Friday, January 13, 2012

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the Prophylactic Value of a Good Education

Educating our children to their maximum potential is a goal whose paramount importance can never be overstated.

Learning in today's world has become a lifelong requirement, no longer restricted to the childhood years. A strong early foundation for learning undergirds all academic advancement, as well as future success in complex learning. Not only does developing a fully-functioning brain increase the probability of success in school and in career aspirations, it also has a documented prophylactic value.

Numerous research studies have shown that attaining a college degree has the subsidiary benefit of protecting the brain from debilitating brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the later years of life. UCLA neuroscientist Dr. Robert Jacobs found that there were 40% more neural connections inside the autopsied brains of college-educated subjects than in their age-mates whose formal education terminated after receiving a high school diploma (or without ever completing high school at all).

Other neuroscientists have concluded that developing excessive numbers of intra-hemispheric and inter-hemispheric brain connections protects us from diminished cognitive capacities by making it easier for an injured or impaired brain to re-wire itself. Even in cases of brain trauma (due to auto accidents, missile wounds, etc.), better educated individuals, who have led challenging and stimulating lifestyles, typically enjoy a moderate neural advantage during recovery.

In January 2010, Arizona Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head during a deadly rampage in northwest Tucson, which left 6 other individuals dead and 12 more wounded. The neurosurgeons at Tucson’s University Medical Center, who operated on Congresswoman Giffords, were hopeful that she would survive, but offered a more dismal picture regarding any full recovery of her physical or mental capacities.

However, on the first anniversary of the shooting, January 8, 2012, the congresswoman led a crowd of 3,500 people in the Pledge of Allegiance at 10:10 a.m., which was the same time of the morning that she and the 18 others were shot. Since the damage was to the left side of her brain, Congresswoman Giffords resorted to holding her left hand (instead of her right hand, as is traditionally done) over her heart during the ceremonies. Because the brain is contralateral, a left hemispheric wound to the congresswoman’s brain resulted in the debilitation seen in the right side of her body.

Every parent should make a special effort to assure that learning and cognitive development are given the highest priority in the home and school. Children should also understand the instant power of learning and the long-term protection of a well-educated human brain.

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