7 Myths About Education – An Alternative View

I was a little chastened after my EdFest post and promised Kris Boulton and Harry Webb that I would read Daisy Christodoulou’s book before making assumptions about her intentions. So I have. I’ve read it twice in fact and have spent a week deciding whether or not to review. It is a brave thing to write a book – the work takes on an extension of your identity and criticism becomes deeply personal. As I write this I am minded of the Yeats line ‘Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams’ and so I will try to tread as softly as I can. Nevertheless, when one writes publicly, especially when one takes as strong a position as this one does, it is inevitable that there will be scrutiny. I hope this scrutiny takes the form of constructive debate and not personal criticism.

Philosophy

The main thrust of the book is that education has moved too far in a progressive direction largely as a result of the ‘defunct’ and ‘pernicious’ influences of Rousseau, Dewey and Freire who advocated what is referred to as ‘fact free learning’. The idea is that this has led to 7 myths in education which are damaging the quality of learning that children receive.

I think it is important to consider two things when reading these sections. Firstly, it is vital that we place the philosophers in their time. Dewey, for example was responding to an education system in which children were not viewed as individuals,  and where cruel forms of corporal punishment were routinely administered. My mother remembers being dragged to the front of the classroom as a seven year old child by her hair, and beaten with a stick on the back of her legs with a ruler. Her crime? She raised her hand to tell the teacher that she thought he had missed an ‘h’ out of the word ‘sugar’. For all three of these ‘pernicious’ writers, the main concern was not with facts, but with power. Each tried to assert the importance of seeing each child as a complex and capable individual. For Dewey, the child ‘excels in complexity and minuteness of differentiations’ so that ‘one who executes the wish of others….is doomed to act along lines predetermined to regularity.’ It is not facts he is opposed to, but the failure of the education system to value individuality. For Freire, writing in times of extreme social oppression in Brazil and Rousseau against the backdrop of the grave inequalities of the 18th Century, the importance was to cast light on the plight of the poor; to try to value their lives and to build education which was holistic in nature. We cannot take their words and ideas and ridicule them with a 21st century perspective without considering the contexts in which they were written. It would be like saying that because the Romantic poets were heavily influenced by Rousseau, we should ignore their work, rooted as it is in a ‘one life’ philosophy. Coleridge, Wordsworth and Shelley are suddenly ‘defunct’ and ‘ pernicious’?

Secondly, we need to consider the extent to which these philosophies have really impacted on education. Why is it that children are still sitting examinations and not rolling around in meadows doing as they please all day? There are other influences at play.

If we are to accept that there is a ‘progressive’ influence in education, we have to examine its opposite – the ‘traditional’. I would argue that the main philosophical influence in education is actually Cartesian. An emphasis on the critical analysis of knowledge : a separation of emotion and reason. This is a model of thinking which has descended in part from Plato and found its voice most forcible in the philosophy of Descartes. Cartesian philosophy led to a widely held belief in what is known as a TOD model of intelligence (Ryle, 1949), a model which has evolved from Plato to Descartes to Freud and in which there is deemed to be a close connection between intelligence, conscious thought and human identity. This model has greatly influenced the development of an education system. Claxton (2012:79) summarises it as:-

Clear-cut (not vague)

Logical (dispassionate)

Explicit (well justified and not hearf-felt)

Verbal (not manifest in gesture or expression)

Explanatory (not manifest in action or perception)

Rapid (requiring neither patience nor contemplation).

 

And it is upon these principles that our faith in an examination system is based. I would argue that these strands of philosophy have had at least an equal if not a dominant influence on the development of an education system. I don’t find it helpful therefore to root criticisms of our education systems in one philosophy or another. To be fair, Christodoulou argues that perhaps we should move towards examining evidence from the ‘cutting edge’ of science, so let’s consider that.

Science

One of the problems with Science at cutting edges is that it is working largely with unknowns. Physicists working at the ‘edge’ of particle physics are as much philosophers as they are scientists. Indeed, both Einstein and Bohr used philosophical frames of thought to push their discoveries forward. Neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists are working at the edge of human identity and consciousness, asking questions such as ‘what is identity?’ ‘what is memory?’ ‘where does empathy come from?’ and so on. The best admit that they know very little. They qualify statements with ‘It would seem’ or ‘this suggests’ because new discoveries are being made all the time. Tim Taylor recently likened them to ‘medieval cartographers’ charting an undiscovered globe. It’s exciting stuff. But we must remember that it is not the whole picture.

In Seven Myths, Christodoulou actually references very little science at all. Daniel Willingham is quoted frequently, but I wondered where the others were. No mention of Dehaene, Ansari, Damasio, Greenfield, Goswami, Blakemore, Resnick, Dweck, Goldin- Meadow, Howard-Jones, Scott…I could go on. But these people are also working at the cutting edge. Willingham is a fine scientist and a gentleman. He has brought cognitive science to teachers through an accessible blog which summarises new findings clearly. He answers emails and he has added a great deal to our understanding of certain aspects of knowledge and memory. But like any good scientist, he is the first to admit that he doesn’t know everything as does Susan Greenfield (2011) :-

While it is possible for neuroscientists to make progress in the physical brain, the great question is still the causal, water-into-wine relationship of the physical brain and body with subjective mental events….we do not have any idea as to what kind of scenario would answer this question.’

It is for this reason, that cognitive science is full of qualifiers such as ‘might’ and ‘suggests’ – we, as teachers, need to be able to keep an eye on their emerging discoveries, but must become more responsible and agentive in developing our own practice.

Ofsted

Most of the evidence for Christodoulou’s claims that our curriculum is largely content free comes from Ofsted reports. My own views on Ofsted are not too far removed from those in the book, but for different reasons. I believe that pouring over Ofsted reports leads to some very poor practice in schools – I have used the metaphor of a football game before in which teachers behave like players intent on ‘running around after the referee instead of the ball’. I agree with Christodoulou that this has led to some vapid practice, but I am concerned at the huge leaps of assumption made from the reading of these reports into what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teaching. For example, Christodoulou cites several tasks as evidence of dumbing down. One of these is an account of a lesson in which children wrote letters to their headteacher about uniform. It is assumed that this offers an example of learning which is content free. But without sight of those letters we cannot know. Imagine if the letter said:-

Dear Mr Head,

We have been studying democracy in our class and I am writing to you in order to propose a way to make our school more democratic.

Democracy comes from the Greek words Demos and Kratos meaning people and power. Our class believes that although we live in a democratic society, Britain, unlike Ancient Athens, has an indirect democracy which means that once politicians are in power, citizens have very little influence over the laws they can pass. A direct democracy, however, allows citizens to vote on each law through a referendum and we would like to propose the development of a direct form of democracy in our school.

One way we might do this is to allow pupils as say on school uniform…..

I am not suggesting that this is what the letters contained, only that we cannot know what kind of knowledge was contained in the letter. It is this lack of context which undermines almost all of the examples offered in the book.

Elsewhere in the book, practices such as role play and pedagogies such as ‘mantle of the expert’ are attacked without any real understanding of the contexts in which they take place. Research by Hough and Hough (2012) into the impact of drama on thinking  is quite compelling, but there is no mention of this. In addition, there is a deep misunderstanding of the practices in which children act as ‘experts’. Christodoulou’s view is that they are not experts and so it is silly to make them pretend to be so. But practices which use this technique do not ask children to pretend to be experts, but instead asks them to consider what they would need to know ‘if’ they were. What would the implications be? Where would we get the information from? Who might need to know it?’ This is a very different premise and the distinction is important. Making assumptions on the basis of a reference in an Ofsted report is damaging. In addition, practice leads to expertise – it forms the basis upon which we ask children to play and perform at concerts or to take part in sporting competitions before they are yet expert musicians or athletes – the preparation for the adult goal depends on exposure to experience of performance and competition.

Experience and Professional Judgement

In forming an argument for the benefit of direct instruction, the book mentions anecdotal evidence from Christodoulou’s own personal experience from the three year period she spent in the classroom; two of which were spent training on the Teach First Programme. Again, a leap is made. Citing lessons which did not go well as evidence, Christodoulou draws the conclusion that the fault lies in the theory and not in her own practice. For example she cites a lesson in which she attempted inquiry based learning by showing a picture of Shakespeare and asking children what they knew. Unsurprisingly, the responses were not positive. They see a balding man in funny clothes. I wonder what might have happened if the image had been of a dagger dripping with blood and the question ‘What are the implications of this image?’ or of the bodies of three young people, dead in a tomb and a question of ‘what happened?’ Hooking children into inquiry takes work and reflection. We cannot dismiss its value because we did it badly in the early years of our teaching. I’m sure that all of us who have taught for a number of years can look back at things we did in the first five years of our career and cringe. The trick is to get better. This is not a personal attack on Christodoulou’s teaching – I’ve taught some pretty awful lessons in my time – but it is a query about the validity of making assumptions.

I’m sure, as ever, that this post will open up some lively debate and this is welcomed. I don’t present this as an attack or as ‘truth’, simply as an alternative view and I hope I have walked softly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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27 thoughts on “7 Myths About Education – An Alternative View

  1. This is a well-researched and nuanced critique. In a world in which the myths identified by Daisy were not prevalent they would make complete sense. Sadly, that is not the world in which many teachers teach. I spent yesterday working with teachers who were do relieved to hear that much of what they had been told was good practice was in fact nonsense. We live in a world where we know that what many SLTs expect is unreadonable and counter productive. And in this world the underlying myths which contribute to these distorted views of teaching urgently need to be challenged.

    To the extent that some of Daisy’s arguments are weak (myths 6 & 7 are much less clearly thought out) it is a book worth sharing as widely as possibly. If you, or any other teacher, decides that on reflection these myths have no impact on your teaching then that is great news. However, it’s worth knowing that many teachers are expected to do the Monkey Dance whenever they are observed.

    1. David – It seems entirely possible that you, Debra and Daisy are all correct. You point out that teachers have been persuaded of these myths and that’s a problem. Daisy convincingly points out where these myths have become problematically embedded in national strategies and Ofsted practice, but Debra also points out the context for *why* so many of these ideas came about in the first place and why they might be useful if looked at in context and used moderately. All of those views can exist at the same time, and all add something valuable to current debate.

      The worrying thing is that without room for that context – and whether some dissenting voices – we risk a future where everything swings too far in the opposite direction and suddenly the beneficial parts of Direct Instruction become mischaracterised and overly prescribed to the detriment of students. The big question now is: How do we avoid that?

      What’s so impressive about Debra’s piece is that it’s part of a move to try and ensure we find the ‘sweet spot’ at the middle of extremes so that – as you say David – teachers no long feel part of some ridiculous Monkey Dance that goes entirely against their beliefs. That, for me, is why this blog is so impressive and should be welcomed by everyone.

  2. I am always wary of any expert who uses anecdotal evidence of personal experiences as proof to support their own theories.

  3. Thank you Debra for such well thought through and thoughtful criticism of Daisy’s ideas, much more so than <a href="http://www.josepicardo.com/2013/07/seven-more-myths/"my own. Like you, I have no doubt in Daisy’s good intentions but I disagree with David in thinking that it deserves so much credence.

    I have not seen evidence of existence of her myths anywhere in 10 years of teaching. I’ve seen elements of some of the myths here and there, but just because some people hold certain views, it does not mean these views must therefore be pervasive and so education must be saved from this evil, progressive teaching.

    Furthermore I think the very use of 7 (magic number) made-up myths somewhat discredits the validity of what Daisy is trying to convey.

  4. Just, thanks, Debra. This is great.
    You write in a way that I can connect with so easily. I love the fact that you reference your writing with theorists, but not in a way that excludes those of us who haven’t read all the books.
    This makes perfect sense to me. It’s hard to use approaches such as mantle of the expert well, but that doesn’t invalidate them, it just means you have to be willing to get very good at it.

    p.s. Don’t forget that books need a ‘hook’ to market themselves, which makes it tempting to take a relatively extreme view – if people agree or disagree strongly, it makes for great marketing! Plus I think a few of us suspect that it’s not only a book that is being marketed, but a view of the profession and an ideology as well.

  5. Sadly, Daisy seems to have misunderstood the mantle of the expert approach almost entirely, confusing the word ‘expert’ of the name with children pretending to be grown up experts in the real world. Dorothy Heathcote, when writing about the term in her book, “Drama for Learning” is very clear about drawing the distinction between children’s capabilities in the real world and their ‘expert’ capabilities in the imagined context. As Cecily O’Neill says in the book’s introduction,

    “Dorothy Heathcote is proposing paradox. The teaching is authentic, and yet it achieves its authenticity through “the big lie,” since it operates within a powerful imagined context, created through the inner dramatic rules of time, space, role, and situation. This contextualization is the key to its effect. Thinking from within a situation immediately forces a different kind of thinking. Research has convincingly shown that the determining factor in children’s ability to perform particular intellectual tasks is the context in which the task is embedded. In mantle of the expert, problems and challenges arise within a context that makes them both motivating and comprehensible… It is imagination that allows both teacher and students to devise alternative modes of action, alternative projects and solutions, and imagination is at the heart of this complex way of teaching.” http://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Forward-Drama-for-learning.pdf

  6. The book is on my reading list and deserves consideration, for the same reasons that some arguments in opposition to evolution from an intelligent design perspective deserve consideration. Because, what ends up happening is that evolution, or in this case progressive and evidence-based education methods, are actually strengthened by doing so.

  7. Thank you Debra. Well argued and thoughtful. I did feel that Daisy’s arguments were somewhat shaky, based on limited experience, and that she does make some sweeping generalisations based on anecdote. At the same time I respect the fact that she has sparked a debate, which is necessary. I just find it wearisome that it has become so polarised. Separating knowledge from skills is akin to trying to separate the yolks from your scrambled eggs. They are the double helix in the DNA of pedagogy.

      1. If you are under the impression that Daisy thinks or recommends that knowledge/skills can/should be separated then you’ve either misunderstood or not read her book.

  8. Several months ago, on Daisy’s blog, I read and responded to a lot of these prototype ideas, ones that have now come to fruition in her book. I responded with very specific instances showing alternate scenarios and I will not repeat them here but I, too, was struck by the hypotheticals underpinning the exemplars chosen and the criticisms resulting from those limited or incomplete observations (that is not a criticism just the nature of the data in my view).

    Some of the propositions seemed, to me, very much rooted in the realms of the notional, at times, and not grounded entirely in a richer considered experience or more precisely, in a richer considered experience of a diversity of approaches to teaching and learning. Every teacher iterates their practice in the light of that.

    As for paintings and descriptions – an anecdote of my own. For many years I took children on a half-termly basis to the National Gallery where museum educators used precisely that technique to elicit observations of the paintings and the narratives/contexts behind the canvases there, and paintings, often depicting individuals. They used that very technique in the first instance to ensure focus and close observation and then, in the next, flooded the pupils with a wealth of factual knowledge and historical context until the students were ineluctably drawn into the painters’ worlds and times. I think teaching and learning, sometimes, requires a richer, more varied approach…

  9. An excellent read – thanks, Debra. It is easy to take a view which is polarised according to the personal experience, personal preferences and the ideological influences of teachers, rather than considering that there is value in achieving a balanced view (such as you have done here). Thinking further, perhaps it would also be valuable for us to listen more to the voices of learners in the “debate” (or would that be considered too “progressive”)?

  10. Having read the book several times I found this review interesting, accurate and compelling. I would tend to advise the average teacher to spend their money signing up to a resource website for a months or two rather that buy the book.

  11. I am intrigued by this article and by the comments. It seems that there is an almost irresistible momentum toward finding a middle ground here. It is tempting to try to rise above the debate and point out that everyone has a valid contribution to make.

    However, I am mindful that history often judges the middle ground as unkindly as it judges the extremes. The most important thing is not to bring peace between teachers but to try to work out what is right. There are more effective and less effective approaches to education and I believe that we have a responsibility to try to establish what these are.

    Daisy does not ridicule any philosophers. Rather, she points out the significance of their thought for what is happening today in education. And they are hugely significant. If we just take the example of Friere, “In 2003, David Steiner and Susan Rozen published a study examining the curricula of 16 schools of education—14 of them among the top-ranked institutions in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report—and found that Pedagogy of the Oppressed was one of the most frequently assigned texts in their philosophy of education courses. These course assignments are undoubtedly part of the reason that, according to the publisher, almost 1 million copies have sold, a remarkable number for a book in the education field.” This is from a report about the influence of Friere on US Ed Schools by Sol Stern (http://city-journal.org/2009/19_2_freirian-pedagogy.html). It may well be that Friere was writing in an entirely different context but it does not stop Ed Schools finding his writings highly significant to this day.

    I managed to complete teacher training in the 1990s and then over ten years of teaching before I had even heard the phrase “direct instruction”. And yet Englemann’s direct instruction had been demonstrated as the most effective strategy in the massively funded US Project Follow Through in the 1970s and 1980s. What can possibly account for this collective looking-away from the evidence other than a deeply based ideology which direct instruction does not fit? I therefore do not share Laura’s concerns that we’ll suddenly start teaching all lessons using a misrepresented DI model.

    Wherever you look (Hattie effect sizes, cognitive science), evidence supports explicit instruction (I use this term to differentiate it from the quite specific meaning of DI as defined by Englemann) strategies as the most effective and yet programmes – notable Project Zero but there are many others – continue to promote inquiry learning / discovery learning / problem base learning as the most effective forms of instruction, often by inventing concepts such as “deep” learning or 21st century skills that these strategies are supposedly better at developing. As I have shown in my blog, many educationalists are quite explicit in their de-emphasising of knowledge.

    The very real result of this is that many students go to schools where subject knowledge is seen as mere context and not worth focusing on. This leads to worse outcomes for these students. When we ask why Oxbridge recruit so few students from state schools, we assume it is because snobbery is built in to the system. However, it may be the case that state schools just don’t systematically develop the content knowledge that the rigorous and technical Oxbridge interviews require.

    The review above is admirable in that it largely avoids emotive terms and I commend Debra for this. However, I do think that the discussion of Daisy’s teaching is a little disingenuous. Daisy makes explicit in the book that the evidence for the myths is collected from sources other than her own teaching and that these anecdotes are only meant to be illustrative. It is the much larger body of evidence that Daisy presents that needs to be engaged with in order to falsify her claims.

  12. I genuinely think this is the first attempt to directly argue against the content of the Seven Myths book rather than find excuses to dismiss it, and as such is very welcome. Would you mind if I reblog it on The Echo Chamber? That said I think this misses the mark badly on most of the key points.

    Philosophy.

    “Poisoning the well” is not a valid argument. If there was cruelty in the systems key progressive thinkers were reacting against, that does nothing to validate the systems they were arguing for. We can no more justify progressive education by saying some traditional educators would beat children for academic failure than we could justify traditional education by observing that A.S.Neill would expose his genitals to small children and engage them in conversations about masturbation. No educational ideology can be judged by the worst possible examples.

    With regard to the philosophical framework itself, I think that progressive education is wider than 7 Myths lets on. Rousseau’s liberalism, Dewy’s pragmatism and Freire’s Marxism do not paint the whole picture. Bertrand Russell was one of the strongest proponents of progressive education but doesn’t really share any of those perspectives. There are versions of progressive education based on thinkers ranging for Plato to Popper. It has been advocated by fascists, Marxists, libertarians and liberals. One short-lived progressive fad, the Initial Teaching Alphabet, was invented by a Tory MP. The picture in 7 Myths can be criticised for not being broad enough as it focuses only on particular key figures.

    However, you have replaced it with an even narrower picture. Traditional education is not simply about taking exams. I’m struggling to imagine any real justification for crediting Descartes with traditional education. Was nobody taught knowledge before him? Did nobody have any ideas about teacher expertise or teacher authority before him? Almost everyone before him seems to have been traditionalist, except Plato who for some reason you put in the same tradition. Perhaps you think traditional education is about rationalism, and therefore Plato and Descartes are responsible as rationalists? But this makes the picture in 7 Myths look broad by comparison. Traditional education can claim ideas from Catholicism and Classicism (but not Plato). Romanticism may be seen as largely on the side of progressive education, but Arnold is a significant exception. Twentieth century philosophers who criticised progressive education include Gramsci, Oakeshott and Arendt none of whom are really in the tradition of Descartes, but a strong argument can be made that Dewey and Russell were. I think you have found a mote in the eye of 7 Myths while missing a beam in your own.

    Science

    You seem to be under the impression that science is about quoting the names of scientists. Daisy loses because she (according to you, although not the case in reality) cites only Willingham, and you cite loads more people (although I wonder how many would agree that they do oppose Willingham). Apart from being the very opposite of how science should work, this means you simply have ignored the actual arguments from cognitive science presented in 7 Myths or, for that matter, in Willingham’s work. Have any of your names actually directly condemned any of those ideas? More importantly have they presented evidence against them? Or is this all just your interpretation?

    And if we must argue from authority, by my count precisely 0 cognitive psychologists have criticised 7 Myths. Meanwhile Steven Pinker seems to have joined Dan Willingham in endorsing it.

    OFSTED

    Examples of progressive education are everywhere. The book could have gone to 8000 pages if it attempted to survey every influential example. For somebody who got thousands of people to endorse an argument for a progressive curriculum it seems odd that you would reject this proposition. If 7 Myths used only the most influential examples then OFSTED rightly tops the list. If you wish to argue that OFSTED has little influence then go for it, but I don’t think you are going to get very far with it. I also think you have a point that some students will try to do intelligent, academic work even when given largely empty tasks by their teachers. However, what students do despite their teachers is hardly an endorsement of the methods of their teachers. Is it, say, an endorsement of groupwork to notice that sometimes individuals do excellent work in a “groupwork” lesson by ignoring the rest of their group?

    Experience and Professional Judgement

    You appear to have confused illustrative examples with evidence. That said, the book is in my view persuasive because so many teachers have had similar experiences. Should we all assume that where we have seen progressive education failing it’s because those particular practitioners were not good enough? And for that reason nobody should mention those experiences when explaining their case? But if so, then I think you need to explain your use of the example of how your mother was treated from this blogpost. Or are you really intending to argue that your examples illustrate what was common in the system, whereas those in 7 Myths only illustrate isolated examples of failure?

    Overall I welcome your attempt to engage, but I feel you have mainly attempted to present an alternative narrative not identified any error of reasoning or fact within 7 Myths. Is there anything that is actually wrong and there is evidence to suggest it is wrong?

    1. I am happy for you to reblog it thank you.

      My point about Philosophy was simply that there was a wider tradition influencing education than the book suggested and that all Philosophy should be framed within its context. One – the strand you identify here as rationalism – was presented not only as a mode of examination, but as a model of intelligence, which has now largely been discredited – it is not possible, for example to separate emotion and reason. That said, I argue neither for progressive nor traditional education – more for a ‘horses for courses’ approach. I think Phonics and many aspects of Mathematics are best taught one way and Arts and Literature another. That’s a personal opinion, but one directed by the nature of the knowledge being acquired and the need in one area, for knowledge to be built and mastered in sequence and in another to be investigated. As an English teacher, there are some lessons where I need to teach them ‘stuff’ – key terms for example. In others, where we’re investigating themes, effects, subtext etc, a different approach is more effective. A broader look at the science would have allowed for a fuller exploration of which modes of teaching might be best for which purpose.

      With regard to the Ofsted comments, as I wrote I am largely in agreement that the reports are cause for concern, but again for different reasons – context is crucial in analysing these. Many Headteachers and consultants use this context free evidence to promote practices in their schools which you have also recognised as problematic. Hence we have a ridiculous situation that teachers try to demonstrate progress every twenty minutes or feel they cannot talk to children. This is clearly nonsense. However to declare it as evidence that the whole system is progressive is wrong. The examples of lessons from teacher bloggers like Gordon Baillie, Chris Hildew, Alex Quigley for English, Kris Boulton (who used narrative sequencing so effectively in Maths) and so on clearly show that there is a healthy balance and strong examples in the system. These need to be more widely shared.

      It was never my intention to argue whether or not the book was wrong or right, but merely to widen the debate and your engagement with it is very welcome indeed. Thank you.

      1. I agree with Andrew – it’s so refreshing to see someone engaging with the content for once, instead of cowering behind thinly-veiled personal attacks. Great stuff Debra.

        Anything else I would say has already been said by others, and far better than I could manage.

    2. con·de·scend·ing
      /ˌkändəˈsendiNG/
      Adjective
      Acting in a way that betrays a feeling of patronizing superiority.
      (of an action) Demonstrating such an attitude.
      Synonyms
      patronizing – gracious

    3. I need to make a correction here. While presumably Dan Willingham has endorsed those ideas that he originated which appear in 7 Myths, I shouldn’t have implied he has endorsed the book or indeed commented on it yet.

  13. An excellent, and well thought our review.

    I totally agree with your “horses for courses” comment. My frustration with this whole progressive vs traditionalist debate happening at the moment is that people become entrenched in their own view as the ‘best’ way to educate children. In reality, it’s good teaching that’s important. That means experienced practitioners who understand what they are teaching and the pupils they teach and use their hard-won skills to great effect. Some teachers will be particularly good at a traditionalist approach, some people might find a more pupil-centred approach works. It took me around five years teaching to find my own style of teaching, having followed lots of advice over that time, some good, some bad. I’ve had well planned brilliant lesson ideas crumble in my hands, and ideas I’ve had five mins before the lesson turn into pedagogical gold. I’m still learning though, and each year brings new challenges where I have to question, change and refine my approach. That’s the joy of the job, and why boredom is so rare.

    I like your ofsted/football metaphor – I have seen first hand the very destructive process too many schools follow of second-guessing what Ofsted will want, and forcing teachers into completely unnatural show teaching. I think the main problem here is the sheer power Ofsted have to make or break schools, rather than Ofsted themselves and the way they inspect. In my experience it’s school leadership who do the damage, driven by terror, not the inspectors themselves. Ofsted should be one measure of judging schools’ performance, not the only one.

    To improve standards in school, what we need experienced, hard working teachers who are happy in their job. It’s a crying shame that nearly 50% are leaving in the first five years – that turnover is surely having a very damaging effect. I think that at the moment the retoric and ratcheting up of pressure from the government and Ofsted is only going to make that worse, as is anyone who confidently claims that they know the ‘best way’ to teach. That leads to disillusioned people leaving teaching wondering why they ‘failed’ despite following every piece of advice they were given.

  14. For me it would be nice to actually pin down which argument is currently raging.

    Is it the knowledge vs skills debate or the traditional vs progressive discussion.

    Or is it the rote learning vs conceptual/active/collaborative debate.

    A great post and probably the most interesting comments I have seen on this stuff so far.

    Great stuff.

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