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Volume 15, Number 4
July/August 1999

The "Brain-Based" Ballyhoo

New research on the brain may shed light on how kids learn, but should it change the way they're taught?


When Sarah Jerome, a Wisconsin school superintendent, and her colleagues read about a brain-research study connecting keyboard music lessons to improved skills in spatial and abstract reasoning in preschoolers, they didn't wax philosophic about the potential benefits of such research. They put the new information into practice—and fast.

In 1996-97, Jerome and company added keyboard lessons to the elementary music curriculum in the 4,200-student Kettle Moraine school district in Wales, WI. When kindergartners showed better puzzle-solving and block-building skills, Jerome plowed about $40,000—most of it donated—into buying 120 electronic keyboards for all grade levels in the district's four elementary schools. Today, teachers say the students who take keyboard lessons have better concentration and discipline in the classroom.

Are Jerome and others like her reading too much into early results from brain research, a science still in its infancy? "I'd be reluctant to invest substantial resources in a curriculum based on a single study," says John Bruer, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation in St. Louis, which funds research in neuroscience and psychology.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

J.T. Bruer. "In Search Of...Brain-Based Education." Phi Delta Kappan 80, no. 9 (May 1999): 649-657.

J.T. Bruer. "Brain Science, Brain Fiction." Educational Leadership 56, no. 2 (November 1998): 14-19.

J.T.Bruer. "Education and the Brain: A Bridge Too Far." Educational Researcher 26, no. 8 (November 1997): 4-16.

R.N.Caine and G. Caine. "How to Think About the Brain." The School Administrator 55, no. 1 (January 1998): 12-16.

M.Diamond and J. Hopson. Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nurture Your Child's Intelligence, Creativity, and Healthy Emotions from Birth Through Adolescence. New York: Dutton, 1998.

K.W. Fischer. "Growth Cycles of Brain and Mind." Educational Leadership 56, no. 2 (November 1998): 56-60.

D.A.Sousa. "Is the Fuss About Brain Research Justified?" Education Week 18, no. 16 (December 16, 1998): 52, 35.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and James S. McDonnell Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development.

Wales Elementary School Wales, WI.