Why can’t Johnny learn? Often in looking for the answer to this question, the focus is on teachers and their teaching skills. However, even the best teachers cannot help their students learn if they are fearful. It’s impossible for the brain to learn when it is afraid and stressed.
The March/April 2010 issues of Neurology Now has an interesting article that talks about the science behind fear and learning. Higher learning occurs in the prefrontal cortex but fear leads to the amygdala’s fight or flight responses.
Goldie Hawn is working with neurologist Judy Willis in this area with an unusual but educationally valid approach to helping students learn.
Hawn’s MindUp! program teaches children how their brains work and why the right frame of mind is so important to their learning. Then students are trained to become more aware so their can identify their emotions and use the coping exercises they have learned.
It sounds like a reasonable approach for kids who are afraid and stressed because of tests or being afraid to speak up in class but it may not work if a student is being abused at home or bullied in school.
Educators want to see their students learn and test scores rise. This article in Neurology Now points out that learning will not occur in a climate of fear. Schools must work hard to make sure students do not spend their time in a fearful climate. That means making sure that bullies do not highjack learning.
My doctoral work focused on schools, bullying and empathy. A summary presentation and accompanying notes can be found here.