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Teachers Not Immune To Neuromyths

A great, and rightly scathing, short article about the prevalence of so-called neuromyths was published last year in response to a surprising survey of teachers in five countries: see here

Whilst the article itself is enlightening, the reader comment ‘why is it always teachers who fall for pyscho-babble?’ seems a tad unfair.

How many people fall for horoscopes, or moral panics, or (best whisper this one) religion? Check out what Francis Wheeler thinks about UFOs, superstitions and the response to the death of Princess Diana in “How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World” if you need evidence of how widespread modern delusions can be.

Teachers internalise the myths about ‘visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning’ or ‘only using 10 percent of our brain’ because they’re so damn prevalent.

Teachers taking the VAK learning theory too much to heart is potentially harmful, but at least it came from a genuine attempt at a model, developed by New Zealand teacher, Neil Fleming, a senior inspector over seeing over 9,000 lessons. Neuroscientists now believe it to be pretty bonkers, if that’s the right term, but not before it was allowed to get co-opted by the NLP brigade and settle into perceived wisdom hood.

For the ‘right or left brained’ myth, just head to one of the 400,000 pages Google will provide for a search on the subject, or skip straight to this Telegraph article to find out which one you are (clue: it’s neither):

For the prevalence of the 10% baloney, you need look no further than the 2014 Scarlett Johansson movie ‘Lucy’ (estimated marketing budget $35m) – Tagline: “The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity, imagine what she could do with 100%”, or the 2011 movie  ‘Limitless’ : “With the help of a mysterious pill that enables the user to access 100 percent of his brain abilities, a struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) becomes a financial wizard…” or the Ellen DeGeneres joke: “It’s true, they say we use ten percent of our brain. Ten percent of our brain. And I think, imagine what we could accomplish if we used the other 60 percent?”

Whilst teachers consider bowing their heads in deference at being caught out by such widely held beliefs, (yes, we should have known better!) tell the non-teaching friends not to get too cocky. If they think they can outsmart the QI klaxon you might like to test them out on some other beauties, such as:

  1. Did Mozart compose “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when he was only 5 years old?
  2. Does swallowed chewing gum take years to digest?
  3. Did Henry Ford invent the automobile or the assembly line?
  4. Can lightning strike the same place twice?
  5. Does sugar cause hyperactivity in children?
  6. Do hair and fingernails continue to grow after you die?
  7. Does everyone (apart from Bruce Willis) have five senses?
  8. Can hair products repair split ends?
  9. Are Jaffa Cakes biscuits?
  10. Can concrete heal itself?

Perhaps it is reasonable to think that thanks to the hard work of the likes of Ben Goldacre, who contributed to the ‘Test Learn Adapt’ Cabinet Office Paper, and Sense About Science (link here) the many myths around science will be put some to rest, just , don’t expect teachers to be any better at debunking them than the average joe. Unless you’re like me that is, a left-brained visual, creative thinker (using 89% of my brain).


Q&A: The answer to 10. is Yes – all the others are No.

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