Brainology for All! A Bill of Kid Rights


One proven way to improve our lives is to use the What-Will-the-Grandkids-Chuckle-About Method. This method involves asking yourself a simple question: what are you doing right now that your grandkids will see as laughably ass-backward 50 years from now?

For example, we look back to the early sixties and see societal habits that seem, in retrospect, comically short-sighted — habits like sexism, the way they ate, smoked, drank, drove (usually at the same time).

So what will your grandkids be chuckling about in 2061?

Here’s my answer: Brain Ed.

I think our grandkids will look back and say, Back in 2011, parents and teachers wanted kids to learn, but somehow they didn’t bother teaching kids the most important part — how the learning machine actually works. What the heck were those people thinking?

And our grandkids will be absolutely, positively, 100-percent right.

Right now, teachers, parents, and coaches in our society focus their attention on teaching the material — whether it’s algebra, soccer, or music. This is the equivalent of trying to train athletes without informing them that muscles exist. It’s like teaching nutrition without mentioning vegetables or vitamins. We feverishly cram our classrooms with whiz-bang technology, but fail to teach the kids how their own circuits are built to operate.

It’s all completely understandable, of course. Our parenting and teaching practices evolved in an industrial age, when we presumed potential was innate, brains were fixed (just as we presumed smoking was healthy and three-martini lunches were normal). But that doesn’t make it right. In fact, you could argue that teaching a child how their brain works is not just an educational strategy — it’s closer to a human right.

So as long as we’re on a soapbox, let’s take this all the way and make it official.

The New Bill of Kid Rights:

  • 1. Every child has the right to know how their brain grows
  • 2. Every child has the right to a teacher who understands how skill develops
  • 3. Every child has the right to an environment that’s aligned with the way skills grow in the brain

(Anything we need to add to that?)

Here’s a suggestion: teach brain-ed in schools. Why not devote a chunk of time, especially at the start of the school year, to teaching how the brain grows when it learns. To teaching how repetition builds speed and fluency. To helping kids to understand and experience the biological truth that struggle makes you smarter, that the brain grows when challenged.

Some progressive schools are already doing this. Last week I visited Castilleja School in Palo Alto (just down the street from Steve Jobs’s house, naturally) where they’re offering a new class called “Brainology” for seventh graders. In it, students learn how the brain is built to grow. They try out different studying strategies. They learn that the brain functions like a muscle: no pain, no gain.

Even small exposures can have a big impact. Stanford’s Carol Dweck did an experiment where she divided 700 low-achieving middle schoolers into two groups. Both were given an eight-week workshop on study skills, and one group received a 50-minute session that described how the brain grows when it’s challenged. (The other group’s session learned about generic science.) In a few months, the group that had learned about the brain had improved their grades and study habits to the point that teachers, without knowing, could accurately identify which student had been in which group.

It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s easy, because it pays massive dividends. Plus, it gives our grandkids one less thing to chortle about.

PS — Here’s a good overview of the issue, along with some examples of places that are putting brainology into their organizations.

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17 Responses to “Brainology for All! A Bill of Kid Rights”

  1. In other words, Every child has the right to a growth mindset.

  2. djcoyle says:

    Nicely put! (For anybody who wants to read more about growth mindsets, I recommend Carol Dweck’s book, entitled — you guessed it — Mindset.

  3. andrew says:

    thanks Daniel,

    I teach kids everyday, (brazilian jiu jitsu) and i use the understanding I’ve gained from The Talent Code, your blog, and other books along these lines to help them along, and help them understand how to get better.

    much appreciated.

  4. Inna says:

    Thank you, this is my favorite blog.
    Would you happen to have a link to something that “describes how the brain grows when it’s challenged”, which I could share with my middle grader?


  5. djcoyle says:

    Thanks, Inna — here’s one, for starters: — and also this: (lot of good links in here)

  6. Sparky says:

    Which is why I do this with my students. Underperforming kids who struggle in school reach new heights when they understand (usually with some prodding)how they’ve been wired for failure for years. Once they understand that their brain can be built up to new levels…they respond with newfound enthusiasm…and results!

  7. Jon says:

    Another great post, Dan. Until we have more brainology in schools, I’d be curious what you think parents can do to help kids learn these concepts. Do your kids get any brainology in school, and if not, how do you coach them toward understanding it?

  8. Emily says:

    I would like to include this into my teaching repertoire. In particular, I would like to teach my students about “how the learning machine works” on the first day I meet them instead of handing out the course outline, and going over what my expectations are…….

    I think that by doing something different, this might perk up their spirit to learn, feel more motivated vs. learn out of routine, fear, being forced.

  9. djcoyle says:

    Hi Jon, Great, great question. Maybe it’s THE question. I think for parents it comes down to two things: 1) get across the basics that the brain is a muscle and has to be worked/stretched to grow; 2) use language that reinforces that idea. Praise for effort, not ability (see ).

  10. Lisa says:

    Great post Dan! I loved the ‘teaching a child how their brain works is not just an educational strategy — it’s closer to a human right’. I couldn’t agree more!

    The global competitive advantage will go to the people and nations that have the most relevant skills, the greatest adaptability for change and the practical tools to harness their total intelligence in productive and meaningful ways. The unique role of schools is to prepare students to succeed in the future, by delivering the skills students need like thinking, problem solving,collaboration and resilience and not just the content – like soccer, music and algebra.

    Do you happen to have any other examples of schools like the Castilleja School in Palo Alto who are already implementing ‘Brain-Ed’?

  11. Dan:

    Really love this post. As I’ve long believed, Carol Dweck’s Mindset and your book, The Talent Code, should be shrink wrapped and sold together. Here’s the link to a post I wrote about this beautiful interplay:

    As I point out there, trying to learn skill in a fixed mindset is like trying to drive with your parking break on.

    Glad to see you posting again!


  12. Alfredo Zolin says:

    Hi. This blog is so inspiring. Thank you. I’m already applying the 2 min trick (I will say 5 min in our case) to train footwork with our football/soccer team in Denmark. It works. After 5 min the boys start talking to each other, i.e. automatism takes over, and the only way to keep the focus is through small competitions or new harder drills. Anyway, the 5 min each time give just the 1% improvement each time. Fascinating.

  13. liz garnett says:

    Manual trackback moment: just thought you’d like to know I’ve been writing about this post here:

  14. Rod Roth says:

    Wow! Waiting my whole life (I’m 72, still trying to learn) for this idea. I study The Talent Code, of course, but this broadens the application. Thanks, Dan.

  15. djcoyle says:

    Hi Lisa, Here’s another article I came across that might be useful:

  16. Lisa says:

    This is great! Thank you!

  17. Deb says:

    Hi there! I’ve only just discovered this blog as I’m working on a blog post myself about myelination. I’ve been fascinated with how learning occurs since I was a kid, and as a music teacher it still fascinates the heck out of me. When my first daughter was born with sensory issues I went on a brain-self-education reading and Google binge, and now when I volunteer and substitute-teach in my kids’ school, I see So. Many. Places. where this knowledge would benefit students and teachers alike. I’ve been mentally planning a session where I’m teaching teachers about myelination for a teacher workday, so I figured it’d be good to get the basics down in words partly for marketing purposes and partly because I want an excuse to learn more. This stuff really wasn’t talked about back in the dark ages when I went to Teacher School in the 80’s (and 90’s for my Master’s), so in many ways I’m ahead of my time especially among my age-peers. I don’t see it much addressed in education coursework outside mention of it in Montessori classes, where the motor skills are naturally dependent on it; Montessori teachers are in fact the only one I’ve seen who don’t wrinkle their brows when I say the word “myelination” but actually use it themselves in conversation. LOL Hoping that this is changing in today’s education degree coursework, but until it does, I do teach each and every one of my private music students about myelination and how to take advantage of it. 🙂

    Thanks so much for this resource!

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