Braining the Mind? Curriculum History at the Crossroad of Mind, Subject Matter and ‘Child’

Year: 2016

Author: Baker, Bernadette

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Within educational research and policy across Australia, Europe and the United States, one of the most rapidly traveling discourses is brain-based learning (BBL). BBL is an approach to curriculum and pedagogical decision-making that is located within the new field of educational neuroscience. In some strands of BBL research the structure and function of the brain is located causally, as providing the sole and/or most important basis for making decisions about what and how to teach children, constituting what could be described as neurological foundationalism. This presentation analyzes the hope placed upon neurological foundationalism to provide a solution to the ”problem” of differences between students especially and to the achievement of educational goals. Locating curriculum and curriculum history in western educational work at the intersection of belief in the existence of mind and the subject matters that are supposed to be stored in that mind, the presentation traces the trajectories that have moved mind and brain into relation. Rather than arguing for or against educational neuroscience, the presentation will examine the conditions of possibility for subscribing to the brain as a causal organlogical locus of learning and examines some of the ethico-philosophical issues this raises and sublates in today’s policy and curriculum contexts (see Millei & Joronen, 2016; Rose & Abi-Rached, 2013) After identifying key patterns and absent presences in the Anglophone-dominant BBL literature, the presentation will map some enabling conditions, including the relationship between technologies of self, histories and cultures of dissection, and arcs of discourse from soul-body to mind-body relations. Three historic and pivotal examples of the movement from squeezing to scanning in modern mind-brain relation debates that have redefined “the child” are surveyed, drawing on primary documents from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The implications of this trace for educational recommendation, policies and documents in Australia will be considered including Neuroscience and Early Childhood Development: Summary of Selected Literature and Key Messages for Parenting (Winter, 2010) which overtly refers to the issue of cultural translation in research coming out of the United States and cautions against causal arguments.Last, the presentation will put into dialogue a range of contemporary fantasies, projections and contestations of some of the central assumptions within “western” conceptions of Being that sustain the conditions of possibility for BBL research. This includes the thorny problems of human-centrism and the role of images and visual culture in historiography.ReferencesRose, N. & Abi-Rached (2013). Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Millei, Z. & Joronen, M. (2016). The (bio)politicization of neuroscience in Australian early years policies: fostering brain resources as human capital. Journal of Educational Policy. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2016.1148780.Winter, P. (2010). Neuroscience and Early Childhood Development: Summary of Selected Literature and Key Messages for Parenting. Carlton South, VIC: Secretary, MCEECDYA.