Expanding Our 'Frames' of Mind for Education and the Arts

Spring, 2013

Source: Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 83, No. 1, Spring 2013, p. 15-39.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author explores the role of the arts in education through the lens of current research in cognitive neuroscience and the impact of technology in today's digital world.


The article explains that although arts education has largely used multiple intelligences theory to substantiate its presence in classrooms and schools, this relationship has ultimately hindered the field of arts education's understanding of the relationship between the arts, human development, and learning.

According to the analysis presented here, one role of the arts is to be a central modality and mechanism for shaping the cognitive constructs of all learners.
Visual-object is one of the core processing mechanisms of the brain, and the visual arts are the primary medium for communicating, manipulating, and processing information in that modality.
As a result, the visual arts are a critical means of communicating with learners who are dominant in that cognitive processing channel.
At the same time, because the cognitive processing tasks that come with this system undergird various domains, such as skills in biology, geography, and more, helping to develop this capacity in students is important for everyone seeking to perform at competency levels in these disciplines in their education.

A central tenet of Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory is to demonstrate the diversity of students and that each of us possesses a unique blend of strengths - or intelligences.
However, the author believes that the failure of these theories to escape negative connotations is due to one central reason: they have been applied as labels and have put people into discrete groups, false groups.
Labeling and grouping is a natural behavior for humans; it's a tool we use to more easily make sense of the world and to manage complexity.
Yet, it causes tremendous problems because it does not allow for the dimensionality of an individual and forces people into "buckets."

Emerging research on the brain's cognitive processing systems has led the author to put forth a new theory of mind, whole-mindedness.
Here she presents the evidence and construct for this frame of mind, how it sits in relation to multiple intelligences theory, and how it might redefine the justification for arts education in schools, particularly in our digitally and visually rich world.
Whole-mindedness, like any theory, is susceptible to misinterpretation, misuse, and, in this case, "bucketing."
However, the author argues that the research on cognitive processing systems alone promotes a dimensional view of the mind where an individual can be seen to have various capacities on three separate structures (verbal, visual-spatial, and visual-object) in a single cognitive construct (processing systems).
The research demonstrating how a person can be strong in one, two, or all three systems, with varying degrees of relationships between them, promotes a dimensional view of the mind in and of itself.
However, the relationship of whole-mindedness to the intelligences only expands the breadth of the dimensions.

How we create our learning environments, our schools, affects how we engage children and their minds.
As individuals - and as societies - we need to engage our strengths and develop our whole minds.
As we strive toward whole-mindedness, learners can be freed from their buckets - and so can the arts in education.
The arts not only represent a wide spectrum of crafts and domains valued by society in so many ways, but also represent core modalities that align with cognitive constructs in the mind-brain - constructs that are critical to our development as individuals and to a society that has entered a visual revolution.

Ultimately, teaching for whole-mindedness means seeking not only to identify students' cognitive processing strengths but also proactively cultivating all processing system capacities while at the same time teaching students how they can continue to develop and leverage these capacities in their life experiences.
At its most basic level, it means creating learning environments that immerse learners in all modalities; but more importantly, it allows and encourages them to cognitively engage with the different modalities.
It is not just the exposure to arts materials and media; it's the active engagement with and manipulation of them.

Updated: Nov. 11, 2014