Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World

Katharine Beals, Trumpeter Books, 2009 Reviewed by Barry Garelick, via email

Many school parents question the value of today’s homework assignments. They rightly wonder whether their children are getting the education they need in order to succeed in college. For the most part, they are well-meaning parents who were educated from the 1950’s through the 1970’s in a different style–a style derided by the current power elite in graduate schools of education and school administration. They describe the schoolroom remembered by today’s parents as: sitting in rows, facing front, listening passively to a teacher who talked to the blackboard, “memorizing by rote”, and thinking uncritically. In today’s classrooms, students are given a minimal amount of instruction, and instead are presented with a question–say a math problem–told to form groups and work out an approach to solving the problem. Or if not a math problem, they are told to discuss an aspect of a book they are reading. Homework assignments are often art projects, in which students must construct dioramas of the climactic event of a story they read, or decorate a tissue box with German phrases to help them learn the language, or put together a family tree with photographs and label each with the Spanish term for their place in the family.
In Raising a Left-brain Child in a Right-brain World, Katharine Beals explores today’s classrooms and describes in detail why this approach is particularly destructive and ineffective for students who are shy, awkward, introspective, linear and analytic thinkers. She is careful to explain that her use of the term “left brained” is her way of categorizing students who are linear thinkers–who process information by learning one thing at a time thoroughly before moving on to the next. (I use the term in the same fashion in this review.)
A particularly powerful passage at the beginning of the book describes the difficulties that left-brained children face and provides a stark and disturbing contrast with the traditional classrooms that the parents of these children remember:

Making matters worse is how today’s informal discussions favor multiple solutions, personal opinions, and personal connections over single correct answers. In previous generations the best answer, exerting an absolute veto power, favored the studious over the merely charismatic; how that there is no best answer, extroversion is king. … To fully appreciate the degree to which today’s classrooms challenge our children, we should consider how they might have fared in more traditional schools. Imagine how much more at ease they might be in general, and how their attitudes toward school might improve, if they enjoyed the privacy of quietly listening to teachers lecture instead of having to talk to classmates. …Imagine if they could read to themselves instead of to a group, do math problems on their own, and find, in the classroom, a safe haven from school yard dynamics. (p. 23)