Responses to Critics of Brain-Based Education

Brain based teaching was first proposed by Leslie Hart in Human Brain and Human Learning (1983) and again by Caine and Caine in Making Connections (1994). This field is about just one thing: using what we know about how our brain works to foster better learning and behavioral outcomes in school.

Because the field has exploded (behavior neuroscience, nutritional neuroscience, social neuroscience, etc.). There are many different lines of “attack” that critics use. You’ll notice that nearly all of them comment about similar issues.

CRITICISM: You can’t make leaps from neuroscience to the classroom. We just don’t know enough. .

This argument is the exact same one being used by critics of climate change, saying that, “We just aren’t 100% sure about it, so let’s wait a few decades.” This argument would be fine if no lives were at stake. But they are! Lives are at stake with climate change and they are at stake in the classroom. As long as we have no downside risk, it is prudent to do the best that we currently know how to do.

CRITICISM: Many critics argue that others (besides them) agree with them; that brain-based education isn’t valid (ergo, so they must be right).

This is the argument that says, “Other people agree with me, so I must be right.” That is not “proof.” The bottom line is that one, two or three thousand others having an opinion are not scientific proof. Having 10,000 people to agree the earth is flat does not make it flat.

CRITICISM: Other critics love to question the credentials of anyone making the claims. We can all understand THAT approach, but there are some problems.

People who thought outside the box and were outside their alleged specialty made many of the important discoveries in history. The airplane was invented and perfected by bicycle mechanics (the Wright Brothers).  Einstein was a patent office clerk when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for the Photoelectric Effect, not physics. Many in the movement are not neuroscientists—and many are reputable scientists.

CRITICISM: Who is Eric Jensen anyways? What are his credentials and why should we believe him?

Eric Jensen has been a secondary classroom teacher and taught at 3 universities. He has a BA in English, an MA in Organizational Development and Ph.D. in Human Development. He spent over 20 years making connections between brain research and the classroom. It’s no wonder that those who have spent 20 minutes or 20 hours at this are unable to make connections; they don’t have the interdisciplinary background to do it. This is not criticism; it’s reality.

Jensen is quite aware of a wide range of brain research that applies to education. He has made over 45 hands-on visits to real neuroscience laboratories across the United States. He has met with dozens of top-tier neuroscientists and he reads the journals constantly. He has frequent email contact with many neuroscientists.

Brain researchers are now being awarded the first-of-its-kind prize for “Transforming Education through Neuroscience” at a national interdisciplinary scientific and education conference.

The first winner was Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, who holds a doctorate in education from Harvard, is a research fellow at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, where she works with the internationally renowned neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio.

CRITICISM: There are no real discoveries from neuroscience that are practical in the classroom.


Three neuroscientists, Dr. Steven Miller (Rutgers University), Dr. Michael Merzenich (UCSF) and Dr. Paula Tallal (Rutgers) have created a powerful reading improvement program. More than 700 publications have described the research behind Fast ForWord, and over 85 research studies have confirmed students’ academic gains; clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health have confirmed the products’ efficacy. Perhaps the biggest success is that over 655,000 students to date have benefited.

Temple, E., Deutsch, G. K., Poldrack, R. A., Miller, S.L., Tallal, P., Merzenich, M. M., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2003). Neural deficits in children with dyslexia ameliorated by behavioral remediation: Evidence from functional MRI. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(5), 2860-2865.

There are many discoveries now used in classrooms. Professor Jim Tanaka and his research group used research straight from neuroscience blended with computer programming to create the Let’s Face It! computer game. This is a face recognition software games for kids with autistic spectrum disorders. They have finished beta testing and have moved this to a practical program you can access for free online at

Tanaka, J., Klaiman, C., Koenig, K., & Schultz, R. T. (May, 2005). Plasticity of the neural mechanisms underlying face processing in children with ASD: Behavioral improvements following perceptual training on faces. Poster presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research, Boston, MA.

In short, the complaints and criticisms that others have had about brain-based learning continue to soften and are now a faint whimper. Learning about the brain is here to stay and learning to apply that knowledge in education is more relevant than ever. Join the brain revolution and enjoy!