I have just returned (exhausted, but exhilarated) from a four day course in the Cotswolds – Exploring the Divided Brain. Coming to Your Senses. The course focuses on the work of Iain McGilchrist, principally his book The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. This is the fourth time I have attended this course and it didn’t disappoint. In fact this was probably the best of the four courses.
Iain gave eleven one hour talks over the four days. He was interviewed twice, including once by John Cleese, and answered questions for an hour for the final session of the final day. He rightly received a standing ovation at the end of the course.
Iain’s talks bore the titles:
- Introduction to the Hemispheres
- The Value and Limits of Science
- Brain Disorders of the Hemispheres
- What is Language For?
- The Value and Limits of Reason
- Are we Becoming Machines?
- The Values and Limits of Intuition
- The Value and Limits of Imagination
- What Does it Mean to Think?
- The Power of No
- Everything Flows
I will come back to some of these in future posts
There were also a number of participant presentations, workshops and participant led discussion groups.
Talks were given by:
James Murray-White – Finding Blake: Reimagining William Blake for the 21st century (https://findingblake.org.uk/exploring-the-divided-brain/)
Robert Franklin (two talks) – The Left Hemisphere and the Holocaust: The Holocaust by bullets and The Left Hemisphere and the Holocaust: Golden Harvest
Mary Attwood – Renaissance Art – A Harmony of the Hemispheres
Tywi Roberts (two sessions) – Music workshop
Simon Maryan – Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress
Samantha Field (two talks) – Feeling Music through the Rhythm of Movement and Dance and Communicating without Words
Georgina Cahill (two talks) – Mindfulness: Noticing our Everyday Behaviours and Mindfulness: Ideas and Practises to take home with us
Susannah Healy – The Seven Day Soul: Finding Meaning Beneath the Noise
The wide range of these talks made for a very rich experience, and the depth and breadth of knowledge shared by the speakers that I listened to was impressive. It is always humbling to hear Iain McGilchrist speak, but it was also humbling to be on a course with so many very talented people.
For the first time, I also offered a discussion group/workshop, in which I was keen to hear participants’ view on what the implications of Iain’s work might be for education. In particular I am interested in questions such as:
- What are the advantages and disadvantages, with respect to education, of the left hemisphere’s view of the world?
- What could the right hemisphere’s view of the world contribute to education?
- What changes in education might we need to make to prevent left hemisphere dominance and reflect a more balanced view of the world?
Here I will very briefly provide an overview of how the discussion went.
There were 22 people in my session. I asked participants to work in small groups of about three people. We worked through three exercises.
- Each person was given the following handout and asked to draw on their own experience to discuss it in terms of how the different characteristics of the left hemisphere’s view of the world resonates with their personal understanding of education, teaching and learning.
2. We then did the same for the right hemisphere
3. Finally, drawing on the previous two discussions, we discussed the question:
What changes would you make to education to ensure that the strengths of the left and right hemispheres are best represented?
Here are some of the responses (in no particular order)
We should get rid of SATs and OFSTED and change the culture of education to focus on better values. We shouldn’t worry about ‘screwing up’.
We should value truth and fairness.
There should be greater emphasis on context and inter-connection in the curriculum ,e.g. as in topic-based learning.
We need to rebalance STEM subjects with the Arts and Humanities and aim for holistic learning and embodied, exploratory and self-motivated learning.
There should be greater awareness and appreciation of the differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Education should involve curiosity, playfulness, wonder and fun, and learners should discover purpose and meaning for themselves.
Diversity of views should be respected and encouraged.
We need to change the global paradigm of education
I need to spend more time thinking about all this. We had about an hour and 10 minutes for this discussion, which was really not long enough. There is still plenty to think about and to say. I may come back to this in a later post. For now I want to focus on the notes I made in Iain McGilchrist’s talks and try and process it all, so in my next few posts, I will share these notes.
This four day course will run again for the last time next year from 3rd – 6th October 2020 In the same location – Tewkesbury Park Hotel – in the Cotswolds, UK.