Right mind, commonsense, left hand, and writing
We often question whether others are in their right minds or using their common-sense when they fail to act in a reasonable manner.
Judging whether others are literally in their right mind involves us, unwittingly, accepting that their left hand is their adept hand. This is because it is the right cerebral hemisphere (mind) that controls the left hand. And it is the adept hand that executes the mind's eye image with seemingly effortless ease when handling the most complex of human tasks - writing.
Therefore, when attempting to tease out the root causes of intractable personal or interpersonal difficulties, it is necessary to confirm the functional link between the writing hand and the literate brain. This neuropsychological link is often over-ridden by the greater cultural imperative to ensure everything is done the right way, particularly writing with the right hand; even when common-sense dictates that we should be writing with the adept hand. When we write with our adept hand we can be said to be in harmony with ourselves and with the world of literacy. Writing with the non-adept hand unsurprising results in a mis-match between capability and performance not only with respect to literacy but with apparently unrelated areas.
Noting the ease or difficulty with which individuals write indicates latent / converted handedness as a co-factor in their apparently intractable personal / interpersonal difficulties. The reasoning is simple: in literate cultures writing plays a critical role in structuring our sense of self and of others.
It is not impossible to write with the non-adept hand. But doing so makes fluent writing more difficult than should otherwise be the case. It also has negative consequences for reading fluency. And as writing-reading is regarded as a basic skill, failure to master it has cumulative and generally negative effects on individuals, families and society as a whole. Although knowledge of reading and writing problems are tackled under the banner of dyslexia and dyspraxia, knowledge of their underlying condition is not. Indeed the labels dyslexia and dyspraxia represent the success of vested interest groups in depersonalizing and medicalizing phases in learning to read and to write.
- Identifying the adept hand
- Homo faber: the cognitive conceit
- Labelling, reifying and alienation
- Staking the territory
- Communicating hands
Common-sense is when what we see agrees with what we hear and thus feel. This means that brains do not intentionally make life more difficult for themselves than needs be. Why then does the appeal to apply common sense so often leave us locked into seemingly impossible-to-solve difficulties. Perhaps the problem is not so much absence of common sense as lack of common-ground and agreement on a common-good.
Speculating on the role of converted / latent handedness as a common-cause in a variety of presenting difficulties requires a culture shift based on a proper interpretation of common sense. The required paradigm shift involves thinking about thinking, not as a head 'cognitive' process, but as a whole body (pen and paper 'hand') activity. The rationale for confirming that we write with our adept hand when identifying and resolving our intractable difficulties - when commonly defined common sense fails- is simple: in our literate world writing plays a key role in creating and structuring our sense of the self, and hence self-worth and self-efficacy.
Which is the adept hand?
The strong hand is not the same as the adept hand. Nor, perversely, is the writing hand. Generally the non-writing, holding hand, is often the stronger. And because there are many reasons why individuals are induced to do things the right and not left way it is necessary to check which hand is the adept one.
Identifying the adept hand involves noting - ideally through participant observation- which hand is better able to handle a variety of familiar and unfamiliar single and two-handed tasks.
But there is an overriding obstacle to recognising latent / converted handedness (and therefore diagnosing and managing it): simply a mind-set which focuses instead on 'abnormal' brain processes.
No particular professional expertise is needed to identify the mis-match. Indeed Early Years' Teachers are ideally positioned to identify pupils' adept hand. Yet they consistently fail to do so: perhaps because they are enmeshed in the cognitive conceit? This conceit assumes that poor literacy and numeracy are the result of faulty cognitive processes. Thus teachers' focus on the finished 'product' - on the 'what' of drawing/writing- rather than attending to the mechanics of the 'how'.
In this context Dr Ivo-Kurt Cizek's introduction to Dr Sattler's 1995 book captures well the importance of her insights into handedness. It also invites the question of why teacher educators and psychologists in the UK still remain ignorant of the implications and consequences of not drawing-writing with the adept hand:
"The insight that one gains when confronting the true-to-life research of Dr. Sattler and her research team is simply stunning. Whereas previously hundreds of complicated theories had run rampant [for the variety of peoples' presenting problems], there now stands a clear, single, concise, commonsensical, easily understandable simple Cause-and-Effect 'theory'. This leaves me puzzling why we never noticed the connection before. Why had no one been able to put the 'obvious' pieces of cause-effect, and action-reaction together before? [my emphasis]."
Homo faber vs homo sapiens and the cognitive conceit
The cognitive conceit (deceit?) assumes that the thinking brain and the active hand are separate entities, which may or may not interact with each other. In short, they operate independently of each other. The flow of information between the two is that cognitive processes control the hand. Hence the CBT belief in the general efficacy of ‘talking cures’.
The supremacy of the brain is captured best by the label 'homo sapiens', signifying wisdom. It is to cite Howard Brown, a conceit. The conceit stems from the fact that viewing ourselves in the mirror, we see a face masking a highly developed disembodied brain which is capable of speech, introspection, abstract reasoning, puzzling and problem solving. Yet it is this same brain that often finds itself unable to handle what the world, both literally and metaphorically, throws at it.
The non-conceited view is that the brain and the hand evolved simultaneously, each constitutive of the other. This is equally true in the case of self-development where ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
And yet many academics and professionals still act as though mind (brain) and body (hand), are separate. This is evident in judgments such as "She's good with her head but useless with her hands", "He's brilliant with his hands but is no good with his head!", "She knows her stuff but can't put it down on paper." None, however, can be true since it is the same brain that 'controls' thinking that 'controls' the hands.
Like other professionals, teachers fail to register their pupils' persistent writing problems as evidence of writing with the non-adept hand because they regard handwriting – both orthography and cartography - as a consequence, rather than as a concomitant of poor thinking.
Labelling, reifying and the alienation of parents and teachers
When parents find their child struggling at school - particularly reading and writing - and teachers find themselves unable to help pupils work through the struggle, the cause is identified as a faulty mechanism within children, which has to be properly labelled.
The ritual has now been well established of calling in non-education specialists, for the mind - psychologists- or for the mind-body -psychiatrists, to conduct assessments to find the right label. The result is that teachers can now redefine a teaching problem as a learner problem with others now diagnosing the precise nature of a pupil's inherent obstacle to learning-with-seemingly-effortless-ease.
Psychologists invariably locate the difficulty within the child -with one of the following 'diagnostic labels' -rather than identify poor pedagogy.
TABLE 1 DIAGNOSTIC LABELS
|a=absence of, thus alexia - the inability to read anything at all
dys=mal-functioning, thus dyslexia - error-prone reading
|Syndrome||Attribute||Operationally defined by|
|a / dys praxia||motor movement||object manipulation|
|a / dys lexia||reading||fluency in reading aloud|
|a / dys calculia||mathematics||manipulating numbers|
|a / dys graphia||expressing thoughts on paper||body posture: form and context of text|
|a / dys phasia||speaking||fluency in talking|
|a / dys tonia||muscle tone||ability to hold posture / gesture|
The above table shows that all that has been done is to reify or objectify one phase in the transition from novice to expert and tag it with a bit of Greco-Latin. This confers a spurious authenticity on their ultimate rescuer status and implies the possession of esoteric knowledge. This is called 'psychologizing', one insidious side-effect of which is that it creates many non-substantive problems.
By now it should be perfectly clear that almost anyone can join in the game and invent labels like: 'amusica','aChinese-ia', 'dysphobia' and 'apathetic'.
Teachers and parents become even further distanced from the original teacher-learner problem when they involve psychiatrists, as evidenced by the following, incomplete list of medicalised conditions.
TABLE 2 LABELS AND THEIR CLASSIFICATORY STATUS
Why have teachers so easily been allowed to abdicate their responsibility for inducing pupil success? This question cannot be divorced from their conditions of service. Fearing poor SAT, Ofsted or Exam performance they are induced into repeating yet more of the same, only with geater rigour.
Levine handled the general issue of professional alienation in a 1983 paper entitled: Method or Madness: The Alienation of the Professional, which he defined as the sense of loss of control within professions. He claimed
...the alienating character of professional method may be observed in varying degrees in all human service professions. Method alienates the professional from the subject matter of interest, and to some degree from his or her own perceptions and interests. In the course of attempting to solve problems, too often the emphasis changes from understanding the substantive problem to checking and correcting artefacts of method, losing the focus on the original substantive problem, as the work turns in on itself. The cure requires professional social support for studies better suited to illuminate the human condition and to enlighten and intrigue the professional worker.
Three years earlier Cox and Wood had focused on teachers in their Organizational Structure and Professional Alienation: The Case of Public School Teachers. To quote them:
Exploring the problem of the relation between structure of social units and psychological states of their members, this paper examines professionals( alienation from bureaucratically structured organizations.
....Numerous and often disparate meanings of alienation exist, ranging from apathy to authoritarianism, from psychosis to regression. The present study of public school teachers focuses on the powerless dimension of alienation, accepting Clark(s definition of alienation as ( . .. The degree to which man feels powerless to achieve the role that he has determined to be rightfully his in specific situations.)
Clearly the 1960's has been a decade of increasing alienation among teachers. Teachers are demanding a new role for themselves, including greater professional autonomy and larger voice in educational policies and programs. ....”
Pepper called this pre-occupation with method 'methodolatory'. Here the notion of ‘alienation’, casued by an obsession with method, has been extended to cover parents as well as teachers. The situation, if anything, has worsened over the intervening decades without any significant improvement in the performance of pupils despite numerous ‘educational reforms’.
Ted Nunan, also in 1983, handled the same set of pedagogic issues under the title: Countering Educational Design. Later in 1991, Pawel Dembinski in the other e-field of economics drew similar conclusions under the title: The Logic of the Planned Economy: The Seeds of the Collapse.
Staking the territory: teacher / parent as engineer
The OECD in their latest Programme for International Student Assessment report identified the role of teachers as nation builders as being a key feature in highly ranked nations. For parents to join teachers in establishing their role as nation-builders we need a more radical model of what teaching-learning is: in short a better mmodel of how we can successfully induce brains to become more capable.
Such a model is to be found in a scientific – engineering facility, such as at Daresbury Laboratory. This world-renowned 3rd generation Synchrotron Radiation Resource was not master-minded by one single person, nor did it arise, designed, fully fledged from a blank-sheet drawing-board. The essential features of such a system appear to be that it:
- is curiosity and problem-solving driven: operates in an experimental mode
- involves inter-disciplinary teamwork: collegial not hierarchical interaction
- represents ever-evolving expertise
- represents a self-organizing criticality: self-validating interaction
- involves an international team: not parochial, local or even national, but truly global.
- is constantly moving into the unknown
The simple test for the veracity of its system-management is that it produces the intended results.
Contrast this with what happens in education, the school or the classroom. Psychologists step in to offer teachers, who are looking for an excuse for their failure to inspire pupils to succeed, a variety of diagnoses meriting special educational needs status.
Instead, in an engineering mode, teachers should be able to state when a particular pupil has a reading / writing, or conduct difficulty without recourse to an external authority. They should then be able to contextualize their formative assessment, as did Marc Gold, by stating that the difficulty is their teaching difficulty prompted by their pupil’s apparent learning difficulty.
Common sense interaction with the pupil would then allow them to check out hearing, sight, or handedness. Failure to do so would indicate that they are not acting pedagogically. The non-pedagogic expert would then be needed only to provide the necessary prosthetic device (e.g. spectacles / hearing aide).
The need for an implicit engineering model was brought to mind while observing how the use of modern technology is changing how infant minds get programmed. The ‘mind-programming' incident occurred in a Spanish street market. Ambling through the market, a father cradled his less than one year old child in his right arm, while positioning a camcorder in his left hand to show the infant the scene ahead on the screen. This meant the infant was able to view the territory both directly and as refracted through the camcorder's screen. The infant didn’t have to be instructed in how to cope with the double view - the brain simply adjusted. Of course the next step would be to hand over the camcorder to the infant ,so that the infant assumes control over the viewing!
Communcating hands: tactile hand-on-hand finger spelling
What happens when infants are born both deaf and blind? Are they and their brains destined to be forever frozen in time? Are they condemned never to interact with the world or with others because they cannot see or speak about a world they cannot see or hear?
Helen Keller's life story tells us otherwise. The critical factor is not the child, it is the expertise of the adult interactor. The answer is almost too obvious for those who have not been hide-bound by the cognitive deceit! The only means of communication left is with and through the hands, mouth and rest of the body. The procedure is straightforward and involves associating objects, actions and feelings with tactile finger-hand spelling.
In one scenario, the adult kneels astride the less than year old deaf / blind infant, then prompts the infant to hold an object in both hands (and let it play for a while), prompts the infant's hands to place the object up to the infant's mouth (and let it explore it for a while), takes the object off the child, then immediately finger-spells the ‘name’ of the object on the infant's hand. The sequence is also immediately repeated but with a different object.
Seeing deaf / blind adults communicate with this hand-on-hand finger-spelling method and at speed is truly awe inspiring. What is even more remarkable, however, is that 'spelling' is introduced to the infant well below the age when spelling is normally introduced to normal children. Of course what is really happening is that spelling is introduced to a receptive brain, which is only handicapped by its blindness and deafness and not by its senselessness
Reference Harold Cox, James R Wood (1980) Issues and Trends in American Education, Peabody Journal of Education October p.1