The Brain Gym has been very much in the news recently. Mostly because any pretensions to science behind it have been demolished - most publically by Jeremy Paxman.
This critical piece is typical of the tone of the critics. It includes some short interviews from teachers, headteachers, and childern who have bought into the Brain Gym message. The comments are on the lines of:
This headmistress must be feeling quite embarrassed right about now.
With reference to the Paxman interview:
Ooooh this is a good, good day.
You must watch the glory below. It is radiant.
Ben Goldacre writes in his blog and the Guardian:
Beyond the stupidity of some headteachers, how has Brain Gym survived?
There is a definite tone of exultation in the humiliation of not only the inventor of Brian Gym but all the teachers and headteachers who have bought into it (the children who have bought into it are of course portrayed as innocent victims).
I don't want to defend Brain Gym. Scientifically it is a fraud. But let's not be juvenile in our response. I doubt it it was a total waste of public money and time. Even the fiercest critics acknowledge as an aside that there is a merit in having children do refresher exercises during school. And there is immense scope for a placebo effect. If a child believes something is making them cleverer their confidence and enthusiasm will grow and the child is very likely to try harder and do better. There is a long tradition of teachers using metaphors and images that are not true but very helpful. My wife's singing teacher tells her pupils that the voice should come out of the top of the head. I don't know whether she literally believes this, and I don't care. She is a brilliant teacher and the image works.
That poor headteacher has a real problem. Now that Brian Gym has been exposed, she has to either tell the children not to believe what they hear (i.e. lie to them) or somehow explain that it was an error without letting down all that confidence and energy. I don't want anyone to pretend that Brain Gym is science when it isn't. But sceptics should be wary of gloating over their superior knowledge. By and large they are not the ones on the spot. Many teachers found something they could use. Now it is going to be a lot harder to use it. The greatest blame should lie with Paul Dennison (the founder) but might the sceptics consider the positive side as well as well as the negative. Why not say "this may be useful in practice, but you should know that the underlying science is wrong" rather than accusing teachers of being stupid and gloating over their discomfort? Of course, that wouldn't be nearly so interesting a thing to write.