Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Badly Argued Appeal

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Badly Argued Appeal

Article excerpt

Eric Jensen's February article, "A Fresh Look at Brain-Based Education," is the same old badly argued appeal for educators to make much more of the very little that is currently known about how the brain works. A clue to the weakness of his arguments is his frequent repetition (apparently because he considers it a very important point) of the assertion that "the brain is involved in everything we do at school," a point that Dan Willingham, in his article in the same issue, correctly notes "is true, but trivially so." One of the most obviously spurious statements of Mr. Jensen's trivial argument is "If the research involves the brain in any way, it is 'brain-based.' The brain is involved in everything we do." Jensen apparently believes that any finding in any research of any kind (involving a person or any other being with a brain) must be "brain-based." If "brain-based" means everything, then, of course, it means nothing. What are we talking about here?

Mr. Jensen also frequently refers to "turf-based" arguments, by which he means arguments that note the overwhelming lack of proven connections between findings in neuroscience (the study of the actual brain) and findings in psychology and other disciplines. Yes, scientists are working on these connections, but very little is actually known about the connections.

Rather than argue in detail with Mr. Jensen's points, I refer the reader to Mr. Willingham's article I mentioned above and to John Bruer's 2006 article cited in the first endnote of Mr. Jensen's article. I hope that responsible educators will continue to be responsible evaluators of scientific claims. An open-minded critical reading of the articles by Mr. Jensen, Mr. Willingham, and Mr. Bruer ought to clarify what we know and don't know about the possible application of brain research to instruction.--Paul Regnier, coordinator, Office of Community Relations, Fairfax Community Public Schools, Falls Church, Va.

The Author Responds

I appreciate Paul Regnier's taking the time to respond to my February article. Unfortunately, I am dumbfounded at the statements made. Mr. Regnier supports Dan Willingham's comment (I'm paraphrasing) that the brain is involved in everything we do at school but trivially so (emphasis added). …

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