Friday, February 22, 2013

Two weeks ago, professor Howard Gardner came to USC to speak with Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang at an event called Digital Media, Learning, and Empathy. While the conversation was not what I'd expected based on the title of the event, Gardner and Immordino-Yang did give me serious insight into what bothered me so much about the Daniel Pink book I recently blasted in a previous blog post. Immordino-Yang was discussing belief systems and the ways in which teaching [and subsequently learning] sometimes fails and she argued that in order to change someone's beliefs or to teach them something they're resistant to, one needs to change the structure of the belief, change how someone learns, as opposed to simply manipulating knowledge to fit that person's previously established belief system/system of knowledge. Basically: change the form, not the content. Hers was a call for a new kind of scaffolding, a new type of container in which to hold new information.

This is what Daniel Pink does not understand. He wants to manipulate a certain kind of knowledge, which he terms right brain-directed thinking, to fit into a left-brain directed container. This does not ultimately allow for a transformation of perspective, of knowledge, or of understanding. I know it seems like I'm giving Pink a lot of weight by discussing his argument as frequently as I already have on this blog, but it's because Daniel Pink represents something much bigger to me. He represents a way in which people have come to think that they can pick and choose aspects of right brain thinking that might suit their left brain inclinations, and then use those right brain attributes to profit in some way. But what they're doing, what Pink is doing, is taking right-brained concepts like empathy and creativity and exploiting them, forcing them into a scaffolding that is still left-brain oriented. In the end, what you're left with is business oriented people trying to stuff artistic impulses into their personalities to better suit them in the business world. This is not a celebration of the artistic, creative, off the beaten path personalities, it's a manipulation of those qualities to further the status quo.

It might seem like I'm ranting here to no purpose, but I participate every day in an institution that is continually developing more and more an attitude of business when it should be developing an attitude of community. Universities that offer "shopping carts" for classes and that breed students that expect "A"s because they've paid to go to school is a structure that needs to be reorganized around those exact ideas Pink mentions in his book: empathy, play, symphony, design, story, and meaning. Pink misses an opportunity here to do some good with his concepts, and instead reorients his ideas toward professional success in the business world when if he had simply tried to reorganize the structure of the entire business conversation, instead of only trying to manipulate the content, he might have accomplished something extremely helpful.

Side note #1: One of the neuroscientists at the event mentioned in the Q&A that the left brain/right brain distinction is a highly over simplified and basically false one. So my use of those terms here stem from Pink's use of them and not from any claim I'm making about neuroscience.

Side note #2: I know that lately this blog has become less personal and more academic. It's just that there's nothing personal I feel compelled to talk about right now other than grief, and I can only talk about that so often before myself and everyone else can't listen anymore. I promise soon one of these posts will have more photos than words and I'll be back to my usual adventures.

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