Mindful in the Classroom: New Lessons in Mental Literacy

Children as young as 7 are being taught a new language of the mind and brain.

Posted Mar 20, 2017

The clip features one of my grandchildren talking about her pre-frontal cortex and amygdala (she should have said amygdalas, because you have two). These are what I would call parts of the maternal and paternal brain respectively because good evidence suggests that paternal genes are predominantly expressed in the former and maternal ones in the latter. She is talking, in other words, about her imprinted brain, where genes from her parents are at odds and those from her grandparents are not quite so equitably expressed as you might think.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Source: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

My grand-daughter is 7, but children of that age in my generation could not have expressed such ideas as she and her classmates do in this clip, partly because we did not have the vocabulary in which to do so, and partly because education at the time took little or no account of psychology and certainly did not try to teach it to school children of any age. And needless to say, much less was then known about brain structure and function.

Nor could children of my generation read books specifically written for them explaining the structure of the brain like the one illustrated left. Here the frontal lobes feature as Fredrick Foresight for their function and the amygdalas (as any child who knew the Greek for the nut would understand) as Annie Almond, thanks to their size and shape.

One of the inevitable consequences of the development of modern neuroscience and genetics is that increasingly people will find their vocabulary continuously expanded in this respect as new discoveries reveal the full extent and subtlety of the mind, brain, and the genome. Indeed, this is the promise of the imprinted brain theory and its diametric model of the mind: to give people a new way of thinking about both their brains and minds which does full justice to both and to the factors—genetic, evolutionary, environmental, and functional—which explain them. One of its most important and profound insights is to explode the myth that mental conflict is pathological and instead substitute a more measured response to the complexities of the brain and mind which accepts that conflict is normal simply because different parts of the brain have conflicting functions and interests, as the clip illustrates, the book narrates, and the imprinted brain theory explains. 

All in all, I can’t help wondering what my grand-daughters will be saying about themselves and their brains—not to mention their grandfather and his brain—when they are my age. My guess is that they will look back to their youth rather as I look back to mine today and wonder at how naïve, shallow, and unsophisticated people were before the new genetic and neuro-scientific literacy heralded by this clip became a part of everyone's education.

(With thanks to Louis Badcock for bringing this to my attention.)


Who's Who of the Brain, K. Nunn, T. Hanstock, and B. Last, Jessica Kingsley, 2008.