Saturday March 18, 2006
While all the proper grown up public intellectuals like Rod Liddle were getting a bee in their bonnet about Creationism being taught in a handful of British schools, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a vast empire of pseudoscience being peddled in hundreds of everyday state schools up and down the country.
I’ll lower you in gently. It’s called Brain Gym, and it’s a string of very complicated exercises for kids to do which “enhance the experience of whole brain learning. Firstly, they’re very keen on water. Drink a glass of water before Brain Gym activities. As it is a major component of blood, water is vital for transporting oxygen to the brain.” Heaven forbid that your blood should dry out.
Is there anything else I can do to make blood and oxygen get to my brain better? Yes, an exercise called “Brain Buttons”: “Make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefinger and place on either side of the breast bone just below the collar bone. Gently rub for 20 or 30 seconds whilst placing your other hand over your navel. Change hands and repeat. This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation.” Why? “Brain buttons lie directly over and stimulate the carotid arteries.”
Now, I’m waiting to be impressed by any kid who can stimulate his carotid arteries inside his ribcage, but it’s going to involve dissection with the sharp scissors that only mummy can use. And until that messy day, someone very mischievous and anonymous has kindly sent in the “Brain Gym Teachers Edition” to keep me entertained. This seems to be the master document behind the whole operation.
“Processed foods” they announce: “do not contain water.” This has to be the most readily falsifiable statement I’ve seen all week. Any water in soup? No: “All other liquids are processed in the body as food, and do not serve the body’s water needs.” It goes on. “Water is best absorbed by the body, when provided in frequent small amounts.” And if I drink too much in one go, will it leak out of my anus instead?
But this nonsense must all be some teeny, peripheral act of madness by a few isolated schools, surely? No. Many hundreds of UK state schools, at least. So many I couldn’t name them all in a month of columns. So many, I’ve posted a list on www.badscience.net, so you can check your child is safe.
Because telling stories about fairies and monsters is fine, but lying to children about science is wrong. Children are predisposed to learn about the world from adults, and especially from teachers. Children listen to what you tell them: that’s the point of being a child, that’s the reason why you don’t come out fully-formed speaking English with a favourite album.
With Brain Gym, the same teacher who tells children that blood is pumped around the lungs and then the body by the heart, is also telling them that when they do “The Energizer” exercise (far too complicated to describe) then “this back and forward movement of the head increases the circulation to the frontal lobe for greater comprehension and rational thinking.”
This is not cute. If anyone fed the hypothetical child I have just invented for myself, in the name of righteous indignation, one sentence of this kind of rubbish, I would coldly and rapidly remove them from our lives.
So let’s pause. I’ve just kicked the Brain Gym Teacherâ€™s Edition around the room for two minutes and I’m feeling minty fresh. Taking a break and doing some exercise is obviously great for improving performance. Is that all you get with Brain Gym in schools, or does it really come parcelled up with the bullshit? I’ve seen the books. I’ve seen the 12,000 google hits for Brain Gym on UK government web pages. Now I need field reports. Are you a cheeky kid? Would you like to see your teacher in print? Email me.
Â· Please send your bad science to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Brain Gym Schools List is here. At the moment it’s just a list of all the schools websites (all websites ending in .sch.uk) that have “Brain Gym” in them. I started copying them out into a separate list but it would take far too long because there are just SO many.
All the google hits for Brain Gym on UK government websites are here.
Just to reiterate, my problem is not with stopping class to do a bit of exercise: my problem is with bonkers made up pseudoscience being peddled to children. If you are a teacher who manages to do the exercises without the pseudoscience, then well done to you (although I’m puzzled as to why you’d bother with Brain Gym instead of any other kind of exercise break).