Saturday, July 20, 2013

Visual Versus Verbal

A wall at Kingspoint Mullet, Houston, done by the FX Crew.
When I was interviewing graffiti artists for a recent article, I was struck by how not a single one of them, when telling me where their walls were, used a street address.

“It’s downtown,” they’d say, gesturing, “by that big blue building.”

If pressed, they’d admit they didn’t know street names, though they were all Houston natives very familiar with the neighborhoods we were discussing.

They were visual/spatial thinkers.

Meanwhile, I, a verbal thinker, had no idea where these walls were. I wanted needed an address, words, to type into my GPS, which, as I’ve mentioned before, does spatial thinking for me that I can’t do.

My children have learning differences. One has dyslexia (trouble with learning to read and with auditory processing but a gifted artist who has always been the one in our house to assemble and repair things) and one with dysgraphia (read easily, does very well on standardized tests, is very verbal, but can’t pick up a pencil and hand-write and has no sense of direction). Interestingly, these two issues, dysgraphia and dyslexia, though polar opposites, often run in the same families.

Different thinking styles are valuable – the person building your house or flying your plane should have good visual/spatial skills – but we ignore, and therefore waste, most of them. In a recent article in the New York Times, about a study on the importance of visual/spatial abilities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, the study’s lead author, David Lubinski, said, “Evidence has been mounting over several decades that spatial ability gives us something that we don’t capture with traditional measures used in educational selection … We could be losing some modern-day Edisons and Fords.”

Exactly. And when it comes to running our society, we need everybody’s best thinking.