Teachers: be wary of bad science in the classroom!

6 Nov

Tom Bennett, teacher of philosophy and religious studies, behaviour expert, TES contributor and author, has written an article,From Brain Scan to Lesson Plan? Why teachers should be wary of bad science in the classroom for the November 2013 issue of Your Voice, the Voice members’ magazine:

“From electricity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to radiation in 1960s Marvel superhero comics, emergent technologies are often fertile fields for fictional MacGuffins and fantastic claims. Educational neuroscience, the current darling of classroom innovators, may well be seen by our successors as being similarly fantastical.”

“…education, a field whose history has been dogged by the devils of quack science and snake oil. Education is a social science, which is to say, not a science at all….” 

“…From the classic left/right brain fallacy, through learning styles, brain training, Brain Gym, critical periods and synaptogenesis, turkeys have fallen from the sky, although not before they roosted in schools and classrooms across the world. Like Ambrose Bierce describing phrenology, the swarms of educational consultants advocating neuromyths such as these could be said to be ‘picking your pocket through your scalp’.

“Ben Goldacre fisked Brain Gym neatly in his book Bad Science. Brain Gym included the novel idea that ‘rubbing one’s brain buttons’ aided cognitive processing, and that to avoid the brain drying out, water had to be held to the roof of the palate. Previously, children had been suffering from desiccated brains, apparently. No wonder Friday afternoon maths was such a chore.

“The scandal of it was that it took a doctor to expose the inanity of it, and thousands of educators nodded along to it without question. At one point, Brain Gym was even a compulsory part of the Fast Track recruitment programme into teaching, paid for by the Department for Education.

“The claims of some involved in educational neuroscience are akin to sorcery: reversing the decline of the aging brain; curing ADHD; boosting intelligence, revolutionising grades…it’s easy to see why they’re often so easy to find on the Internet, home of Sea Monkeys and PhDs in Homeopathy.”

“Neuroscience may well, one day, offer profound insights into the way we learn; may well direct our interventions with the precision of a scalpel; might guide our children into intellectual Ubermenschen. But not yet.”

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6 Responses to “Teachers: be wary of bad science in the classroom!”

  1. Richard Fraser 13. Dec, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    TES Blog: “The power of neuroscience to improve teaching is ‘oversold’, academic says”: http://news.tes.co.uk/news_blog/b/weblog/archive/2013/12/12/all-in-your-head.aspx

  2. Richard Fraser 07. Jan, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    BBC News: “A £6m fund has been launched to make better use of neuroscience in classrooms in England”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25627739

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