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February 14, 2017

New Doctorate Helps HSLDA Consultant Speak Up for Struggling Learners

Carol Brown enjoys the moment with her husband, Kyle, as she receives her doctoral degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Carol Brown enjoys the moment with her husband, Kyle, as she receives her doctoral degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Home School Legal Defense Association’s education consultants have a new doctor in the house.

Carol Brown, who has been helping HSLDA members with special education needs part-time since 2014, completed 30 months of doctoral studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary late last year and received her doctor of education degree.

These credentials complement Carol’s recent academic publishing credit—she penned the closing chapter for the 2016 book Neuroscience and Christian Formation.

Carol already had a lengthy resume to draw on when assisting homeschool families: 30 years of experience as a principal, teacher, therapist, reading and learning specialist, speaker, and homeschooling mother.

She explained that she was motivated to obtain “the extra initials after my name” in order to become an even more effective advocate for people who struggle to learn.

These additional academic qualifications help her as she focuses more intensely on an esoteric and sometimes controversial area of education: cognitive development.

As Carol says, “I wanted to be able to sit at the academic table and have a voice for people who have no voice.”

Changing for the Better

Carol now specializes in helping students improve their processing, working memory, comprehension, thinking, and learning skills—what is often referred to as “intelligence” or “cognitive skills.”

Her efforts go against one mainstream theory of education, which claims that each individual’s intelligence is fixed and can’t be improved. This belief focuses on remediation of subject content and accommodations rather than cognitive development.

Carol says that she knows from experience, as well as from research in the field of neuroscience, that this theory is wrong. By using special methods and curriculum that she’s developed, Carol has helped students improve certain cognitive abilities, such as working memory, processing, comprehension, and problem-solving.

Her biggest inspiration is the dramatic change she witnessed in her son, Clayton, who struggled with language disorders.

At age 16, Clayton underwent intensive training intended to boost his working memory and help him process information more quickly. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biblical counseling. Now he works with his parents in their educational consulting business, Equipping Minds, and has even served in their community as a guest preacher.

“We saw the final pieces come together for him,” Carol recalled. Clayton’s success became “the final push” in prompting her to write her cognitive development curriculum.

In her doctoral dissertation, Carol incorporated research about the performance of students with learning challenges who used her Equipping Minds program. And in her book chapter, she presented the four-year case study of a student with Down syndrome who showed remarkable gains in learning and personal interaction after being trained in the same system.

A Workout for the Brain

Carol describes cognitive development curriculum as akin to game-playing. It often involves puzzle-like activities performed with pencil and paper.

The goal is to help students engage in mental activities, “like playing tic-tac-toe in your mind,” she said. Students learn to visualize and manipulate objects, letters, and numbers—skills which can then be used to improve reading, math, and comprehension.

“It gives the brain a workout and creates new connections,” Carol said, adding that modern neuroscience shows these connections can exist in more than just the realm of thought. They can actually physically transform the brain.

“It doesn’t mean perfection,” she said. “But it does give improvement so that kids are doing things their parents never expected they could do.”

God-given Potential

There is another aspect to special needs education and cognitive rehabilitation that Carol argues is at least as important as helping students learn.

For people of faith, she says, striving to help others improve their ability to function reflects the belief that human beings are created in the image of God. This not only means all individuals are imbued with dignity and worth, but that they are children of a creator who can redeem and transform them.

For this reason Carol urges special needs educators to approach their profession with joy and determination.

As she writes in her book chapter, “Teachers should see each student with new eyes and as capable of learning. An optimistic attitude is essential.”

Only with this attitude, she concludes, can educators “give our children the opportunity to reach all that God called them to be.”

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