Tell the Parents

Sir Ken Robinson, international expert on creativity and education, has said that "we are all born creative" but "creativity gets squeezed out of us" about the 4th grade.

Now Tiffany Shlain, famous daughter of Leonard Shlain, the surgeon who wrote the seminal book on merging the two cultures of art and science called Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light, has released another, albeit shorter, treatise called Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks, which compares a child's brain to the Internet.

The book seems to warn us that once the creativity gets squeezed out, there may be no turning back.

Shlain asks, "What is the connection between the developing brain of a child and the emerging global brain of the Internet?" Not surprisingly, she points out that since we started thinking, we have looked to our latest invention to see if there was a parallel. For example, was the brain a clock, a switchboard or a steam engine? Maybe a computer. But this thing called the Internet -- "network of networks" -- dependant upon its ability to make connections seems most like the way we think.

One interesting fact is that the average adult has billion of neurons capable of making connections; the Internet while still growing, trillions. Yet a child, she says, has a "quadrillion of them."

So what happens on the way from childhood to adulthood? What happens to all those potential connections?

According to Patricia K. Kuhl, PhD. of I-Labs, a neuroscience lab that focuses on children, the brain "prunes its connections" over time and "the remaining connections get stronger." In other words, you lose it if you don't use it.

While I am optimistic that people of any age can work to enhance their creative instincts, and schools and corporations can foster the new thinking skills, the workplace increasingly needs to succeed in the new economy, the concerns Shlain discovers cannot be taken lightly.

The book and an accompanying short film also released, persuasively argues the need for preschool education, children's museums and related experiences that nurture the cognitive development of the very young.

The first few years of life we know from years of research, are critical. We also know that "there's a wide range for what's considered normal. Every child grows and adjusts to the world at his or her own pace."

So what may the right experience for one child may not be right for another.

Thus the parent's role becomes even more critical. We, of course, know that it's up to the parent to protect the child, feed them and nurture their well-being. Increasingly it is also to insure they get the best possible education. But all that begins not at kindergarten or even pre-school.

It begins at birth.