Not too long ago I had a game night with friends. Depending on the size of the group, game nights can be tricky. Games like Scrabble and Boggle require a certain affinity for words; Pictionary and Charades require imagination and creativity. That’s why the game Cranium is so awesome; it simultaneously emphasizes a myriad of functions.
There’s a category for people that love words (spelling—both forward and backwards, filling in the blanks and defining terms); there’s a category for those that thrive with data (true/false, multiple choice, etc.); there’s a category for the arts (sculpting and drawing—eyes open or closed); and, there’s a category for the entertainers (there’s singing, humming and acting—with our without sounds). Simply put, it’s a game that emphasizes both sides of the brain.
At this point you should note that for the purposes of this blog, I’m using the over-simplified definition that creative people use the right side of their brains more than the left.
For the last several years, I’ve been developing a hypothesis. I should point out that my degrees are in Speech Communications and Law; despite casual references in this piece to the scientific method, I am not a scientist.
The test lab: Mt. Baker Leadership Camp performances. Specifically, I looked at performances during “Song Fest,” a five-minute competition among cabins to create a song with original lyrics about camp in which all cabin residents must participate, and the Hearst Scholarship Application process, a scholarship emphasizing academic performance, critical thinking abilities, knowledge of current events, and generally speaking, intellectual abilities.
The observation: Over the last several years the overall performance at “Song Fest” has increasingly improved while the overall quality of the Hearst Scholarship Applications has consistently decreased.
The question: Why does “Song Fest” appear to keep getting better and better while the strength of the Hearst Scholarship applications appears to be getting weaker and weaker?
The hypothesis: As a result of social media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in combination with popular culture including shows like Glee and Minute to Win It, young people are emphasizing and harnessing their creative abilities more deliberately than they are emphasizing critical thinking and linear reasoning.
I’d iterate here that I’m not a scientist. I know enough about the scientific method to know that I probably don’t have a large or diverse enough sample group, there are probably too many uncontrolled variables, and simply observing half a dozen years of performance is likely not a credible method of testing.
Still, I have a theory.
The world of social media does not emphasize complex, linear, and in depth discussions. For someone to “like” a Facebook status it must be short and pithy; for a YouTube video to go viral it must create a “I have to share this with others NOW” response; and, you can’t even “tweet” something unless you can cut down the substance of your post to 140 characters or less.
Shows like Minute to Win It are obvious: you have one minute to perform. Even Glee, a show that touches on major social issues, only does so at a surface level where the commentary is book-ended by song and dance.
The theory then is that a societal level we have stopped emphasizing the left side of the brain. Or, at the least, we have over-emphasized the right side of the brain.
To be clear, emphasizing the right side of the brain is not a bad thing. We need artists; creativity fuels progress. If you don’t believe this you need only remind yourself that the founders of our country believed in intellectual property (creativity) so much that they reserved space for it in the Constitution.
But, we also need scientists and thinkers. As a country, we are no longer in the top ten in education; we are woefully behind our counterparts in mathematics and science.
We’ve swapped Spelling Bees for Talent Shows, when we should have both. To bring it full circle: what was once a Boggle- and Scrabble-dominated education environment has transformed into a Pictionary- and Charades-landscape.
And thus, the conclusion: We need Cranium schools—institutions that emphasize both sides of the brain. We need to take the creativity of social media platforms and find ways to harness their power to go deeper than surface level.