Have Schools Forgotten Brain Science?


Being an applied neuroscientist, I was stunned as I skimmed my daughter’s 7th grade life science textbook and found that only 8 out of 400 pages discussed the nervous system. This amounted to one section of one chapter. In contrast, while genetics are certainly important, there were two complete chapters devoted to this topic.

Then, I discovered that schools explicitly prohibit students from doing science projects that involve brain or behavior science. For such studies, a human studies board review and approval is required, so schools simply prohibit any studies involving people or animals. There is no field of science with more direct bearing on the effectiveness, productivity, and happiness of youth than neuroscience, yet students are being discouraged from exploring it.

As schools jockey to assert their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) credentials, youth are offered an array of programs focused on robotics, rockets, computer programming, and other topics. However, virtually no activities are available to youth that focus on neuroscience and related brain science, despite neuroscience being one of the most active fields of science today.

To change this, I launched a program 2 years ago known as Brain Hackers. The program is being piloted as an after-school program for middle school students in Tijeras, New Mexico, near Albuquerque, and is poised to expand into other middle schools, as well as elementary and high schools, during the 2015-2016 school year.

Based on the number of students in the program, Brain Hackers has been a hit. In each of the first two years of the pilot, more than 50 students have participated, which accounts for one-seventh of the school population. This is equivalent to the total number of students on the school’s sports teams.

I believe the program’s popularity is rooted in making —> Read More