I know I’ve been hinting at my admiration for A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink, for the last month or so, but I’ve finally managed to write a proper post about it.
Because I think you should read this book.
It’s a book about how we’re leaving an era widely known as the Information Age, and entering a new one. Pink writes, “We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and society built on the inventive, empathetic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.” And this book is all about the skills we’ll need in this new age.
The premise here is that many of the jobs held in the Information Age are now carried out by computers, or outsourced to foreign labor. So the jobs of the future will require skills that are more right-brained than left-brained, skills that Pink calls “high concept” and “high touch”.
And while the book’s primary audience is the business world, I think New Mind has big implications for parents, and for homeschooling parents in particular. (An aside: I know that many of my readers aren’t homeschoolers. Still, the fact that you follow this blog, and based on the comments many of you have left, I assume that we have some intersecting philosophies about parenting. I imagine that you value learning that’s meaningful to your child. So while I refer to homeschoolers in the rest of this post for the sake of sentence fluidity, know that I’m speaking to any parent who takes a particular, deep interest in his or her child’s learning.)
Anyway, what’s interesting about the skills–or “abilities”–that Pink writes about is that they’re nothing like the logical, linear skills that schools have convinced us that we’ll need. Let’s see if I can summarize.
- Design. Pink says that these days, products, services, and experiences can’t be just functional. “Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.” Design matters! Which validates the time your son spends designing a better skateboard ramp, or your daughter spends making a model Indian kitchen. And it’s another reason why project-based learning can be so valuable: when kids choose their own projects and create them, they’re designers. And the act of designing is almost always fulfilling.
- Story. Hee-haw, you know I love this one! Pink’s point here is that information these days is so accessible that it’s overwhelming. We need people who can present information and data in a compelling way–with story. Story is why you remember the history you’ve learned via historical novels, films, and personal accounts, but not what you learned from a textbook. It’s not so important that our kids memorize a bunch of information; it’s more important that they can shape information into something that’s meaningful and captivating to others. So all those silly Pokemon stories that your kid endlessly rattles off? It’s teaching him to be a storyteller, and it’s good stuff. Keep it going.
- Symphony. This is the skill of being able to gather disparate bits into something new. This particular ability fascinates me for egocentric reasons–it’s a skill I never conceived of before, but it’s one I think I’m pretty good at. For instance, I’ve always belittled myself for not being a very creative cook. I tend to follow recipes, rather than make up my own. But when I think more about it, I realize that when I cook, I actually pull together lots of information. If I want to make a vegetable lasagna, say, my mind will go back to dozens of recipes I’ve looked at or tried over the last twenty years–and frighteningly, I usually remember where I saw them–and I’ll combine ideas from several and create something new, which is creative in its own way. It’s the same skill that had me cutting up and reassembling my writing in my last post; it’s the one that compels me to compile a bunch of ideas into a book. Symphony is the skill of an applied researcher, I suppose, and it’s something that no one ever told me I had talent for. But I see my kids cultivating it constantly in their self-designed projects–like when one combines wii games with Norse myths. Symphony also includes metaphorical thinking, which is an ability that I always admire, as a writer.
- Empathy. The ability to walk in another’s shoes. This isn’t a skill that schools truly value–you don’t see standardized tests measuring empathy. But it is an ability that many parents hope to nurture in their kids. And it’s worth nurturing, not only because it’s noble and decent but, according to Pink, it’s also practical. Many jobs of the future will require people to do what computers can’t–interpret the emotional needs of others.
- Play. Homeschoolers don’t need to be convinced of the importance of play in daily life. We see how much our kids learn from play; we understand that having enough time for play is vital. I found Pink’s chapter on play a bit disappointing; his examples highlighting the importance of play are laughing clubs in India, and the effects of playing video games. Somehow I would have liked more–but I didn’t need to be persuaded. My kids taught me the importance of play years ago.
- Meaning. This is the ability to understand deeper underlying reasons for doing what we do: “purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.” This is another ability in which homeschoolers have an intrinsic advantage. If our kids have control over what they learn, it gives their learning value and meaning. They aren’t learning for someone else’s purposes, but because their learning matters to them. Pink quotes American journalist Gregg Easterbrook: “A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale–involving hundreds of millions of people–and may eventually be recognized as the principal cultural development of our age.” I think homeschoolers are on the forefront of this transition.
Pink devotes a chapter to each ability, followed by a portfolio of ideas for developing those abilities. The story portfolio, for example, encourages the reader to consider writing a 50-word mini saga, to interview and record friends, to visit a storytelling festival (Carrie, I want to do that this year!), to experiment with digital storytelling. So many exciting ideas. It’s a fun book, an enjoyable read–not what I expected from a book in the Business section.
But here’s what thrills me most about this book: My kids use these abilities constantly. There’s a whole lot of right-brained thinking going on around here. But the kids don’t learn this way because their dad and I want them to “rule the future,” as New Mind‘s subtitle says right-brained thinkers will. We don’t homeschool because we want our kids to get into good colleges, or get better jobs. We’ve homeschooled because we want them to be curious, creative people who love to learn, who know their passions and value the notion that those passions might guide their lives. Their learning is kid-driven and mostly project-based because that’s the sort of learning that motivates them.
Pink’s book won’t change our homeschooling. But it does validate what we’re already doing. A Whole New Mind makes me realize that learning driven by kids and based on their interests isn’t just fun, it’s practical. It’s giving them skills that are not only rewarding and fulfilling but–dare I use this word–marketable. And yes, I’ve always known this, always believed it, but it’s awfully nice to read a carefully researched book written for the big, bad Business World that seconds what homeschoolers have always known.
So I think you should read this book. Not because it will change your life, but because it might give you courage to keep at the life you’ve chosen.