Tuesday, July 13, 2010

starting on the hands

Today at ESSA, my teaching partner, Dr. Peggy Kjelgaard in our class, the Brain, the Hands, and the Arts is working with the students on music and drawing. On Wednesday and Thursday, we'll do woodworking and talk about Sloyd.

Brain research is all abuzz these days. It is very exciting to examine this powerful mass of squishy flesh with the high tech imaging tools that have begun to allow scientists to make sense of it this late in human development. The hand, on the other hand, is a bit more straight forward in its structure. You can cut it open and literally see how it works. Ligaments and bones and muscle are connected in ways that can be observed and understood. But the modern concept of distributed intelligence informs us that the hand itself, as simple as it may appear to be, is deeply connected to the structures within that good old squishy brain we are just beginning to understand.

A good place to begin exploring the human hand is Ethel J. Alpenfels article, The Anthropology and Social Significance of the Human Hand in the May 1955 Journal Artificial Limbs. Alpenfels states:
Man alone has a hand. He uses it as a tool, as a symbol, and as a weapon. A whole literature of legend, folklore, superstition, and myth has been built up around the human hand. As an organ of performance it serves as eyes for the blind, the mute talk with it, and it has become a symbol of salutation, supplication, and condemnation. The hand has played a part in the creative life of every known society,and it has come to be symbolic or representative of the whole person in art, in drama, and in the dance.
My point is that you really can't get the brain (or man for that matter) without grasping the hand's role in shaping its (his) development. And unless our children are to become radically unhuman, their lives and educations are ill-served by neglecting to engage their hands. You can read Ethel Alpenfel's article by downloading the pdf file Here.

As Frank Wilson proposed in his book, the Hand, How its use shapes the brain, language, and human culture, the hand and brain co-evolved as a behavioral system. You can't come to terms and know one without knowing the other. This same co-evolution is reflected in the growth of each of us... leaving our brains with less creative potential if the hands are ignored.

In the meantime, an article by Ann Bibby, American Children Growing Less Creative suggests that children may be getting measurably smarter and much less creative. The solutions Bibby proposes are that school learning become project based, avoiding the kinds of memorization that the teach-to-the-test methodology commonly entails, and that parents limit passive home entertainment and take a more questioning and engaging role in helping their children become problem solvers. Bibby also notes that challenges and challenging circumstances promote creativity... by making things easy for our kids, we limit their creative potential.

Bibby notes in conclusion:
The king of all creativity makers is still play. Children who can entertain themselves, and who make up games or create alternate fantasy worlds, tend to score highest on creativity tests even as they get older. The child who would rather play with the box, instead of the toy that came in the box, is likely the future inventor or author or Nobel scientist.
Amen, sister, you're preaching to the choir.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:15 AM

    Bibby reminds us that the nerds shall rule the earth, at least in the creation of new products and processes.