Some more debunking of Learning Styles pseudo-science
The apparently firm grip of such spurious theories on education in Britain prompted an outspoken attack by neuroscientist Sergio Della Sala at a recent education conference in Edinburgh. Della Sala, professor of human cognitive neuroscience at Edinburgh University, called on schools to stop investing scarce resources in pseudoscience, advising them to buy new computers instead.
“Too often, people with the clout to make decisions about which practice is potentially profitable in the classroom ignore evidence in favour of gut feelings, the authority of gurus or unwarranted convictions,” explains Della Sala shortly after the conference. He says most neuromyths are “ugly mistranslations” of bona fide research, variously the result of scientific illiteracy, financial greed or the desire to give an ideological stance a veneer of academic credibility. “We love to believe that we understand and we love to think that there are magic silver bullets fixing all,” he says, but warns that neuroscience “has so far proved to have little to offer to everyday, normal education.”
Tomlin says that teachers’ strong desire to help pupils, often coupled with a lack of scientific literacy, makes them particularly prone to accepting neuromyths as facts. “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence floating around the world of education: ‘Look, I did this thing with my class and it worked brilliantly!’ This, combined with the fact that the vast majority of education research is poorly conducted and open to bias, leads to a highly misinformed profession.” Tomlin would like to see the Department for Education take a more robust approach to neuromyths, encouraging schools to study the evidence before adopting new initiatives and to “challenge those that present false claims in the name of science”.
So what should a parent do if they suspect their child’s school is complicit in peddling neuromyths? Tomlin points them towards the University of York’s Institute for Effective Education and the Education Endowment Foundation, both of which provide free and easy access to evidence-based information on education. If it seems that a classroom initiative is based on pseudoscience, Tomlin advises parents to ask the school for evidence: “Without the challenge, we give them license to cause greater damage to the education of our children.”