Research Foundations

The FuelEd program was inspired by Dr. Louis Cozolino’s book The Social Neuroscience of Education. Below, Dr. Cozolino discusses the book’s principal ideas and their connection to FuelEd.

Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom

Humans, primates, and other social animals learn from closely related others, woven together into a matrix of relationships for the purpose of adapting to the natural world. The young depend on their teachers for survival, just as adults will come to depend on the young for their survival. This matrix of bonding, attachment, and interdependency became the ecological niche that shaped the human brain. As the human brain slowly evolved into a social organ, the neuroanatomy and biochemistry of learning and attachment became interwoven.

The industrial model of modern education that depends on homogeneous raw materials, predetermined final products, and interchangeable line workers stands in stark contrast to the learning environments that shaped our brains. Children are not homogenous, educational goals interact with individual abilities, and teachers are not interchangeable assembly line workers. The last hundred years of industrialization have in no way counterbalanced the prior hundred thousand years of human brain evolution. At the beginning of the 21st century, learning is still a human endeavor and the ability to educate is grounded on the establishment of a secure attachment relationship.

Human learning is not maximized within an industrial educational environment. It is an especially bad fit for students who are marginalized by society, suffer from dysfunctional home environments, or have brains that learn in “nonconventional” ways. These children lack the secure attachments that shape the intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, and emotional regulation required to sit still, sustain attention, and learn. It is any wonder that so many students fail and/or drop out?

The current system is also a bad fit for committed teachers who don’t find teaching to tests a meaningful human endeavor. People become teachers because they desire to be of service and, like everyone else, need to feel they are achieving some success. Instead, they find themselves in a system where, more often than not, decisions are made to support the survival of the organization instead of the needs of the students. Is it any wonder that teachers leave the profession, or even worse, burn out and stay in the classroom?

Teacher burnout and student dropout result from the same lack of positive attachment relationships, have similar negative effects of mental and physical health, and waste billions of education dollars. Teachers and students who lack secure attachments, adequate coping mechanisms, and receive inadequate support are the sacrificial lambs of the industrial educational system and usually blamed for its lack of performance.

If we look at how some notably “successful” teachers have been able to teach  “unteachable” students, we discover that their big secret is that they are able to stimulate primitive social instincts by creating a combination of secure attachments and survival relevant curriculum. This, in turn, recreates the same environment in which the brain evolved to learn where students are motivated to learn and teachers are rewarded by positive attachment with their students and success in the classroom.

In The Social Neuroscience of Education, research from a variety of fields is used to make a case for attachment relationships being placed at the center of learning. The construction of tribal classrooms that parallel the historical niche in which our brains evolved to learn, trigger primitive social instincts that stimulate the neuroplasticity required for learning. The old needs to be made new once again.

Shaping tribal leaders who serve as a secure base for students in a classroom has to be a central component in the transformation of education. Unfortunately, the training, skills, and self-knowledge required to create attachment-based classroom are seldom the focus of teacher training or a high institutional priority. Based in the science described in The Social Neuroscience of Education, FuelEd has emerged to enhance the social and emotional growth of teachers. Through a combination of skills training, psycho-education, and expanded self-awareness, FuelEd provides teachers with the foundation to build attachment-based learning environments.