Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Know what I mean? Pink's A Whole New Mind

The title of Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind is provocative in its promise of a new, and presumably better, way of thinking. A more careful reading between the covers reveals that it’s not minds that are changing, but the greater world. Following the model of the Hegelian dialectic (famously adopted by Marx to account for the historical dialectic that would bring a different kind of revolution) Pink argues that abundance, automation, and the advances in communication technologies that allow for the outsourcing of labor have dated mental models suited to the industrial era. Pink imagines a future in which creative, empathetic, and synthetic ways of thinking will ascend to their rightful place of prestige and prominence.
It would be easy to challenge Pink on many of his assertions. He does not mean A Whole New Mind to be a work of intellectual rigor and the thoughtful reader might contend with many of his assumptions. Pink is hardly the first to bemoan the fact that our culture suffers as a result of conspicuous consumption, or that we’re losing jobs to China and South Asia. The phenomena Pink mentions began to play out years ago, so one need not speculate as to the results. It is far from clear that the jobs that have replaced those that have been lost to overseas employers, largely service and retail jobs, require or reward a greater degree of design, empathy and play. Pink also contends that the future will be taken from MBAs and other literal, linear thinkers. It is doubtful that this will be entirely true, just as it is certain that movie stars, pop singers and other creative types enjoy the very best comforts of our society.
To quibble with these assertions, as significant as they are, is to miss out on the joys of reading Pink. That these questions are drawn to mind are reason enough to acknowledge the worthiness of a thoughtful reading. It is also true that the greatest joys to be found in Pink come in the second half of the book, where Pink details the six habits of right brain thinking essential to the ‘new mind’. Pink defines design, story, symphony, empathy and play as the senses, centered in the right brain, which hold the keys to success and fulfillment in the future.
The last of the six senses, and the one that holds all others together, is meaning. Pink sees a growing desire to find meaning and purpose among today’s increasingly right brain thinkers. Again, this is a bold proclamation that is subject to question. While it is true that people yearn for meaning and purpose it is unclear that this yearning is stronger here and now than it was for the ancient Greeks, or Romans, or Enlightenment thinkers, or even the hordes of religious fundamentalists that can be found in every corner of the world today. None of that discounts the profundity of the need to find meaning, or the desire to do a better job moving forward.
Sadly, the chapter devoted to meaning is one of Pink’s weakest. This is partially because Pink reverts to a self-help, build-a-successful business style of writing that is poorly suited to his purpose. Details on companies that have increased profits by assuming a company sanctioned spiritual awareness seem like a shill for book sales in the business section of Barnes and Noble. The more significant problems with this chapter are almost beyond Pink’s control. He has chosen such a broad, rich and amorphous topic, with tentacles in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and nearly every other human endeavor, that it becomes almost impossible to speak of it. Perhaps Pink should not be faulted for failing to nail down a subject that poets, priests, and philosophers have struggled with for centuries.
Educators in particular want Pink, or someone else with his immodest designs, to help chart a course in the search for meaning. Any teacher can tell you that the mere transmission of information is meaningless without an ability on the part of students to ‘tag’ that information with some indicator of value that allows for retention. Constructivist theorists make some tacit acknowledgement of this need for meaning. Knowledge that is built is owned and is of greater value than information that is merely passed along. The same way of thinking inspires project based learning. Context creates the meaning that adds value to information. But what else? How do educators add meaning to what happens in a classroom in a way that is accessible to a variety of minds?
We all do the best we can, everyday, in everything we do. It’s what gives meaning to our little enterprise.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Flash Ideas

Exploring Flash over the course of this week has brought a feeling of excitement: another notable way to make web design dynamic and interactive.
Several ideas came to mind as to how to employ Flash as a teaching tool. The first came from a conversation that took place at school earlier in the week. I was commiserating with a fellow teacher regarding the poor map skills of our students. Viewing the National Geographic endangered species was an inspiration for an interactive map by which students, by mousing over locations, could call up images of significant people, places and things associated with the area.
A second idea was closely related to the first. Perhaps a map could be designed that displayed data (pictures, video files, audio) by mousing over locations, but with an additional timeline feature, operated with a sliding control, that would allow viewers to access information regarding that location through different historical periods.
The final idea was inspired by Carnegie Hall listening adventures, a favorite among the list of suggested sites. Moving images do so much to make sites more dynamic and engaging, but the combination of moving images and audio expands that power exponentially. The recent MLK day celebrations at our schools served as a reminder that so many of our students have never heard the Dr. King's iconic speeches. Audio of those speeches, along with images from the civil rights movement, could be combined to allow students to discover the speeches in an interactive and engaging format.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Shaking the Polaroid

Hi everyone, I posted an episode to my podcast, stephens podcast.

Click this link to check it out:
Shaking the Polaroid: Bringing Concepts into Focus

- stephen