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Discussing the 7 Myths About Education

July 7, 2013

If you have had the misfortune to follow me on Twitter recently then you may have seen me getting very frustrated about how those with opposing views have reacted to Daisy Christodoulou’s recent e-book, “7 Myths about Education“. The most common response was to dismiss either the myths or the debate without any solid argument beyond a complaint about false dichotomies, often without reading the book. Others have launched apparently hate-filled, personal attacks which I have yet to see anybody from that side of the debate condemn.

So, I was really relieved to read this post from Debra Kidd (yes, that Debra Kidd) which engaged directly with the content. Please read it, as what follows won’t make much sense without it. I wrote a response to it in the comments, but as there may have been points in my response worth discussing in more detail, I present it here as well:

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 endorsed 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?

18 comments

  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  2. It took Daisy Christodoulou a good deal of time and effort to write the book and I am sure people appreciate that fact. I am sure people also appreciate that she is sincere and believes every word written therein.

    Many teachers and others have written about their reflections having read the book (having spent their hard earned teacher salary).

    I think it fair to say that the book is not seen by most as a scholarly work, and despite your protestations on here I think it fair to say that most will never see it that way. Many have “reviewed” the book as a non scholarly work and my observation has been that generally people have not been persuaded.

    Many saw misssmith’s post as being appropriate and on the button. It deals with the fact that the most positive responses came from the originator of the ideas contained and members of the Echochamber team who have raved about the importance of the book to the UK educational system. It aso deals with the context surrounding the writing of the book. You wrote about personal attacks and despite the fact that many replied saying that they hadn’t found it to be a peresonal attack you simply continued with the same line.

    I think people now find the whole thing to be a bit tedious. I think Debra Kidd did well to summon the enthusiasm to post the reflection that she did, a reflection which many will see as having very valid ideas.

    The vast majority of teachers that I know would agree that the UK education system now contains objectives that are a mix of knowledge and skills. There does seem to be an argument about the extent to which skills should be taught at the expense of knowledge and vice versa.

    To go through the whole book to identify poor arguments and interpretations would take a good deal of time but I think few people are willing to invest the time as there is little point.

    For me the interpretation of Bloom’s taxonomy (which even Bloom et al have agreed was faulty and has now been replaced) was sloppy at best and therefore when used to support the arguments contained lacks credibility. One would have to spend probably the whole weekend on a scholarly review for a work that is not a scholarly work.

    Hopefully people with time on their hands will do what you seem to require and I will keep reading just in case.


    • It took Daisy Christodoulou a good deal of time and effort to write the book and I am sure people appreciate that fact. I am sure people also appreciate that she is sincere and believes every word written therein.

      Actually some of the comment has not even been that charitable. There was one person who made a comment about “government sponsored educationalists” and tried to suggest a financial motive.

      Many teachers and others have written about their reflections having read the book (having spent their hard earned teacher salary).

      I think it fair to say that the book is not seen by most as a scholarly work, and despite your protestations on here I think it fair to say that most will never see it that way. Many have “reviewed” the book as a non scholarly work and my observation has been that generally people have not been persuaded.

      This seems to be equivocation.

      On the one hand, I can agree that it is not “scholarly” if by that you mean it is not written by an academic, based on journal articles, aimed primarily at those in a university, edited by an academic or published by an academic publisher.

      On the other hand, I cannot agree with that it is not “scholarly” if by that you mean it isn’t intelligently argued, thoroughly researched, based on remarkable personal expertise or below the intellectual standards required for writing academic books on education..

      Which do you mean?

      Many saw misssmith’s post as being appropriate and on the button.

      Many think it is okay to conduct debate by making personal attacks and ignoring actual arguments. I don’t.

      It deals with the fact that the most positive responses came from the originator of the ideas contained and members of the Echochamber team who have raved about the importance of the book to the UK educational system.

      So a couple of internationally renowned academics and a large group of UK teachers who write blogs? You get that the Echo Chamber isn’t a couple of people I met down the pub, right?

      Clearly worth dismissing.

      Mind you, I seem to recall David Didau was very positive and Steven Pinker was tweeting links. And didn’t Michael Gove mention the book? And Sam Freedman?

      I don’t really see the point here. It certainly doesn’t justify making nasty allegations about Daisy wanting to leave the classroom as soon as possible.

      It also deals with the context surrounding the writing of the book. You wrote about personal attacks and despite the fact that many replied saying that they hadn’t found it to be a peresonal attack you simply continued with the same line.

      One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that people say a lot of things on the internet they can’t defend rationally. When they give a decent argument then I will reconsider my views, but I’m long past the point where I will doubt the apparently obvious just because people find incoherent reasons to deny it. There are those who claim bad behaviour is rare in British schools, mixed-ability teaching works really well even in maths, and that exams are as hard now as in the 1950s. People claim a lot of ludicrous things.

      I think people now find the whole thing to be a bit tedious. I think Debra Kidd did well to summon the enthusiasm to post the reflection that she did, a reflection which many will see as having very valid ideas.

      The vast majority of teachers that I know would agree that the UK education system now contains objectives that are a mix of knowledge and skills. There does seem to be an argument about the extent to which skills should be taught at the expense of knowledge and vice versa.

      To go through the whole book to identify poor arguments and interpretations would take a good deal of time but I think few people are willing to invest the time as there is little point.

      Are you seriously going to assert that there are loads of bad arguments but nobody can be bothered to find them?

      That’s weak.

      Besides which, to reject the argument of a book you really only have to identify any bad arguments that would undermine the main points, not critique every page.

      For me the interpretation of Bloom’s taxonomy (which even Bloom et al have agreed was faulty and has now been replaced) was sloppy at best and therefore when used to support the arguments contained lacks credibility. One would have to spend probably the whole weekend on a scholarly review for a work that is not a scholarly work.

      Hopefully people with time on their hands will do what you seem to require and I will keep reading just in case.

      I admit it’s been a while since I read it and it was an early draft, but I can’t see how her arguments are generally dependent on her analysis of Bloom’s taxonomy. This sounds more like you have identified one point you could argue over, and are using this to poison the well.


      • “On the other hand, I cannot agree with that it is not “scholarly” if by that you mean it isn’t intelligently argued, thoroughly researched, based on remarkable personal expertise or below the intellectual standards required for writing academic books on education..”

        That is how I found the book. I used the term as work that makes justifiable claims to knowledge. This book didn’t do that for me.

        “Are you seriously going to assert that there are loads of bad arguments but nobody can be bothered to find them?”

        No. I am suggesting that a good many people can see the issues and have posted on individual issues. People cannot generally be bothered to create a comprehensive critique as they do not have as much invested in the book as you do.

        “Clearly worth dismissing.”

        Nothing dismissed. Simply makes the point that the most positive responses came from the originator of many of the ideas and Echochamber team members. One or two were so far over the top that I actually laughed on reading them. They may have been very astute reviews and I may be out of touch, but either way the post to which you referred dealt with the issue.

        Who were the internationally renowned academics?

        “You get that the Echo Chamber isn’t a couple of people I met down the pub, right?”

        I have no idea where you met the team or even if you have ever met them. I have just commented that the rave reviews have generally come from members of the team. Pub or no pub.

        “I admit it’s been a while since I read it and it was an early draft, but I can’t see how her arguments are generally dependent on her analysis of Bloom’s taxonomy. This sounds more like you have identified one point you could argue over, and are using this to poison the well.”

        You can suggest that if you wish (although as usual you have no grounds to make this assertion), makes no difference to me. I can see that this would suit your line of reasoning. You are so easily offended yourslef but you seemt to think it quite ok to suggest that others are being disingenuous. Having follwed your posts for many years now I would expect nothing less.

        I am saying two things….

        1 The use of Bloom’s taxonomy was both out of date and poorly constructed.
        2 I believe a number of people have picked up a number of porrly evidenced/constructed arguments/assertions. I honestly don’t believe that people can be bothered to spend a lot of time pulling the whole book to pieces. You could look around the internet and find a number of issues raised as I am absolutely sure you already have (as have many).

        I only picked the Bloom’s taxonomy part as it was convenient to quote and I had already exchanged pleasantaries with Harry Webb on the subject.

        I only need to find one poorly contructed argument/assertion to make me question the contruction of the rest. You may think that unreasonable but that is the point of scholarly work and peer review etc


        • That is how I found the book. I used the term as work that makes justifiable claims to knowledge. This book didn’t do that for me.

          If you were going to assert something so bizarre then you should have said it clearly. It wouldn’t make it more plausible but it would at least make it look like you were ready to defend it.

          No. I am suggesting that a good many people can see the issues and have posted on individual issues. People cannot generally be bothered to create a comprehensive critique as they do not have as much invested in the book as you do.

          Given that my post claimed that there was a lack of proper counter-argument, it seems odd you’d contradict me without providing examples.

          As for your circumstantial ad hominem, you don’t have a clue what I do or do not have invested. However, for the sake of perspective, at least five people I know through blogging have had books out this year.

          Nothing dismissed.

          Right, and then you go on to discuss who made the reviews instead of the content some more.

          I’m not sure how to make this any clearer. A circumstantial ad hominem is not an argument.

          You can suggest that if you wish (although as usual you have no grounds to make this assertion),

          I gave the grounds. Please don’t bother replying if you are going to ignore what I say.


    • ‘It took Daisy Christodoulou a good deal of time and effort to write the book and I am sure people appreciate that fact. I am sure people also appreciate that she is sincere and believes every word written therein.’

      How incredibly patronising of you! Let’s indeed pat the little working-class girl with the funny foreign name on the head, because she’s put sooo much effort in, when she could have been making cookies.

      I presume, further, that when you say that ‘people also appreciate that she … believes every word written therein’ actually translates to ‘people see that she’s a silly little airhead with cotton wool for brains’.

      Shame on you and your weasel words (not for the first time).


      • This one I won’t dignify with a response. Other than this.


        • No defence, then. Thought so.


  3. the Initial Teaching Alphabet,

    I’d forgotten all about that. I remember when I was doing my A Levels (back in the late 70’s) that my History teacher said he could always spot a pupil who had been taught to read using that system because they couldn’t spell. It seems hard to credit that this idea was taken seriously. Or, in the light of ‘Brain Gym’, perhaps it doesn’t.


  4. It just shows the unassailable strength of Daisy’s arguments that nobody apart from La Kidd (who doesn’t do it very well) is prepared to actually engage with them, and that all the attacks have either been personal mudslinging, conspiracy theories (see Sue Cowley below the Kidd piece) or bits of childishness like the Mastermind piece you link to.

    Some of us have actually won Mastermind ourselves. Ironically, given the context, we know that to do so you need to have experienced the kind of knowledge-rich education that Daisy is advocating. Her critics wouldn’t be able to tell John Humphrys their own names, let alone teach anyone proper ly


  5. “It just shows the unassailable strength of Daisy’s arguments”

    LOL…if you say so it must be…after all you are a mastermind winner

    “Her critics wouldn’t be able to tell John Humphrys their own names, let alone teach anyone properly”

    Feel better now?


  6. Oldandrew

    There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm to enter into debate. Maybe the tennis or perhaps people feel it is a waste of their time.

    It is not your style, but in order that I might better understand, is it possible for you to tell me the bit of evidence that supports myth1…

    “Myth 1 ….Facts prevent understanding”

    If I read this myth correctly, it says that in some way learning facts will either in the present or at some time in the future prevent one from gaining understanding.

    Which bit of evidence was the most persuasive?


  7. You’ve never showed any sign of recognising an argument, let alone proposing a decent one. The intellectual emptiness of progressive education is demonstrated, in this as on every other occasion, by the puerility of its proponents, of whom you are one.

    Daisy and I have shown, through our quiz achievements, that we have the breadth and depth of knowledge required to teach people. Do you? If so, please present some evidence. I’ve read two years’ worth of your ramblings, and I’m yet to see any.


  8. http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2013/07/02/a-game-changing-education-book-from-england/

    No other comment needed, especially not from the deniers and debunkers.


    • Hi. I followed the link. There is an extract from the book and I have just copied this part:

      I would spend entire lessons quietly observing my pupils chatting away in groups about complete misconceptions and I would think that the problem in the lesson was that I had been too prescriptive.

      If this is what the people training Daisy were telling her to do, then I can see why she feels so passionately that things have gone badly wrong. But where has all this come from? I did my PGCE in 1980 and was never expected to carry on in this fashion. Was it on her PGCE course she was told to do this or was it someone at the school? Did her Head of Department know/approve of what she was doing? Or even expecting it? I’m amazed.This is like nothing I have ever seen in any English department i have worked in.

      I shall read a copy over the holidays.


      • It was the OFSTED-inspired way of doing things from about 2004 onwards.


        • OFSTED, eh?

          Years ago I read a story about a journalist interviewing a Catholic Bishop. The journalist was asking questions about Papal infallibility and wondered how Catholics coped when one Pope changed the theological ruling of a previous Pope: meaning that one authentic and binding interpretation of God’s will was replaced by another one that might well contradict the previous interpretation.

          The Bishop smile serenely and replied, ‘We just move from one state of certainty to another.’

          And that, to me, sums up the OFSTED approach. The thee part lesson plan, the four part lesson plan, the five part lesson plan…,and now there’s no need for a lesson plan. When they see excellent teaching they will just know it.

          Having said that, from 2004 I was working in an English department in a secondary modern school near Manchester. We didn’t go in for any of the type of approach that Daisy seems to have (temporarily) embraced. We had OFSTED inspections and the department always came out OK.

          What was your experience? Were you forced into teaching like this? I thought that what most departments did was nod, smile, stick a level beside the learning objective and just carry on as before.



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