The adventures of Stereo Sue

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 3:28 pm
PostPost subject: The adventures of Stereo Sue
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Listen to this NPR story about Stereo Sue. It will give you an interesting perspective on individual change that can occur when the brain is fully engaged. Of course, we here are very interested in this 'brain engagement' subject because, well, that's what play is all about.

The following elaborates on this connection between a healthy, fully engaged brain and the quality of life, learning, and the pursuit of happiness that our learning culture could use more of.

The story of “Stereo Sue Barry” sheds metaphorical light on the nature of perception and experience in the mono-optical 'box' we know as “the classroom” where a similar sudden “upgrade” of reality is possible.

When the neurologically involving behavior of play is introduced in the play-deprived classroom, an integrative fusion occurs (for that ‘integration’ is precisely what play is), prompting a full immersion of shared social experience among the participants as well as a total integration in their individual brains.

The current state of education—the classroom—may be characterized by a flat, two-dimensional quality similar to Sue’s pre-stereo world. The classroom is an environment that is generally inert, restricted in movement, where communication is one-way, top-down; a world, quite literally, composed of flat planes and lines—chalkboard, pages, text, lines, rows, of rectangular rooms walled off, and where students are mostly isolated, rigid, unexpressed, if not competitive or disengaged; where an overall lack of depth perception is in use, and participants are focused, desk-bound, on tests and ‘school work.’ This is akin to a world in which the individual learns about snow, for example, by looking at a poster, instead of seeing snow first hand for the first time. This is a world in step with a larger world in which much of what we experience occurs increasingly through a monitor.

One could argue that the learning environment described here is governed by tunnel vision, a telescopic, myopic view of learning and a cookie cutter view of knowledge rooted in this flat, often brain-numbing dimension and factory-like assembly line. Here the individual, teacher or child, is subjugated and confined to completing tasks given by powers outside the self. This tendency toward mechanization itself has led to a culture even more obsessed by the short answer than it once was. The result: The most important and complex undertaking of the brain in human evolution--education--has been reduced to a stiff, truncated oversimplification.

The mechanized education mindset loves things technological and novel, considers science important and pays it lip service, but is, ironically, not enlightened enough—intellectually, culturally, imaginatively, or politically—to embrace science as a principle of learning because such a mindset is so invested in control and power that it has become a hostage of itself.

Case in point: the mechanized education model fears innovation, and school teachers who tend toward innovation and creativity are kept on a short leash, another result of the short answer focus. Should a teacher dare stray from the curriculum, or to choose an alternative pathway into the subject matter, the most extreme consequence is, of course, termination. Teachers work under a cloud of censorship and fear. Such is the logical conclusion of the single-minded thinking that has shaped the learning culture.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to change all of this almost instantly, the way Stereo Sue’s world suddenly jumped into focus and became ‘whole’ after learning how to fuse and use both sides of her optic perceptual capacity?

Well, consider this. Whereas Sue was presented with tools and exercises to ‘start and connect’ the neurological links that had lain dormant in her brain for almost all of her life, I and many of the teachers I have worked with have discovered that play (puppet play—in particular) has an almost instantaneous, global effect on the classroom—on behavior, content, and communication. When teachers talk about seeing the world anew, seeing their children ‘as if for the very first time,’ as well as themselves and their mission, their ability to see has been deeply transformed.

This truly became another level of Connection for me with these kids who I’ve been making music and dancing with for years. This fact I cannot stress enough. ……I have complete command of my class and students. (When I say stop all present freeze and hold a pose as if they were statues with absolutely no moving or no sounds. It has become a game to take high poses and low poses and in between poses and poses on one leg and poses with two arms and one leg...), yet when Bodhi appeared so did a portal to another dimension of how children relate and obviously learn. Now the difference for me when the puppet appeared was that now I didn’t have to be “on”. My demeanor wasn’t as important, I didn’t have to be dynamic or be in command as it were. When Bodhi came out it was as if a sigh of relief hit the air when it came to getting the students involved.


I submit that education has been conceived to work with half its brain shut down. Even worse, the side of the brain that's working shuns the tools and pathways of creativity that could light up the other half. Stereo Sue was open to the potential, and had an exploratory spirit that enabled her to discover a capacity inside herself that she had been blind to. But in education, we have codified and almost segregated the brain from itself. When the system stops recess, inhibits play, engages in zero-tolerant, knee-jerk action against students, expels or suspends them for cookie-snatching, or for answering a cell-phone call from a parent in Iraq, or for conducting self-initiated (unauthorized) surveys on school grading policies, and fires teachers for being creative (not teaching to the test), you have a system that is working with only a fraction of its smarts, and is focused on fomenting fear and compliance. This is not education. It is the fastest way to a dysfunctional democracy, and represents a deep, shameful violation of our constitutional right to free speech and intellectual freedom. And this is what the majority of Americans have come to accept as a system of education without much of a fight, let alone a question.

This is not to suggest that teachers are not working hard to do the best they can, but they are generally only as good as their training, and their sensibilities and talent extend only as far as the system requires. There is, within reach, a world most teachers cannot see, or are all but banned from exploring.

We are talking here about a neurological leap into another dimension in which perceptions and experience are exponentially more sharply defined and emotionally sensitized. We are talking here about classrooms that work on a higher, more engaged learning plateau based on a scientifically verifiable integration of the brain’s resources. And we’ll keep talking until more people in education begin to hear voices and excitement coming from somewhere different, and stop what they’re doing to take a look at something out of the ordinary that’s going on just beyond the wall.
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