by David Colarusso - January 17th, 2007
Can business succeed in selling pedagogical snake oil to schools with only an oblique reference to Gardener’s multiple intelligences, a pinch of technobabble, and a promised panacea? What is Brain Gym, and why is it “IN?”
Last week, a fellow teacher and good friend digitalkatie blogged and personally ranted to me about attending a two hour Brain Gym training session. Apparently, it’s all the rage, and she wanted a few exercises for her students. For those of you who don’t know, as I didn’t, Brain Gym is a trademarked set of physical motions, “exercises,” designed to promote academic achievement. Right away, flags started going up. Especially if you visit the Brain Gym UK website and start counting the miraculous claims and ® symbols–14 ® on the main page alone. Now I’m not against making money in education, and in the interest of full disclosure, I run a small educational information management company. However, there’s something a little too slick and too confident about their pitch when you consider it’s for pedagogy.
My introduction to Brain Gym was less than favorable. The instructors struck Kate as a tad credulous. One exercise, for example, opening each hand and placing your fingertips together, was said to improve mood because this neutralized the opposing polarities on your fingertips. To a physics teacher, this assertion by the trainers struck me as a blatant falsehood, and one that can quite easily be tested.
There were two possibilities. Instructors were quoting official Brain Gym pedagogy or they were not. According to the Brain Gym UK site:
Brain Gym® is a trademarked programme and only licensed Instructors, who have completed the full Educational Kinesiology – Brain Gym® Professional Training Programme, are licensed to teach the programme and other trainings using the Brain Gym® materials and movements. (Link)
So my money was on this being the company line. I found my way to Brain Gym International, and though I couldn’t find any specific explanations as to how it all worked, I did find a research link. From there I downloaded a 21 page “Chronology of Annotated Research Study Summaries in the Field of Educational Kinesiology.” On the first page following the contents, there are six “Academic Papers” cited. Five of them were from Brain Gym’s own “Brain Gym® Journal,” and the sixth was in German from “VAK Publishers, Verlag fuer Angewandte Kinesiologie,” which translates into “Publishing house for applied Kinesiology.” Thanks to Google Translate, I was able to find that VAK “understands itself [today] as [an] innovative publishing house, whose tendency [it is], to offer to the readers alternatives.” You could find publications there on such things as “herzintelligenz®” (Heart Intelligence), and I was hoping for an independent peer reviewed journal. (Translated VAK Homepage)
The most worrisome part of the whole thing is that Brain Gym is getting payed for this by schools who should know better. After all, it is our job as educators to teach critical thought.
There may be something to Brain Gym, students do seem to calm down when given directed physical exercises. However, they’re making specific claims about why, excluding the quite probable placebo effects, and claiming the ability to address almost all educational attainment issues.
I once wrote a short play in which the protagonist struggled with his desire to experience the palpably real benefits of belief in a placebo of sorts. In one scene he manages to cure a student’s stage fright by sharing a secret motion she could make, tugging on her ear. Perhaps this white lie is defensible when told to an eight year old. However, when sold for good money to a state-run institution, I begin to have my doubts.
Kate and I are planning to put together a freedom of information inquiry to see exactly how much this is costing the tax payer, and I’m committed to doing some more research on its efficacy. However, a quick glance at the Brain Gym Wikipedia entry doesn’t make me optimistic.
Please, comment away.