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Book Review: The Great Exception By Ian Stock

March 28, 2021

The Great Exception by Ian Stock. Published by John Catt Educational Limited. £15 

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies.. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased. 

This is an unusual book. It is a book by an experienced classroom teacher discussing teaching that is offering informed opinions, rather than advice on how to do the job. At no point does it say “this is how to best teach”, it just tries to get under the skin of the job. It’s the sort of book that would be more common if we expected teachers to last in the classroom long enough to be able to reflect on it at length, while still being primarily engaged in teaching. In a world where people who haven’t taught regular lessons to kids in decades are considered experts on teaching, and in many contexts given authority to speak on behalf of teachers, a book like this that reflects on the job without offering advice is a rarity.

How much you get out of it might depend on how much you agree with the analysis and agree that it is saying something important. Stock relies a bit much on just a few ideas, like “Affluenza”*, managerialism and the limits of both market approaches and scientific approaches to the craft of teaching. But even if you think other factors are more important in shaping the profession these days, there seems to be truth in all these points. Perhaps it is at times unsatisfying that Stock doesn’t take the ideas to an extreme where you can really disagree with him. You are more likely to think “but he doesn’t mention X” than to think “he is completely wrong about Y”. You are more likely to think that your own experience differs from his, than to think he is misleading you about what he is seeing in schools.

Instead, the book seeks to prompt discussion more than it seeks to give answers. At times this is a weakness, and some of it seems more suited to, say, a thought-provoking  column in an education periodical, than the chapter of a book. (Seriously, he should be given a regular column in TES or Schools Week or whatever.) But it’s also a strength in that the book would be great for a teachers’ book group to discuss. Even in the shortest chapters could probably be discussed for hours by a group of experienced teachers.

I want people to buy the book, because I want there to be books out there that simply say what the job is like from a particular position of experience and wisdom.

* “the dysfunction brought by effects of socially competitive greed” (from the Oliver James book)

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