In 1997, John Bruer, the president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, launched a broadside against the fashion of taking findings from neuroscience and trying to apply them in the classroom. Experienced in both cognitive science and education, Bruer set out to demolish the hype surrounding what he saw as blatant pseudoscience. “Currently, we do not know enough about brain development and neural function to link that understanding directly, in any meaningful, defensible way, to instruction and educational practice,” he wrote, arguing that so-called brain-based curricula had crossed “a bridge too far”.
Now, however, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided that it’s time to span the great divide between neuroscience and education. Over the next five years, it is giving more than US$90 million to four large, multidisciplinary teams incorporating cognitive neuroscientists, psychologists, computer scientists and educationalists. A further series of grants will be announced later this year.