Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Education is Biased Against Visualization

Take a look at the list of basic skills in your university, state education agency or school district standards and curriculum documents and they will include things like "reading, writing, and arithmetic". Some will use words like "Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Mathematics". Others will say "Written Communication, Oral Communication and Numerical Communication". Still others will use words like "Verbal Literacy and Numerical Literacy". Whatever language they use it is clear that they value competencies with words and numbers and exclude all visual skills.

Try to suggest, as I have, the addition of "Visualization", "Visual Literacy", "Visual Thinking" or "Visual Communication" as a basic skill, and you will soon discover the dirty little secret that scholars and educators do not accept Visualization as a basic skill for learning about the world, processing information, or communicating information and ideas to others. There is no university, state education agency, or school district in the country that includes any form of visual thinking in their list of basic skills for all students.

The omission of visual thinking in the list of basic skills is not accidental or due to an oversight. The exclusion of visualization as a basic skill expected of all students is systematic, intentional and universal in education circles.

Barbara Maria Stafford, a professor at the University of Chicago, has written several books exploring the reasons for systematic biases against visualization in the education world. She says, "Not enough attention has been paid, I believe, to the marginalization of imagery of all kinds in our society as an intellectual form of communication."

Visualization involves 4 domains:
2D images (pictures, photos, graphs, maps, etc.)
3D objects (models, prototypes, dioramas, manipulatives, etc.)
4D spaces (topographies, landscapes, structures, urban environments, museums, etc.)
5D experiences (video games, virtual reality, interactive infographics, immersive environments, etc.)

Together they make up half of the tools (intelligences) we use to learn about the world, process information, and communicate ideas to each other. (The other four are words, numbers, sounds, and movement.) Our brains have four lobes and one (the Occipital Lobe) is devoted to visual processing.

The first step in advocating for art, design or visual culture in schools is to convince people that visualization itself is a valuable way to understand the world around us.

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