Three requirements for justifying an educational neuroscience

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Background. Over the past quarter century, efforts to bridge between research in the neurosciences and research, theory, and practice in education have grown from a mere hope to noteworthy scholarly sophistication. Many dedicated educational researchers have developed the secondary expertise in the necessary neurosciences and related fields to generate both empirical research and theoretical syntheses of noteworthy promise. Nonetheless, thoughtful and critical scholars in education have expressed concern about both the intellectual coherence and ethical dangers of this new area. It is still an open question whether educational neuroscience is for some time yet to remain only a formative study area for adventurous scholars or is already a fully fledged field of educational scholarship. Aims. In this paper, I suggest that to be a worthy field of educational research, educational neuroscience will need to address three issues: intellectual coherence, mutually informing and respected scholarly expertise, and an ethical commitment to the moral implications and obligations shared within educational research generally. I shall set forth some examples of lapses in this regard, focusing primarily on work on reading development, as that is my area of expertise, and make recommendations for due diligence. Arguments. First, intellectual coherence requires both precision in definition of technical terms (so that diverse scholars and professionals may communicate findings and insights consistently across fields), and precision in the logical warrants by which educational implications are drawn from empirical data from the neurosciences. Both needs are facilitated by careful attention to categorical boundary and avoidance of category error. Second, educational neuroscientists require focused and broad expertise in both the neurosciences and educational scholarship on teaching and learning in classrooms (and/or ancillary fields). If history is our guide, neuroscience implications for practice will prove unlikely in practice without expertise on practice. Additionally, respect for the expertise of others in this hybrid and necessarily collaborative enterprise is required. Third, educational neuroscience must take seriously the heightened moral and ethical concerns and commitments of educational professionals generally and educational researchers particularly. This means keeping a vigilant eye towards preserving the integrity of empirical and theoretical findings against rhetorical misuse by educational marketers, policy makers, and polemicists targeting the general public. Conclusions. I conclude that educational neuroscience is more than a hybrid patchwork of individual interests constituting a study area, and is perhaps ready to stand as a legitimate field of educational inquiry. It will not be accepted as such, however, nor should it be, unless the need to demonstrate a capacity for consistent intellectual coherence, scholarly expertise, and ethical commitment is met.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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