Over the last 25 years we have more than doubled our understanding of how the brain works. All the new research is good news for humans, but it severely dents many long held beliefs.
First of all, intelligence is not fixed at birth. It can, and should be developed throughout life from childhood to old age.
Second. Intelligence does not deteriorate with age. We do not lose 30,000 brain cells every day, or every time we have a beer or a whisky, though an excess of alcohol or drugs can cause brain cell deterioration.
Third. Intelligence isn't even a single entity. Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard has identified 7 different types of intelligence, two in the left hemisphere of the brain, what I call the masculine brain and five on the right hemisphere, what I call the feminine brain. The masculine intelligences are maths/logic and linguistics and until the mid 80's were still regarded as the only intelligences worth having. The school system is based on them. Gardner eventually recognised an 8th intelligence, spirituality, based in the right hemisphere.
Fourth and perhaps the most startling point of all. Women are potentially far more intelligent than men. That statement isn't 100% true. It should read: Feminine thinkers are potentially more intelligent than masculine thinkers, because feminine and masculine in this case cut across the genders of male and female.
The most obvious example of this was Margaret Thatcher, a very masculine, machine like thinker. Her strictly utilitarian, non feminine approach to problems did immeasurable social damage to the UK from which we are still suffering today, almost 15 years later. The late Carl Sagan on the other hand, was primarily a feminine thinker, despite being a scientist. He was brilliant, charming and worked tirelessly for the benefit of humanity.
Feminine of course, in the context of thinking should not be confused with effeminate or female. Many men are born right hemisphere dominant, especially black men. The theatre, the music industry, advertising and films are full of right brain men.
Of our eight intelligences six are on the feminine right side of the brain, our creative intelligences. They can handle information at the rate of one and one quarter bits of information per second i.e. 1,250,000 bits per second whereas the poor old masculine brain can only handle forty bits per second, yes 40, four zero.
Masculine thinking is straight lined, sequential, non-emotional and thinks in words. Feminine thinking is flexible, has depth and breadth, is creative, emotional and almost limitless in it's imaginative properties and it thinks in pictures, which is why it's so much faster. A picture tells a thousand words. Masculine thinking demands one task at a time whereas feminine thinking allows multi-tasking. Panorama did a programme in 97 called the Future is Female. What they meant is The Future is Feminine. They failed to take into account the large number of feminine male thinkers.
From all this new research has sprung three new terms: Wholebrain Learning or Accelerated Learning and its consequence, Integrated Intelligence. Wholebrain Learning is Left and Right Hemisphere working together. Because the Right Brain is so much faster it is dominant. Despite this, the majority of school failures are Right Brain Dominant. They are totally misunderstood and often put down by a largely left brain teaching staff as being lazy and difficult, either withdrawn or downright disruptive.
Right brain pupils, especially boys, are sensitive, creative daydreamers who take failure and criticism very badly unlike their left-brain counterparts who are much less emotionally affected by other people's perception of them.
What is Intelligence?
Intelligence is the linking of brain cells (neurones) by connective tissue known as dendrites. Everyone is born with 12 to 15 thousand million, brain cells, each cell capable of holding information. But each cell can make up to 100,000 connections to other cells and it's those connections, which effectively makes up Intelligence. The more cells which are connected the more information we can work with and the more ideas we can come up with, providing we haven't killed off our creative right brain intelligences by an over abundance of left brain training at school or by many university courses.
What this means is that everyone on the planet has the same intellectual potential. It means also that there is no such thing as stupidity, only levels of intelligence, all of which can be developed up to the day we die. Indeed, if stupidity exists at all, it exists as a defence mechanism. It also means that age is no barrier to intellectual development. On the contrary, the more we keep our brain active, the longer we are likely to live, i.e. healthy mind, healthy body. Couch potatoes beware.
Expectations are crucial in any field of development, but especially in education. If you expect something to happen, you are already half way to achieving it. The American psychologist Rosenthal divided a class in two following a series of class IQ tests. He told the teacher he had divided the class in two halves according to the results, bright on the left, less bright on the right, but not to tell them why they were thus divided and above all, not to treat them differently.
Eight months later the class results of the ‘brighter' group were up by 30%, even their IQ's scored higher. Incredible really as Rosenthal had chosen the names for the original lists at random, but because the teacher expected the ‘brighter' group to do better, as much as she tried, she unwittingly conveyed this message to them, over the months which followed Rosenthal dividing the class. She also conveyed the opposite view to the other half of the class.
For this reason it is crucial that all teachers be made aware of the new research which offers neurological evidence, that all intelligence can be developed. Without question, some of us are natural mathematicians, or musicians or organisers or writers, but all of us can and should develop the weaker parts of our intellect to bring them up to at least average.
Social Conditioning and Lack of Confidence
One major reason for poor academic achievement is the switch from really trying to make the grade, to looking as if you have already made the grade. We're talking image building here. Even those who are making the grade as footballers, pop stars etc get caught up in teenage image building where loud mouth and super cool swagger replace reality. A false confidence often bordering on arrogance masks the reality of fear, lack of confidence and low self-esteem. This means individuals never solve their problems, therefore never move on. Problems? What problems? How can you begin to solve what isn't there?
This is all perfectly understandable under the circumstances, but unfortunately by not facing up to the problems of lack of confidence, low self-esteem and poor educational standards, it hinders the progress of intellectual development.
To over come any problem we must first of all recognise that the problem exists. Parents and teachers must find ways of encouraging their children to learn without putting them under unnecessary pressure or trying to terrify them into working. Parents and teachers must find ways of learning how to relax so they don't over-react to their children's normal mistakes by shouting and they should never physically hit their children for making mistakes. That is so counter productive.
Parents must continue to stretch their own intellectual potential at every opportunity to lead their children by example. Love, kindness and gentleness should be by words in all schools and homes. All children need that. All children deserve that. You deserve that. You also deserve the joy this new approach will bring to your homes and communities.
Every Human Being is programmed to learn. Therefore any child who shirks the learning process is doing so because his inner defence mechanisms, over which he has no control, have been set up to protect him from further emotional hurt. They are designed to shield him from the pain of failure, which he is experiencing during the learning process. Let us all adopt these simple concepts:
Failure is OK. It's part of the Learning Process
Mistakes are our Best Friends.
The only people who don't fail are those who never try. We learn from our mistakes, pick ourselves up and try again. And when our students make a mistake let's not be too ready to point it out before first pointing up the part of the answer they have got right e.g. 95% correct, but just a little mistake here, rather than: WRONG! With the emphasis on the mistake and completely ignoring the bits he got right. Let's remember that children are easily hurt. Indeed. Are even we as adults not easily hurt if we look silly in front of others? But who's perfect? People, especially the young should always be given credit for trying and if they fail they should be encouraged to have another go and helped where possible to succeed next time.
Teachers Fail, not Students
Because everyone can learn and is programmed to do so, anyone who is failing to learn is not being taught properly. If our students aren't picking ideas up, isn't it up to us as educators and/or parents to find another way of presenting the information? Humans aren't machines all programmed exactly the same way. We now know there are numerous learning styles, which we should all become familiar with.
Student failure is a failure of communication between educator and student. It's the educator's job to find a way of communicating his information to the student. Accelerated Learning Techniques, which are now available to schools via Classroom Resources in Bristol, can overcome any problems with spelling, tables or reading. We have no excuse for not having the tools to overcome our problems as communicators.
As a therapist in the 70's and 80's working in the field of dyslexia and slow learners I soon discovered that all of the students, irrespective of age or background, were being hampered by anxiety or second stage anxiety, namely tension. I used a visualising to help the under 12's and hypnosis for the over 12's. The techniques were not only successful in calming the students down (including stopping bed wetting, nightmares and sleepwalking within 7 to 10 days) they also produced a dramatic improvements in the learning process.
Modern research shows why. The seat of short-term memory is in the Limbic System, i.e. mid brain. It also controls, among other things, the emotions. When the emotions are upset, the brain switches to fight or flight mode during which little or no learning can take place until the student is calm again. Fear is the enemy of learning, whether the student is 5 or 55.
The Edinburgh Techniques
Almost everyone who has learning difficulties is right brain dominant, i.e. big picture thinkers. They prefer to see the big picture first then fill in the details as they go along. Despite the right side of the brain being far more powerful than the left, RB children fall behind at school because they can't pick up on the details of tables and spellings. They appear ‘stupid' whilst often being far more intelligent than their ‘cleverer' LB classmates.
The first thing this damages is confidence and self esteem, without which learning is much more difficult. After a short while on this downward spiral, they begin to lose hope and give up. The Edinburgh Techniques, developed in the mid 80's for children of the rich and famous (as it turned out), are based on Wholebrain Learning which is Right Brain dominant, allowing even 7 year old dyslexics to spell words like Psychiatrist and Encyclopedia in the first session. (Because the technique is visually based, students can also spell the words backwards. That has to be seen to be believed. If anything shows they are not stupid, spelling PSYCHIATRIST backwards does.) The best then go onto learn a technique for the 12 times table (up to 12 x 19) in the same session.
You can imagine what this does for flagging confidence and low self esteem. Suddenly students see a way forward and are keen to learn more. The techniques cover all aspects of learning and include 2 Relaxation CDs, the Magic Garden for the under 12s and the Study Relaxer for 12 and over. A written version of the Garden is now available in 6 languages. Dutch and Turkish will be added in March 2005.
The techniques can be viewed and downloaded at: www.edinburghtechniques.co.uk
Every one of us has the same intellectual potential, but not the same Intellectual abilities. I can give a speech in front of thousands of people from only a few notes and keep the audience interested and amused for 2 or 3 hours. I can organise and run political campaigns with ease. I have a good grasp of BIG subjects like politics and psychology but I am slow at learning languages and other detailed subject matter. Engineering and maths beyond 10th grade leave me cold. Many of you reading this will say no, maths is easy, it's logical. You can check your work. There are guidelines. I don't know how you can work with such amorphous subjects like politics and psychology.
The reason for the differences are the way our intelligences link up and whether we are right hemisphere dominant or left, people orientated or fact orientated.
Two important facts to bear in mind are these:
One: It is never too late to take up or resume learning. All learning makes the brain progressively better.
Two: Information in itself is not intelligence. Intelligence is the use of information not the gathering of it.
Finally. As we move through the 21st century change will become even faster and more complicated. We must always be ready to move with the times. No generation in history is right about everything. Even the most deeply held beliefs of past generations have been found to be ridiculous. Spare the rod and spoil the child belongs in the 19th century and has no place in a modern society. If we can't lead our children to the Promised Land we certainly aren't going to be able to beat them into it. Let's take off the pressure. Let's encourage and applaud effort. Let's try and be more understanding about the difficulties of our students. Let's remember to accentuate the positives, not the negatives and we will all be amazed and delighted at the results.