“According to the theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. People are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. A person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical and objective, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, creative, thoughtful and subjective.”
Let’s face it. We are a culture dominated by the potential of the left brain.
I dare you to try to find a Tamil parent who does not think their child is a failure if he or she does not excel at math and science. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in this situation, have no fear. After all, the problem can always be fixed by hours and hours of tuition classes from the former science teacher from “back home” – the one who smells like a peculiar mix of mothballs and cigarettes. He will even come straight to your home to tutor you at the dining room table, where your parents can keep a watchful eye on your progress.
As a high school math teacher, I face this cultural phenomenon each year on Parent-Teacher night. There are two types of Tamil parents whom I encounter routinely. There are parents who are beaming from ear to ear, eagerly waiting to hear praise about their A+ student. And in stark contrast are those parents whose pained look of collective agony betray how desperately they want to “fix” their right-brained child.
Looking for answers, too many parents are opting for the band-aid solution of South Asian-run private schools. These diploma mills offer a watered-down curriculum in exchange for thousands of dollars in tuition, and are well-known for “selling” grades to students to help secure their admission to University.
However, by failing to uphold the standard of education, they simply provide a band-aid solution that will set up students for failure. While your marks may be able to secure acceptance to a reputable post-secondary institution, if you have not been prepared with the proper prerequisite skills in math and science, failure is inevitable. Furthermore, when you do not pursue what you love to do and only take courses to please your parents, you will be wasting your time and tuition money.
Our parents come from a world in which medicine, engineering, computer science and accounting are the most reputable careers. This is not a problem that plagues only South Asian cultures. In fact, most teenagers that I work with often decide to choose one of two paths – the road to a creative world of arts, advertising and media, or the logically dominated route of mathematics and science. The internet is filled with thousands of IQ tests designed to determine which part of the brain dominates your daily life. But why are we so quick to label ourselves as one or the other? Why must we choose?
In Japanese culture, it is essential for one to foster a balance between the knowledge and skills developed by both the left brain and right brain. The Japanese strive to produce holistic, well-rounded individuals by ensuring that all students engage in some form of art from an early age, whether visual arts, design, music, drama or martial arts. Because the Japanese believe that mastering the form of an art is the fastest way of learning, reverence is given to creative disciplines as well as careers in math, language and science.
The Balinese, on the other hand, are a community who value creative talent above all else. Everyone is considered to be an artist in this Indonesian province. The choice to pursue more analytical careers in this society would be a choice against the social norm.
Even for a student who has excelled in math and science throughout their lives, upper-level University prerequisites can be extremely challenging. In high schools all across the city, teenagers have the choice of enrolling in elective courses in addition to their compulsory “left brain” dominated courses. This provides them with the opportunity to balance their math and science pathway with sports or extra-curricular activities that can act as creative outlets for their stress. This includes involvement in the school play, art shows, band, concerts and athletics. I was fortunate to have had this experience at the University level because I chose to pursue disciplines on opposite ends of the spectrum – a double major in Mathematics and English literature.
Don’t get me wrong. It is fantastic to be able to prove on a daily basis that a young female teacher is just as capable of answering tough calculus questions as my elderly Russian colleague who can recite 36 digits of Pi by heart and whose hair resembles Albert Einstein. However, dedicating time, energy and tuition money to fostering my writing skills has provided me with a multitude of opportunities to further my career. These opportunities would not have been available had I just selected a Math major.
Furthermore, writing is a form of creative expression that provides me with a powerful outlet to deal with the most difficult challenges in my life. When the walls begin to collapse and the solutions to my problems are nowhere to be found, it is my pen that provides me with a way to express my emotions. My left brain may have got me the job, but my right brain provides me with my sanity.
So how will this generation of young Tamil-Canadians choose to parent their children? Will we continue the traditions of our parents and insist on our children becoming doctors, engineers and accountants? Will we be open to our children pursuing careers in media and the arts? Or will we follow the path of the Japanese and come to realize that a truly successful person must find harmony between both sides of the brain?
Will we encourage our children to pursue what they are passionate about and the career that will truly bring them happiness in their lives, instead of just satisfying their parents expectations? As parents and teachers, will we accept students who want to pursue the trades at the college level instead of insisting that our children must go to university? The answers to these questions will shape the future of our community.