trying to verify it independently and critically.

Educators often have to wait in frustration while the slow wheel of change turns within their current education systems. But parents are not bound by systems, laws and red tape. We don’t have to wait for someone to write a book after the fact. We do not have to cling to outdated ideas.  We have everything, literally at our fingertips, available to assist us in making sound, common sense decisions on how to best raise our kids.

I view Nothing But Genius as the perfect tool where the biggest stakeholders in raising children (you) can get together and exchange viewpoints, while staying on the edge of what’s happening in the research world. There will be regular postings on this site about research pertaining to all aspects of children’s development. Obviously, not all change and new ideas spring from recent research. This is where social networking enters. The more voices added to the conversation, the greater the idea base.

We may not all be scientists in the academic sense of the word, but we could still apply scientific principles when sifting through data and evidence. Better still, we could utilize the work of the ‘true’ scientists by applying it to our children’s best advantage.

A practical example of what I am rambling about, is the following:

We have all heard about the right brain-left brain paradigm. The left hemisphere supposedly is used for analytical, logical functions (e.g. maths); the right hemisphere is used for creative, intuitive functions (e.g. art). This theory has been converted into a huge money-making industry. Teachers have been prompted to change in favour of ‘whole-brained’ approaches to curriculum and teaching styles. (In their defense, some of these programs and courses have accurate ideas on good classroom practice).  For years, neuroscientists have been highly critical about these simplified interpretations.

Goswami (2006), a researcher at Cambridge, warned that some ‘brain-based learning’ practices employed in schools are based on the wrong information. He stated that no one is a “left-brain only” or a “right-brain only” person. Yet, this belief persisted and will no doubt continue to have support. Recently, Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist, reported the results of a study that showed creativity is not an especially right-brain function (in: The Washington Post, 21 September 2010).

The available facts show that the concept of localized brain functions is oversimplified. Lateralization (the process of specialization of functions in a certain hemisphere) is inter-individual with differences between males and females, as well as differences between right-handed and left-handed individuals. Until more evidence is revealed, I choose to be a skeptic of the right-brain vs left-brain theory. No doubt others will persist in their support of this viewpoint.

If we seek knowledge, we will have to be skeptical. The Greek playwright Euripides (480-406 BC) said: “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” We might not find clear-cut answers, but we can continue to question and to learn.

Let us join hands in this quest to unearth all the information and then to separate the myths from the facts. Let us shrewdly use all available information sources to support our parenting practices.

After all, our kids are not cars…

 Bibliography:

Goswami U (2006), “Neuroscience and education: from research to practice?” Nat Rev Neurosci 7(5):406–11 doi: 10.1038/nrn1907 pmid: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16607400

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/daniel-willingham/willingham-the-leftright-brain.html#more

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