Monday, August 5, 2013

Smiling at All Science: Reflections on a Brain & Learning Conference

To betray philosophy is the gentle treason
Of poets, to smile at all science, scorning its instruments
Derek Walcott, XII, Midsummer.

It’s strange how often people insist that we use evidence or research-based practice – by which they mean scientifically proven – as if science has never been wrong.  It has been, of course.  Often.  Two personal examples:  my mother was recommended to bottle-feed us as infants – formula, after all, was proven to be as good as or even better than breast milk – and my grandmother was told to take up smoking to reduce her blood pressure.  Certainly that doesn't mean that I think we ought to disregard science, but surely it’s time that we re-balance, particularly when we think about complex systems – like people.  We need to smile a little more often at science and have a deeper faith in our cultural and human understanding of health and relationships.

At a recent Brain and Learning conference dedicated to helping professionals support children as learners, chalk full of neuroscientists, psychiatrists, physicians, and researchers from a variety of fields, the key messages from the cutting edge of science were old news: love the child, support inter-generational caregiving (rather than professionalized caretakers), and take up yoga and meditation.  We have known these things for thousands of years.  But now there is scientific proof.  Unfortunately, the past centuries are filled with practices that discounted what we have always known, because science hadn't told us so yet. And our children are paying for our ignorance.

Fort Qu'Appelle Indian Industrial School; loving families outside the fence.
1895 Library and Archives Canada

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