Many American parents tend to view education solely as career preparation. Consequently, they are eager to pronounce little Sigmund or Anastasia either a scientist or an artist at an early age–and direct him or her into either medical school or an MFA program. American parents are also typically familiar with the different abilities of the left and right brain hemispheres. They understand the lateralization of brain function, comprehending how the left hemisphere operates analytically, much like a tax accountant, and the right brain operates associatively, much like an abstract painter. They may even be familiar with the split brain research that led to this knowledge about brain function.
These same parents, however, take the research too far. Not only do they read their own career hopes into their children’s early behaviors, they also think that each of their children is either left-brained or right-brained. So, little Sigmund happens to line three building blocks up in a row, and instantly he is deemed an engineer and no one ever buys him a box of crayons again. Meanwhile, little Anastasia happens to scream in perfect pitch, and she is thought of as the next Madonna and told “Don’t worry about math–it’s for other people.”
These early occupational forecasts can have deleterious effects upon child development. First of all, the child may feel he or she is being forced into a career that is really the unrealized dream of the parent. Even worse, the child may be undermined in attempts to master specific skills because he or she was told “That’s not your thing.” In my nearly twenty years as an educator, the most frequent cause for a student’s inability to write has always been a parent or teacher who said, “You just can’t write.” Similarly, I’ve found that most students who have a hard time learning math were once given advice like, “You’re not a math type.”
Unless there is an actual learning deficiency present, we all have the ability to write or do mathematical calculations. We may not all be Nabokov or Einstein, but we can all master the basics of any subject. There just aren’t as many people walking around with half a brain as the pop psychologists would have us believe.