Friday, March 28, 2008

The mystery of the hand-brain relationship is one of the great barely explored realms of science. My wife and I were having dinner with a friend last night who told about canoeing with her daughter who has her bachelor's and masters degrees from Stanford, one of the most prestigious universities in America. Her daughter has an inherited complex that keeps her from knowing left from right, so when her mother at the back of the canoe would say left or right, her daughter, with hands gripping the paddle, didn't have a clue what she meant. Normally, she would remember left from right by looking at her hands and noticing which one with thumb extended would make an "L", but with both hands on the paddle, she just couldn't tell. Obviously, not knowing left from right is not a sign of lack of intelligence, or how could you explain the master's degree from Stanford?

Scientists observing the patterns of activity in the brain using MRI technology have noted that as subjects work through algebraic functions, the parts of their brains that control the counting of their fingers are active even though their fingers are still. So what in the world does that mean?

It is obvious that educators over the past one hundred years who discouraged counting on fingers and forced the internalization of processes of thought have known very little about the hands or their value in learning. I was one of those students who scored in the 98th or 99th percentile in standardized testing in math, but hid my counting on fingers under my desk to keep from feeling embarrassed in class.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I know I won't get there alone. Give some thought to your own hands and raise them in revolution and seek their empowerment. Much of what happens will be up to you, thoughtful reader, not me alone.

Today I'll have my fingers on the laptop writing chapters of my rustic furniture book, so unless something comes up, I'll be away from the blog writing other things. While I'm away do some research on your own. Tell others about your interest in the hands, then see what comes up in conversation. Come back and share what you learn.

We know that students should never be made to feel less than intelligent for counting on fingers or not knowing left from right. The hands are an extension of wisdom and intelligence inseparably entwined in the workings of mind. We use them to make "L"s, to count, to remember the order of events, to keep track of things, to test things, to explore, to measure, to touch and to make. We ignore them only to be made stupid, incompetent, incoherent, insensitive and incomplete.

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