By Debra LoGuercio
©Copyright 1999, Debra Lo Guercio, all rights reserved
Last week we talked about the conversation that
might occur if our right brain was given a voice for a change. Our right brain
thinks in pictures and sends its observations to the left half for translation
into words. The left half then filters out the embarrassing, tactless thoughts
before they escape from our mouths. We hope.
My personal theory is that our right brain
starts out as the dominant force and our left brain takes over as we grow.
Our left brain learns to censor the right brain by soaking up comments from
other people: A child blurts out a purely right brain observation like, “That
lady is really fat!'' and our horrified mothers say, “That's not nice! You
mustn't say things like that!''
We get out our crayons and draw a beautiful
green horse, and our kindergarten teacher leans over our shoulder and says,
``Horses aren't green.'' We crumple up the paper and start over.
No wonder it's so tough being a kid. We call
a fat lady fat and get chastised for observing life in its raw reality. We
try the other route and draw the horse not as it is, but the way we'd like
to see it, and we get chastised for that, too.
Our right brain is so confused at this point
that it gives up and lets the left brain take charge. It's a wonder we don't
all end up on Prozac.
I saw a little right-brain thinker get a
left-brain lesson while I was taking photos in a first-grade classroom last
year. It was just before Halloween, and the children were painting jack-o'-lantern
faces on pumpkins. The teacher gave clear directions: paint a face on one
side of the pumpkin and do not paint the stem.
There was one little boy in the back of the
room who painted a face on his pumpkin and then proceeded to paint more faces
until he had worked all the way around the pumpkin. He used every color in
the paint box and circled the pumpkin with scary little scowls.
He studied his artwork, then promptly painted
the stem bright purple, with big purple dribbles rolling down the sides. It
was a magnificent creation, the kind that a parent gingerly accepts from her
beaming child and says ``It's beautiful, sweetheart!'' and bites her tongue
before her right-brain blurts out, ``What is it?''
The little boy stepped back to admire his
masterpiece and smiled widely with satisfaction.
Right about then, the teacher walked up.
Her eyebrows knitted together, and in that
special resonating tone of disapproval reserved only for teachers, said, “Joey,
you didn't follow directions. Your art time is over. Go wash your hands and
sit at your desk.''
The little boy's smile melted, and with a
hanging head, he walked over to the sink. Another budding right-brain artist
pinched from the vine by a conventional left-brain thinker. He'll probably
grow up to be an accountant.
I had an overwhelming urge to grab the teacher
by the ears and give her not just two cents but about a dollar's worth of
my opinion on her teaching abilities.
I wanted her to consider that some children
may have a hard time finding one side of a round object. If she didn't grasp
this, I'd put her in a round room and tell her to sit in the corner, and when
she failed to do so, I'd scold her for not following directions.
Maybe Joey wasn't thinking “front side, back
side.'' Maybe he was thinking “inside, outside.'' In which case, he most certainly
did follow directions.
I wanted to shake her for squelching a child's
creativity. So what if he painted the stem? Maybe in his artistic opinion,
the stem needed to be painted. Is a little purple paint the end of the world?
Maybe this little right brain thinker looks
at life a little differently than the rest of us. He might be the next Salvador
Dali. But not if his left brain speaks louder than his right. He'll remember
what he learned in first grade: “Do it like everyone else.''
I wanted to leap onto a chair and recite
Thoreau's “Different Drum'' poem at the top of my lungs. But I chickened
out. My right brain was envisioning the men in white jackets escorting me
to my own private padded room. And my left brain listened. I packed up my
camera and left.
Thinking about Joey and his pumpkin always
makes me a little sad and discouraged about how the world treats creative,
right-brain thinkers. But there's one thing that bothers me more than thinking
about one little kid who marched to a different drum: it's thinking about
the rest of the children in the classroom who didn't.