It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon, but it feels as though the sun is shining. Maybe I still have a touch of runner’s high from covering ten miles this morning. Maybe it’s the residual effect of a 40-minute drive to the mall with five high-spirited teenage girls. Maybe it’s the excitement of starting in on A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, in preparation for leading the book-in-common discussions Family Weekend (I’ve already read The Female Brain). Or maybe it’s d) all of the above. But the run is over, and the girls are moving from store to store, not only shopping but also building connections with each other (research suggests that when teenage girls go to the mall, it is often more about who they go with then what they do there). The book is on the table in front of me, open to page 100. So right now, that’s most on my mind.

The learner in me wants to jump right in and share every bit of what I’ve read so far with you. The teacher in me wants to hold everything back and let anyone who wants to read this book form, and share, their own conclusions. I’ll compromise, discuss just one quote, and invite you to respond below with your own comments if you would like to.

In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink deals with left- and right-brained thinking – essentially, logical and sequential as opposed to intuitive and holistic thinking. As a teacher in an all-girls school, I have been reading this book with the background knowledge that the majority of female brains tend to work holistically, using left and right brains simultaneously, while the majority of male brains tend to use either the left or the right hemisphere depending on the task. By page 60, I was getting increasingly agitated, shifting my weight in my chair, growing increasingly frustrated that Mr. Pink was not including this information in his discussion. And then I came on this passage:

“Cultural Creatives, they [Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson] claim, account for one-fourth of U.S. adults, a population roughly the size of France. And the attributes of this cohort echo many of the elements of an R-Directed [Right-brain directed] approach to life. For instance, Cultural Creatives ‘insist on seeing the big picture,’ the authors write. ‘They are good at synthesizing.’ And they ‘see women’s ways of knowing as valid: feeling empathy and sympathy for others, taking the viewpoint of the one who speaks, seeing personal experiences and first-person stories as important ways of learning, and embracing an ethic of caring.’” (Pink, pp.60-61)

Well. Leaving aside the implication that the validity of “women’s ways of knowing” is even up for discussion in the first place, Pink still seems to be stopping short of getting the point. Women’s brains (at least the 90-95% of them that are “wired female”) would seem to be a prime example of exactly the kind of thinking Pink wants to promote. If he were to visit our school, he would see this in action. Whether in the classroom, in advisory, in the arts studio, on stage, at the barn or on the playing fields, “women’s ways of knowing” are at the core of what we do. We know most of our students use both hemispheres of their brain simultaneously when thinking, and we can capitalize on this strength. Even so basic a task as selecting a theme question for a student-designed Humanities 7 unit integrates left-brain-style rational logic with right-brain-style big-picture thinking, as students analyse a long list of their questions for common themes and key words, and then synthesize those concepts into one central question. During the process, they listen to each other’s stories, and work from an ethic of caring. Perhaps somewhere in the next 100 pages of his book, Pink will look in more depth at what the female brain has to contribute to this discussion. I sincerely hope so.

That said, there is much in this book that is exciting and forward-looking, and that complements well what I know about the learning of 21st Century Skills (skills, I might add, that have been central to all-girls education since the past century). I look forward to finishing it, and I look forward to hearing what parents who do decide to read it will have to say about it during the first part of our book-in-common discussion. When we bring together that A Whole New Mind group with those parents who will have chosen to read and discuss The Female Brain, I will also look forward to hearing what comes out of that discussion. I am quite certain it will bring me new ideas I can use in my teaching. Anticipation can be delightful.

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