A skeptical parapsychologists tells it like it is at an education conference – teachers embrace nonsense learning ideas because quick fixes are appealing. Long-term meaningful changes are hard.
When Nick Rose worked as a parapsychologist, his job was to investigate why people believed they had been haunted by ghosts or abducted by aliens. When he became a teacher, he expected that all this would be replaced by hard facts and a rigorous curriculum – but teaching is “rife” with myths and pseudoscience, he believes.
At a major conference on the use of research in education, Mr Rose said schools had “very little immunity to nonsense” and urged teachers to have the confidence to ask “impertinent” questions about approaches that had no scientific basis.
What kind of nonsense topics is he talking about? Things like dominance of the right- or left-brain and “learning styles”, as well as the Brain Gym movement-based program of educational kinesiology which really took off in the U.K. Rose notes that these ideas have taken root in the classroom even though they are unsupported by evidence.
Ben Goldacre took on the Brain Gym concept years ago and received hell for it. [Stick a picture of a brain on something and people think it’s “smart”!]
Are schools too tied into doing things a certain way and not open to change? Take, for example, the push for later start times for older students, based on evidence that starting early is detrimental. Are many schools adopting this? How about all-year schooling? These are hard things to change and so change is slow to appear. But quick fixes and easy categorizing of kids is quickly adopted without the necessary scrutiny Rose is advocating. Are things like Brain Gym harmless? Maybe. But such techniques focus on process that has not shown promise at the expense of one that does.
Rose has worked with Susan Blackmore, another parapsychologist turned skeptic. This story was U.K.-based. But, this stuff is rampant in the U.S. as well. Several years ago I wrote about my own experiences seeing pseudoscientific stuff in my kid’s classroom. A Tale of Fail: Schools pass on opportunities to teach skepticism. I was not happy with the teaching of critical thinking let alone the practice of it by the teachers. Your milage may vary depending on the school. What can be done? I’d love to hear from teachers on this topic.