Perhaps the government confused fantasy with reality the day it endorsed Brain Gym

Man the lifeboats. The idiots are winning. Last week I watched, open-mouthed, a Newsnight piece on the spread of “Brain Gym” in British schools. I’d read about Brain Gym before – a few years back, in Ben Goldacre’s excellent Bad Science column for this newspaper – but seeing it in action really twisted my rage dial.

Brain Gym, y’see, is an “educational kinesiology” programme designed to improve kiddywink performance. It’s essentially a series of simple exercises lumbered with names that make you want to steer a barbed wire bus into its creator’s face. One manoeuvre, in which you massage the muscles round the jaw, is called the “energy yawn”. Another involves activating your “brain buttons” by forming a “C” shape with one hand and pressing it either side of the collarbone while simultaneously touching your stomach with the other hand.

Throughout the report I was grinding my teeth and shaking my head – a movement I call a “dismay churn”. Not because of the sickening cutesy-poo language, nor because I’m opposed to the nation’s kids being forced to exercise (make them box at gunpoint if you want) but because I care about the difference between fantasy and reality, both of which are great in isolation, but, like chalk and cheese or church and state, are best kept separate.

Confuse fantasy with reality and you might find yourself doing crazy things, like trying to wave hello to Ian Beale each time you see him on the telly, or buying homeopathic remedies – both of which are equally boneheaded pursuits. (Incidentally, if anyone disagrees with this assessment and wants to write in defending homeopathy, please address your letters to myself c/o the Kingdom of Narnia.)

Perhaps the Department for Children, Schools and Families confused fantasy with reality the day it endorsed Brain Gym. Because while Brain Gym’s coochy-coo exercises may well be fun or relaxing, what they’re definitely good at is increasing the flow of bullshit into children’s heads.

For instance, according to the Brain Gym teacher’s manual, performing the “brain button” exercise increases the flow of “electromagnetic energy” and helps the brain send messages from the right hemisphere to the left. Brain Gym can also “connect the circuits of the brain”, “clear blockages” and activate “emotional centering”. Other Brain Gym material contains the startling claim that “all liquids [other than water] are processed in the body as food, and do not serve the body’s water needs … processed foods do not contain water.”

All of which sounds like hooey to me. And also to the British Neuroscience Association, the Physiological Society and the charity Sense About Science, who have written to every local education authority in the land to complain about Brain Gym’s misrepresentation of, um, reality.

Wander round Brain Gym’s UK website for a few minutes. It’s a festival of pseudoscientific chuckles where impressive phrases such as “educational kinesiology” and “sensorimotor program” rub shoulders with bald admissions that “we are not yet at the stage where we have any scientific evidence for what happens in the brain through the use of Brain Gym”.

Look at the accredited practitioners of the art: top of their list of qualified Brain Gym “instructor/consultants” is a woman who is apparently also a “chiropractor for humans and animals”. That’s nothing: I read tarot cards for fish.

And check out the linked bookshop, Body Balance Books. Alongside Brain Gym guides and wallcharts, it stocks titles such as Awakening the Child Heart and Resonance Kinesiology, which, apparently, “holds information on how to move forward with truth, without the overlays of people’s beliefs and ideas about what is best for themselves and others”. Huh?

If we mistrust the real world so much that we’re prepared to fill the next generation’s heads with a load of gibbering crap about “brain buttons”, why stop there? Why not spice up maths by telling kids the number five was born in Greece and invented biscuits? Replace history lessons with screenings of the Star Wars trilogy? Teach them how to whistle in French? Let’s just issue the kids with blinkers.

Because we, the adults, don’t just gleefully pull the wool over our own eyes – we knit permanent blindfolds. We’ve decided we hate facts. Hate, hate, hate them. Everywhere you look, we’re down on our knees, gleefully lapping up neckful after neckful of steaming, cloddish bullshit in all its forms. From crackpot conspiracy theories to fairytale nutritional advice, from alternative medicine to energy yawns – we just can’t get enough of that musky, mudlike taste. Brain Gym is just one small tile in an immense and frightening mosaic of fantasy.

Still, that’s just my opinion. Lots of people clearly think Brain Gym is worthwhile, or they wouldn’t be prepared to pay through the nose for it. If you’re one of them, here’s an exciting new kinesiological exercise that should dramatically increase your self-awareness – and I’m giving it away free of charge. Ready? OK. Curl the fingers of your right hand inward, meeting the thumb to form a circle. Jerk it rhythmically up and down in front of your face. Repeat for six hours. Then piss off.

Source: Guardian Unlimited, UK