There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.
~ Erma Bombeck (1927-1996), American author and humorist.
Brain-based learning promotes the idea that children learn faster if they are taught differently. But why push children to learn faster than ever before? Why turn children into adults before they are ready? What’s the purpose?
What right do educators and parents under the spell of indiscriminate brain-based learning hucksters have to destroy childhood? Here is the definition of brain-based learning on the Glossary of School Reform:
Brain-based learning is motivated by the general belief that learning can be accelerated and improved if educators base how and what they teach on the science of learning, rather than on past educational practices, established conventions, or assumptions about the learning process.
This finding—that learning effectively improves brain functioning, resiliency, and working intelligence—has potentially far-reaching implications for how schools can design their academic programs and how teachers could structure educational experiences in the classroom.
Science of learning? No Child Left Behind used the word “scientific” all the time to push draconian practices on our students, teachers, and schools.
How does brain-based learning connect with the theories of Piaget, Vygotsky and other developmental psychologists? How does it change learning theories that have been proven through time?
Accelerated learning is being promoted aggressively breaking down tried-and-true teaching practices used in public schools. It’s also used to criticize teachers and condemn the teaching profession.
But most seriously, what has it done to students?
Look at kindergarten! Children are now pushed to read earlier than ever before. Play was pushed out years ago.
Consider adolescents who are pushed to do college work in high school instead of enjoying themselves as teenagers.
How will any of this education on speed dial improve the quality of life for the child—and society?
While there is research surrounding neuroscience taking place every day, and President Obama has steered billions towards Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, how to convert brain research into the classroom is less clear.
Certainly, studying the brain and learning about behavior is critical. We need to understand brain disorders. There is nothing wrong with better understanding how children learn either. Helping children with disabilities that interfere with their enjoyment of life are welcome!
It is the idea that we need to make a smarter child…smarter like a robot.
And most troubling is that almost anyone can claim they are an expert in brain-based learning! Many educators promote brain-based learning ideas but they are not neuroscientists.
Here is a section from the 2003 “Brain Scam? Why Educators Should Be Careful about Embracing ‘Brain Based Research.'” by Olaf Jorgenson.
Limited findings in several instances have led to an avalanche of speculative “brain research” assertions from educational consultants and professional developers–nonscientists–initiating and propogating numerous misunderstandings and myths in the guise of science. This speculation in turn has led to widespread commercial exploitation of teachers and school systems eager to implement promising (if pseudoscientific) educational programs and products. So is any of the new “brain science.” really new, or really science?
Brain-based leaning is being used to transform public schools into what’s promoted as “Schools of the Future.”
Is this morally right?
- Should kindergarten be the new first grade? Second grade? Eighth grade? Why push a 3 old to learn like a 5 year old? A 5 year old like an 8 year old? When does it stop?
- How many children have reading problems due to being made to read earlier than they were developmentally ready due to brain-based learning?
- How many solid reading instructional practices have been thrown out in the name of unproven testing and profit-making brain-based programs by non-neuroscientists?
- What about privacy concerns? Tracking a child’s brain activity can be concerning.
- Do we really want our children driven to perform at higher levels without clear understanding of how it will affect their mental and intellectual health in the future?
- What are the repercussions surrounding the stress on students that pushing children harder and faster will involve?
- How will such a drive affect students who work slower but who think thoughtfully about ideas and the world around them?
- What about children with learning disabilities who will understand information if one only slows down and helps?
- We already have a job problem. If students are forced into the job market earlier, will they be able to find work?
Indeed, brain-based learning has landed in the laps of a lot of parents and educators who now feel pressured to make sure their kids will find their way in the competitive global economy.
It reminds me of Rick Moranis’s character in the movie Parenthood. He teaches his 3 year old daughter how to figure square roots and chemical equations. He looks down on his brother-in-law’s child who is a free spirit. But the quality life becomes so unpleasant he risks losing his wife and daughter!
It also reminds me of the 2010 New York Times article describing a push for children to skip picture books and jump directly to chapter books. I wonder how many children missed out on all the wonderful picture books that teach great meaning in life.
It makes no sense to push children out of childhood for some far-fetched futuristic notion that children can become more advanced by learning faster. Our children are not guinea pigs. Any kind of brain-based research in our schools should have a clear outline of its true benefits for children.
And if you disagree, take a good look at your child on Christmas morning. Being a kid goes by fast enough.
Below you can view Professor Daniel Willingham’s video about why we should ignore 90% of brain-based research in the classroom. He is a psychologist who studies cognitive neuroscience.
Bernard, Sara. “Neuro Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning.” Edutopia. December 1, 2010. Added here 8/1/2019
Jorgenson, Olaf. “Brain Scam? Why Educators Should Be Careful about Embracing ‘Brain Research’.” The Educational Forum. 67 (4): 364-369.
Willingham, Daniel T.. “Brain Based Education: Fad or Breakthrough-High Quality.” YouTube
Willingham, Daniel T.. “‘Brain-Based’ Learning: More Fiction Than Fact.” AFT. Fall 2006. Added here 8/1/2019.
Willingham, Daniel T., “How Neuroscience Could Help…By Detecting Learning Disabilities Early.” AFT. Fall 2006. Added here 8/1/2019.