Monday, 7 February 2011


Help bust those neuro-myths

In this month's issue of The Psychologist, Paul Howard-Jones writes –

The last decade has seen something of a step change in efforts to bring cognitive neuroscience and education together in dialogue. This may partly be due to anxieties over the ‘parallel world’ of pseudo-neuroscience found in many schools. Much of this is unscientific and educationally unhelpful, and there is clearly a need for some serious ‘myth-busting’.
There may, however, be a more positive reason why discussions are breaking out between neuroscience and education. Ideas are now emerging from authentic neuroscience with relevance for education.

Read on through his article to see what these might be, and to judge for yourself the present significance of authentic neuroscience for practical pedagogy and upbringing – never mind to 'education' in the fullest sense of the word, with their values and other formal dimensions over and above their empirical worlds of the social and psychological.

Even reducing these processes to the intramental level (as if one could) the leap between the neural and the mental is still so wide, and the urge and pressures to jump often so irresistable –

Conflating brain and mind... allows some educational practices to gain an apparently neuroscientific flavour. This can, somewhat deceptively, add to their attractiveness because explanations provide greater satisfaction when they include neuroscience

The game is not up, far from it. Dr Howard-Jones has his own suggestion for moving foward –

The dialogue between neuroscience and education is still in its infancy, but already it suggests the need for a new field of inquiry that is both scientifically and educationally grounded. Psychological understanding of learning will be crucial in linking neural processes to learning achieved in a classroom. Educational thinking also needs to be involved at every stage, from developing tractable and useful questions, to executing the research and communicating its findings. Innovation will be required in developing the methodology to embrace both natural and social science perspectives in this way. If it can rise to these challenges, neuroeducational research may enrich both education and the sciences of mind and brain.

What is yours? After all, all this surely applies to conductive processes too. Is it too much to hope that the neuro-buffs in CE might adopt such a properly cautious stance and strategy. There are surely other potential stances and strategies in response to the same problem, more in keeping with the conductive view of things. What might they be, and does CE as a whole have the mechanisms to consider the 'neuro' at the appropriate level in order to help bring them about them?


CE-bloggers Susie and Norman have taken up this matter, passim, for some time, and Vikki has done so on her most recent posting, Anne has not posted specifically on this yetbut has coomented on others. Is then CE blogosphere a barometer or what CE people (sers, conductors and others) in general feel, or are these bloggers' niews (five, including mine, untypical?

Do you have a stance on this matter? If not, and you cannot confront this demon individually, better perhaps to steer clear of the 'neuro' altogether. At the very least, you can contribute something to busting a myth by ignoring it –and above all, not passing it uncritically on.*


Howard-Jones, P. A. (2011) From brain scan to lesson plan, The Psychologist, vol.24. No 2, pp. 110-113

*   i.e. stick to your lasts, and avoid the awls.

Previous posting on brainmind



Blogger Phil Dzialo said...

One of the criteria which I have always used in evaluating the potential for any therapy for my son who is a spastic quad, non-verbal with many fixed contractures is whether the therapy produces results which scientifically and rigorously exceed the motor expectations as established in the GMFCS. People have told me that CE is a pedagogy not a science, so you cannot use the same measures. Pedagogy or science or education, etc should all be subject to the same level of scientific scrutiny as it relates to results. Can you refer me to any peer-reviewed research which would show me that CE clients have gains which significantly exceed expectations of GMFCS. The meta-studies I have seen show no difference, so I am anxious to review other research...hopefully you can provide me the necessary links.

Monday, 7 February 2011 at 13:42:00 GMT  
Anonymous Andrew Sutton said...

Dear Mr Dzialo,

The GMFCS is outside my experience, and probably competence too, so I cannot comment on this aspect of your interesting note, but I guess that you have expectations for your son's outcomes above and beyond, and apart from motor expectations.

Yes, 'CE' is properly thought of as a pedagogy, that is a system of teaching, and as a way of bringing up children. It works through psycho-social means and its outcomes are primarily psycho-social – all bound up withing a particular set of values of which faith hope and love are vital components. Most attempted empirical outcome evaluations of CE have been concerned with matters of a different order.

As for studies of the sort that you require, I cannot refer you to any There are none, nor as far as I know are any under way now around the world. I suspect that the vein has been over-worked and in these harsh times no one will travel that road again. You have seen some of the meta-studies and have doubtless recognised that no one has been able to produce a satisfactory comparative evaluation of the kind that you seek. I have no reason to think that there is any study of any significance that these meta-studies have missed.

And no doubt your investigations have found little to reassure you that Conductive Education is not alone in this respect.

I can appreciate how terribly disappointing and frustrating this must be. As in many areas of human life, one is left with the need to make a judgement anyway, on the best information that there is, inadequate though the data might be. As far as Conductive Education goes, which is a far as my brief here extends, all I can suggest is that one has to look very critically at one's goals, talk to and/or read about parents who are bringing up their children conductively, and then see a decent example of the process of conductive pedagogy first hand. Best of all, try it.

Sorry, I cannot say any more than this. Good luck

Andrew Sutton.

Monday, 7 February 2011 at 19:34:00 GMT  
Blogger Phil Dzialo said...

I truly appreciate and honor your expeditious, kind and honest response to my means a lot

Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 00:33:00 GMT  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Kind of you to say so but, please, no honour.

Do you remember Sgt. Joe Friday? 'Just routine.'


Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 09:02:00 GMT  
Blogger Rony Schenker, OTR, PhD, Tsad Kadima, Israel said...

Dear Mr. Dzialo,
As a practitioner , I am very much concerned with what is called: EBP- Evidence Based Practice. Concerned, mainly because money and budgets will be provided very soon, only to those methods, techniques, interventions etc. which are evidence based.
I like very much Andrew's saying that absence of evidence is not necessarily and evidence of absence. Unfortunately, foundations, Private donors, most scientists, would see it as an elegant, sophisticated way to bypass this great obstacle of no proved evidence as expected in the scientific community.
I myself am an occupational therapist, and use the GMFCS and the MACS, as classifications and a variety of functional measures that are so widely in used in many studies and frameworks for children with CP (PEDI, G.A.S, AHA, QUEST, etc.). We certainly can measure functional change over time using these tools, and we do. Does that mean that CE does work? Not really. It does however show, that what we do, helps children to progress. But what is it that we do? How 'pure' it is? Is it a single method or do we combine and integrate methods? What is the influence of the home environment/ on outcomes? What other interventions does the child receive? So many interfering factors, so much noise. And what about the true fact that no one child with brain damage is similar to another? What about he real difficulty of creating huge control groups to overcome the heterogeneity? Money.... No matter how true these explanations are, they may and they are merely excuses for us failing to bring the evidence that what we do is effective .
One of the clues in my opinion and my experience lies within THE FAMILY. As I perceive the family as the essence of CE, I believe that this is one of the places were we should look for evidence. There are today few tools which can measure family centered service, parental quality of life, stress factors etc. , but we should not use only qualitative measures, as this will never detect those qualitative so important features that are inherent in CE practice and experience. Moreover, we should also focus on measuring those psycho-social aspects of the child, as this is were we aim to. Motivation, volition, habituation, transformation, etc. This is our real focus in providing conductive upbringing, and not measuring the child's motor ability using for example the GMFM . And yes, another thing, we should not only measure outcomes, we should also measure the processes of care . We should therefore measure for instance, the quality of interaction between the conductor and the child, the parent and the child, as this is exectly what we do, we mediate, and therefore, the process and quality of this mediation is to be measured.
Are there any well designed studies measuring these aspects or using a combined methodologies? not to the best of my knowledge. But there are many testimonials. I would like to refer you to the recently published book : "Intelligent Love", edited by Jo Graham, Chas McGuigan, and Gillian Maguire. Until we reach the wishful study, WHICH WILL MEASURE WHAT WE DO ON NOT WHAT OTHERS DO, we should read and write this kind of materials: parents perspective, children/adult experiences, service providers experience, all those who provide or receive conductive education. It helps regain or keep the inner belief that we are providing a meaningful pedagogy for life, although not yet being able to scientifically prove it.

Thursday, 10 February 2011 at 19:46:00 GMT  

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