John Medina’s “Brain Rules for Baby”

The brain’s day job is not for learning

First, I need to correct a misconception.  Many well-meaning moms and dads think their child’s brain is interested in learning. That is not accurate.  The brain is not interested in learning. The brain is interested in surviving. Every ability in our intellectual tool kit was engineered to escape extinction. Learning only exists to serve the requirements of this primal goal. It is a happy coincidence that our intellectual tools can do double duty in the classroom, conferring on us the ability to create spreadsheets and speak French. But that’s not the brain’s day job. That is an incidental byproduct of a much deeper force: the gnawing, clawing desire to live to the next day. We do not survive so that we can learn. We learn so that we can survive.

This overarching goal predicts many things, and here’s the most important: If you want a well-educated child, you must create an environment of safety. When the brain’s safety needs are met, it will allow its neurons to moonlight in algebra classes. When safety needs are not met, algebra goes out the window.

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2 Comments on “John Medina’s “Brain Rules for Baby””

  1. barbara says:

    i love this. this is a piece of wisdom to hold up to the light, to look at from many angles, and to keep pulling out of your pocket for years and years to come….wish i’d read this when mine were back then. but, come to think of it, both of them (at 9 and 18) still do need to feel safe, above all else. where do you find these magnificent passages? and thank you for the gift of extracting them for us to share in the wisdom. xoxoxo

  2. Safety, moonlight, algebra…I love it! I know an adult who is the same way! But back to kids, how true, and exciting, was it Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? We do better when we relax, but then a spoonful o’ “stress” can add a little cinnamon to the burrito, no? Not too much, just a sprinkling of stimulation. Anyway, I’ll meditate on this further after I log off… but what I want to tell you Becca, and all ships at sea, is your piece reminded me of a fundamental truth, especially as a husband and father. Thanks! And melikes the “lookandfeel” of an Art Farm. A fun place to go.


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