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  • Whole brain learning

    A new frontier for science

    Article Launched: 03/07/2005 3:00:00 AM PST

    The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote that human beings are born free, but everywhere are in chains. Current research on brain functioning and intelligence are forging a new perspective that when embraced may unlock the way we think about ourselves and our loved ones.

    Coined as “Whole Brain Learning” this exciting new frontier gathers professionals from a multitude of diverse disciplines: neurology, biology, psychology, education and child development and from a marrying of fields such as neurobiology, biophysics and psychoneuroendocrinology.

    Grasping this field with both hands Joan Harrington is an educator in Santa Cruz County and she will be talking on this subject Wednesday at Way of Life. Harrington has taken to heart all she has learned from numerous science research studies and applies it to children and adults. Seeing these ideas in action, she blends the educational/biological field called “brain-based learning” to redefine intelligence, learning and disabilities.

    What is whole brain learning? Whole brain learning affects each and every one of us throughout every stage of life. Brain science helps determine what experiences and substances are most likely to contribute to having a healthy brain. Katherine Benziger, Ph.D. author of “The Human Brain: A Reservoir of Diverse Flexible Strength or Chaotic Raging Violence” explain that every brain is unique and complex but is ultimately designed to thrive. “any brain can change its own approaches to thinking, dramatically changing its own metabolic profile as well as its neural nets and their level of connectivity.”

    How well it does this depends upon both internal processing, i.e. how we listen and respectfully respond to our internal information and external pressures. Current social, personal, educational, economic and work patterns Benzinger explains plays an important part by rewarding specific capabilities. At the forefront of brain motility she hypotheses that “although fundamentally the human brain is designed to respond to many, many ‘problems’ or ‘situations’ appropriately” that ” in practice it is how we actually live that diminishes our brains flexibility.”

    Research suggests that -modal learning creates more connected and efficient brains. Susan Rich Sheridian explains it as a lifelong process. Children naturally scribble, draw and write affecting brain growth and integration.

    “The two hemispheres are connected. Each hemisphere depends upon the other. It is at the very intersection of visual and verbal representations — where image and text collide — that heightened meaning occurs.”

    For example children start by drawing. “No one teaches us how. We are drawing the shapes of our thoughts. We are organizing our brains through intentional action,” she says in her book.

    Sheridan looks at the living brain as an oscillator; there is an ebb and flow of neural activity, like tides — working in a back and forth manner between modes of understanding continually expanding and deepening our awareness.

    Seven distinct learning styles or multiple intelligences are recognized and defined by Howard Gardener, professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is also adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University and adjunct professor of Neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine (see what I mean about marrying disciplines!).

    “We are all able to know the world through language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking and the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals and an understanding of ourselves,” he says.

    Kinesthetic learning, for example, is experienced through the body. Physical movement is the mode of learning. But children and adults who use this as their primary source of learning are often labeled as hyperactive.

    Thomas Armstrong Ph.D. author of “To Empower! Not Control! A Holistic Approach to ADHD” is interested in casting off those labeling chains that keep individuals from realizing their full human potential.

    To that end he explains, “I do not support labels such as ‘learning disability’ or ‘ADHD’ that put negative limits on human capacity, and I do support positive models of learning, such as the theory of multiple intelligences, that value human diversity and provide the means for people to achieve success in life.”

    Interpersonal learning, another intelligence that happens through feelings, was not considered relevant in the workplace until The Institute of HeartMath, an innovative nonprofit research and education organization, scientifically proved that what an executive is feeling effects their thinking.

    Located in Boulder Creek, HeartMath proved that our hearts, which oscillate electromagnetically four times greater than the human brain, influences many aspects of our learning and performance.

    Looking at the role of stress hormones in how brain neurons die, Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D., a neuroendocrinologist at Stanford University and author of “Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” has focused on issues of stress and neuron degeneration.

    Sapolsky was among the first to document that sustained stress can damage the hippocampus, a region of the brain central to learning and memory. He examines how prolonged stress (physical or emotional) can cause or contribute to damaging physical and mental afflictions.

    Exploding into public awareness, professor of physiology and biophysics Candice Pert, Ph.D. at Georgetown University Medical School and author of “Molecules of Emotions” presented her scientific research that this melting of emotions and mind exposed how our brain, mind and body are a single psychosomatic network of information molecules which controls our health and physiology.

    Pert explains, “For a long time, neuroscientists agreed that emotions are controlled by certain parts of the brain. This is a big, neurocentric, assumption that I now think is either wrong or incomplete. But when I was a believer in the brain as the most important organ in the body, this assumption led me to do the right analysis in the lab for the wrong reason. Ultimately, it fueled my conviction that there are such things as molecules of emotion.”

    She elucidated her understanding by saying that body and mind are simultaneous. “I like to speculate that the mind is the flow of information as it moves among the cells, organs, and systems of the body,” she says.

    Biochemist, neuroscientist and author of “Genetic Determinism: Life Beyond Genes,” Dr. Steven Rose spends his career studying the complexities of the brain and sums up his unchained holistic understanding of genetics and the brain.

    He suggests we need “an alternative vision of living systems, a vision which recognizes the power and role of genes without subscribing to genetic determinism.”

    Another chain drops away and the possibilities for each of us seem endless.