The School Newspaper of John Carroll School
  • Great Minds
    • Student Characteristics
    • How do our minds think?
    • Who is valued?

The Patriot In-Depth: Do our minds think alike?

December 17, 2014

Since the dawn of academia, the divide between creative and analytical minds has always been clear. For every Picasso there has been an Einstein, for every Isaac Newton a Beethoven. But what is it that makes mankind’s megaminds different?

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What characteristics do students share?

Senior Susan Kim finishes her AP calculus homework, checking every step to make sure she did not forget anything. She then moves on to her AP Physics homework, studying projectile motion and centripetal force in preparation for her mid-term. According to Kim, most students view her as just a math and science kid because she excels at critical thinking and analysis.

However, the perception that Kim is only a math student is just as wrong as the idea that a person’s mind is limited to only one type of thought.

“I like art and music,” Kim said. “People think that I’m only a math person, but I’m actually very interested in visual arts, music, and dance.”

Although multifaceted students like Kim appreciate the qualities of all subjects, there are often qualities that students who excel in certain subjects share. According to the right-brain left-brain dominance theory, language arts, visual arts, and music relate more to the right side of the brain. Mathematics and science relate more to the left side of the brain.

Math and science students often have “a natural curiosity of the world,” physics teacher Patricia Thoma said. Science students “are generally very strong in math, but they like to know how the world works. Biologists want to decipher DNA. Physicists want to get to the moon and the stars.”

This same sentiment is shared by mathematics teacher George Appleby. “[Math and science students] have an interest in mathematics. There is a definitive answer and they like that,” Appleby said. “Ultimately, they have a motivation to do well in math. They are driven students.”

However, in theory, the right-brain left-brain dominance theory would limit students’ ability to be multifaceted and excel in various subject areas.

“I don’t believe in the theory,” Kim said. “I don’t think that students are only good at one subject.”

However, students perceive reality differently, and according to art teacher Bruno Baran, this makes all the difference. “I definitely believe that we artists perceive the world differently,” Baran said. “I constantly hammer my students on that idea. We are the ones who stop the car to look at something beautiful on the road. It’s the little things that we pick up on.”

Research by Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York suggests that those who are talented in art are able to override visual misperceptions of size, shape, and color, to which Baran agrees entirely.

Thought that was traditionally attributed to the right-side of the brain — creativity, emotion, art — is most prevalent among the humanities subjects. The visual perception that artists often pick up on is similar to the auditory perception that is necessary for students who excel in foreign language.

“I think that if students have a musical ear, then they can hear the sound of the language and reproduce it,” Spanish teacher Deirdre Magner said. “Some students cannot hear the rhythm of the language and reproduce it, and it makes sense to them.”

As an international student from South Korea, Kim feels that English has always been a barrier, so excelling in math and science is simpler, but this is not what she feels accurately defines her. “I do not want to limit my interest to just math and science, I want to be great at English and other things,” she said. “I play the guitar and I even danced at one of the pep rallies.”

Regardless of the subject, however, the work ethic of the student dictates how well they will perform in the class.

“I teach students who have an outstanding ability to do math, but [sometimes] they just do not put in the work,” Appleby said. “Students need to do their homework and want to learn. They can’t slack off and expect to do well. When I find a student who works hard, [he or she] is truly a privilege to teach.”

Practice makes perfect. Just like a brain can be trained to view the world as Picasso or Andy Warhol did, working hard in a subject can develop the skills necessary for success.

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How do our minds think?

Traditionally, psychologists split the brain into two hemispheres — the right and the left — and attributed different areas of thought to each hemisphere. According to the right brain versus left brain theory, those who are more creative and emotional are “right-brained.” Those who are analytical thinkers and excel in the maths and sciences are “left-brained.”

This theory is based on the lateralization of brain function. According to North Shore Pediatric Therapy (NSPT), a foundation that works to provide an evidence-based for pediatric research, lateralization is “a complex and ongoing process by which differing regions of the brain take over the functioning of specific behaviors and cognitive skills.”

In other words, certain functions are located only on one side of the brain. According to NSPT, the right side relates to functions that judge the position of objects in space, understand body position, put pieces of information together to make a larger image, and motor control of the left side of the body. The left side relates to functions including the understanding of language, memory for written language, and motor control of the right side of the body.

Although the brain does have a degree of lateralization, there is no scientific data to prove that this lateralization dictates one’s personality.

The way a person develops skills in various academic subjects relates to their perception of reality. For example, the brain of someone who excels in the visual arts perceives reality differently than someone who excels in the maths and sciences. In the grand scheme of what makes one student more oriented towards a subject, the devil’s in the details.

However, the brain is not limited by the right-brain left-brain dominance theory, so someone who does not tend to excel in the visual arts can work to overcome their misperceptions. “While some may be predisposed to be better at perceptual accuracy and visual memory than others, there is no doubt that practice is an important component,” University of College London psychologist Rebecca Chamberlain said.

Ultimately, minds work differently, and one’s perception of reality is what dictates their ability to excel in certain academic fields. Every mind thinks and works differently. From painting the Mona Lisa to measuring the centripetal motion of a star, great minds do not think alike.

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Who is valued by JC?

Students who do not share Kim’s multifaceted learning style often express frustration about their inability to succeed in the classroom.

“I’m sick of feeling worthless at this school because I’m not the best at math or science,” a responder to The Patriot survey said. “I can play music better than most people in this school, yet it doesn’t matter as much as it should.”

However, according to a survey sent out by The Patriot on Dec. 9 via surveymonkey.com, 74 percent of students believe that JC offers the same amount or more classes in various academic subjects in comparison to other schools.

According to the survey, 47 percent of students believe that math students are valued the most by JC, from the number of courses offered to them to how smart they are perceived by the student body. Conversely, 41 percent of students believe that visual arts students are the least valued.

“I wish we had more opportunities. My dream course is [a combination of] religion and art [so] the students to understand what they are really looking at,” Baran said.

However, in comparison to other schools, most students feel that JC offers the same amount of classes that they can excel in. According to The Patriot survey, 41 percent of students feel that JC offers the same amount of classes as other schools in the area, while 33 percent feel that JC offers more classes than schools in the area.

“[JC] has a good variety of classes that it offers to students,” junior Alex Nyce said. “But it’s definitley different for math. They have a lot of different levels in math.”

Although each subject has different opportunites, some students feel left behind. “They need to offer more advanced college level math classes, such as the ones that are after AP Calculus BC,” one student who responded to The Patriot survey. “There are certain requirements that you have to meet sometimes depending on the class you want to take which isn’t fair.”

Soon-to-be quantum theorists and the next international pop-sensations are working hard to succeed. The great minds at JC do not think alike, but when measuring the value of one mind against another, the devil’s in the details.

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