Balancing Act

05/25/2011 11:45 am ET

There was a time when the leading edge - the youthful brain trust -- was searching for and sometimes finding the complete picture; the holistic view.

I was a hippie in the be-here-now 60s, though admittedly, one with concessions. I didn't wear a bra, for example, but I shaved my legs; I was a vegetarian, sustained myself primarily on brown rice and carrots, but I occasionally ate fish. Differences were fine - even applauded. Still, like my cohort of the time, I was trying to get in touch with my inner self -- to utilize and maximize my own unique intelligence, while balancing self-awareness with community connectedness and responsibility. Essentially, I was seeking the answer to the questions, "what's it all about," and "how do I -- with my own unique characteristics -- fit into it?"

My Alma mater often entertained visits from Allen Ginsberg, Krishnamurti, and even Timothy Leary. Poets, psychologists and philosophers of the day presented a broad spectrum of concepts and theories that examined the human condition in depth. Classes to promote touchy-feely right-brain experiences emerged; classes that were basically group-gropes -- all with the intention of getting in touch with our senses -- our varied intelligences -- our complete selves.

Though I look back on those days with fondness, our education system does not appear to have retained much of the "added value" gleaned from the psychological research and spirited discussions that inspired us "back in the day."

Howard Gardner's 1983 theory of multiple intelligences should have helped pave the way toward a better understanding of how we learn; could still be useful in helping us acknowledge that we have different neurological styles, i.e., right, left, and middle-brain learning capacities. For example, if you are right-brain dominant, your intuitive, emotional right hemisphere will guide your decisions. If you are left-brain dominate, your time-oriented, sequential left-hemisphere will inform the choices you make.

As we try to pick up the pieces of a school-system gone awry, it would be wise to remember that our current standardized tests only measure two types of intelligence: verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical. But there are six other ways that people learn, including visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, bodily kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. To ensure a balanced view of the "complete picture," the kids of today need to get the message that intelligence is multi-dimensional -- that it is okay to learn in different ways -- that it is okay to be different. This message becomes even more critical in light of chronic and mental illnesses and disabilities, and the challenges they present to the well-being of children, youth and adults.

Perhaps when we recognize that children have different learning abilities, capacities, styles, and inherent intelligences, we'll be better poised to "balance" our education system to accommodate these various needs, and ultimately enjoy a better view of the complete picture.