As we all know, seeing is one of the first senses and learning tools that we use from birth. Even at the pre-kindergarten level we realize that our tiniest learners are observing so many wonderful adventures through their view of the world. Colors and even shades present magical moments for children as they view the contrast and depth of objects. Size and light present their own magic images. As we grow, we often take our visual experience for granted and often we are so preoccupied with our everyday experiences that we miss out on things which may be right in front of us.
Amy E. Herman has written a wonderful book entitled, “Visual Intelligence”. Amy is an Art Historian and also an attorney who works for the FBI and local police on crime scene investigations. She suggests that we often see, but do not observe. We anticipate and sometimes miss the details which might make us interpret an occurrence in a totally different way. Sometimes two or more people will view an event and come away with it having a quite different view of what occurred. Even with a major event such as 911, a couple who lived blocks from the Trade Center had a much different analysis of this horrific part of our country’s history.
Amy believes that to get the most accurate picture of something (anything), we need to see others’ perceptions and recognize their point of view. This is one of the most important parts of collaborative learning. What we think we see can sometimes be adjusted using other people’s opinion. She also suggests that perception is shaped by a person’s values, upbringing, and culture. All neighborhoods and communities have a huge impact on what we digest as visual input on an everyday basis. Certainly as a city dweller might view an occurrence in a totally different way than someone growing up on a farm.
Ms. Herman has found that technology has added a great number of benefits to our experiences, however the cell phone has caused tunnel vision and we must train ourselves to be more perceptive and observant. We often are fooled and will see what we expect to see or what we want to see. It may very well be that we are told what we are seeing and don’t take the time to look for ourselves. Often this gives a preconception and taints our view. It is also important to notice changes in a situation or whether there is any missing information. We will also have a different view if we look for the fine details. This might fill in the pieces and lead to a revised conclusion.
Verifying facts is also a part of visual intelligence. Assuming something to be true may often lead to a false assumption. The good news is that Amy Herman’s experience tells us that we really can become better at visual perception and that proper seeing can be learned. The neural pathway can be strengthened and rewired for a better view of life in general. She feels that our educational system can actually sharpen our perception by applying the four A’s: Access, Analyze, Articulate and Adapt. Amy’s book does a wonderful job of spelling these out and its methods for implementation.
Most private schools in New Jersey have strong art programs which emphasizes vision as a skill for overall learning. Independent schools like Oak Hill Academy have the freedom in their curriculum to connect the arts to their other content coursework, thereby allowing for connections in the brain that will promote visual intelligence.