Neuroscience is shaping up to be a fierce battleground for how we should organise our societies, as Prospect has predicted in the past. Gender differences, criminal law, political persuasions—we should be prepared to tackle difficult questions about whether or not “our brains make us do it.” To judge from some commentaries, the more established psychological frameworks such as Freudianism and Kleinianism traditionally used to decipher behaviour such as dysfunction, trauma and intelligence—are about to be replaced with the MRI scanner.
One of the bloodiest fields of combat is likely to be education—not only because of the levels of angst that schooling already invokes in parents but because few areas of social policy are so susceptible to ideology, fads and dogma. That’s why a recent report from the Education Endowment Foundation looking at the supposed neurological evidence for specific teaching techniques is so timely. The report focuses on 18 methods and distinguishes between those that have sound neurological support, such as the cognitive value of minimising stress and engaging in physical exercise, from those for which the evidence or understanding is a long way from offering benefits in the classroom, such as genetics or personalised teaching methods.
The report also acknowledges that some techniques, such as learning games or using physical actions to “embody cognition” (enacting “action verbs” rather than just reading them,…