Belonging starts in the brain

It’s not news that stories grab us emotionally and help anchor ideas in our minds more than lists of facts do. Anyone who has sat through interminable slides – or a powerful keynote – will know this. The ‘right brain’ movement has been around for a while and I enjoyed Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. The central tenet is that the right-hand side of the brain is associated with creativity and design, and that a narrative can be an effective vehicle for us to understand and relate to ideas.

Recent research around transforming learning and education (e.g. Dumont, H., Instance, D., & Benavides, F. (2010). The Nature of Learning: Using research to inspire practice. OECD Publications) continues to assert the vital importance of learners feeling a sense of belonging, emotional recognition and cultural familiarity before they can engage in learning. Stories of ourselves can inspire us to engage in the concepts within.

Anyone who has not been recognised in learning contexts can tell us this because they feel it intrinsically – ask anyone who has come to a classroom from overseas, indigenous leaners in a colonial system, those with unmet learning needs and so on. The recent #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign in the US is a powerful example of this idea, as is the strong focus on bicultural and multicultural education – via Ka Hikitia and the Pasifika Education Plan – here in New Zealand. Māori concepts such as Te Ira Tangata, manaakitanga and whānaungatanga speak to this, I think.

Now neuroscience is helping us understand that this need to have our culture, language and socially identity met in order to learn and thrive is not just a good idea or an emotional story, but that it may be hard-wired.

I’ve been watching this excellent TEDx Manhattan talk – Mary Helen Immordino-Yang – Embodied Brains, Social Minds – which helps explain it better than I:

She reminds us that the brain is a “tidepool of life…our brain sloshes back and forward in the culture of our society” – and her investigations into how the brain learns has suggested that “our biological survival and our socio-cultural survival are felt in the very same neural systems of our brain, intertwined with another.”

I am mulling over the implications for learning and education that this suggests – and am keen to know what you think:)



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