Blog: Broscience and wonderwalls

‘Broscience is great because you don’t have to waste time explaining real science.’

Broscience is particularly appealing because it appears to offer simple solutions to tricky problems.  Want to get ripped super-quickly, in time for the summer holidays?  Simple: cut out the cardio from your workout and just focus on lifting really heavy (like, really heavy) weights.  Need to rehydrate after all that lifting?  Simple: drink a protein-shake, but make sure that it doesn’t contain milk – the calcium will only prevent your muscles from absorbing those vital nutrients, in which case all of that hard work (gasp!) will have been for nothing.  Simple, right?  Perhaps…

The trouble is, whilst some broscience is clearly ridiculous (if you breathe too heavily whilst lifting weights, your body will believe that you’re running), much of it can seem credible or, at the very least, be hard to disprove.  Moreover, some broscience, taken out of context, isn’t actually wholly inaccurate – for example, to build muscle, you do need to lift heavy weights.  Or so I’m told.  It’s tricky stuff, particularly because bad broscience can to some pretty gnarly injuries or, at the very least, a whole load of wasted time.

The misconceptions that arise from the inaccurate exchange of information can obviously be problematic, and not just for gym-dwelling bros up and down the country.  In schools, every day, students routinely miss the point, get things wrong or become misguided in their views.  This, in itself, is obviously not problematic, but quickly becomes so if there is not a shared awareness and acceptance of the errors that have been made or of the gaps that remain in a body of knowledge.

‘I believe that one way to develop this in our students is to create as many opportunities as we can to engender real independence in their learning.’

I was reminded of the perils of bad broscience this morning when I read an article written by Zareena Huber, a current Head of English, in which she provides six suggestions to help teachers turn their classrooms into learning zones.  In it, Huber suggests that ‘wonderwalls’ are useful because they help to create opportunities for students ‘to engender real independence in their learning.’  Here’s the extract:

The two questions that Huber provides in her post are conceptually challenging and require a considerable breadth of knowledge to answer meaningfully.  The responses, as you might reasonably expect, although undoubtedly well-intentioned, are simplistic and require a lot of further investigation.  Consider, for example, the misconceptions in the statement that rappers are poets because their lyrics often rhyme.

‘All of our students will be entering the twenty-first century world of work where they will not only be required, but expected, to be creative, innovative, resilient and reflective people who can rise to the challenges and failures of the world in which they find themselves.’

I think Huber’s post raises some really interesting questions about the extent to which we should privilege independent inquiry over direct instruction in order to enable our students to successfully enter the ‘twenty-first century world of work’ (although I’m still not entirely sure what that really means).  Whilst, clearly, I don’t want to villainously discourage my students from asking questions and finding answers, I do want them to understand that independent inquiry alone is often insufficient and that, despite how comforting it is to believe, not all questions can be answered in the space provided by a single post-it note.  Students, irrespective of whether they are at primary school or secondary school, need access to accurate and relevant information.  Just like bros do.  Wonderwall-style questions are designed to be starting points – I get that – so we should be cautious about expecting them to be anything more.  Equally, we should be cautious about wonderwalls in learning zones up and down the country transforming into hubs of village wisdom.

Knowledge is empowering; misinformation, like broscience, is not.

Thanks for reading –

Doug

 

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