Top positive review
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Good starting point for understanding modern education
on September 15, 2015
Education has been and continues to be subject a large number of fads and
attempts at reform of which many have produced no improvement and many
have been detrimental to the students who were the unwitting test subjects
in these experiments. The usefulness of this book depends on how familiar
you are with the existing scientific literature on teaching and learning. I am
a teacher and I was already familiar with almost everything covered in
this book. This doesn't make it a bad book, but you have to ask yourself
how much you already know about the problems with currently popular educational
practices. If you are concerned about education either as a parent, student,
teacher or educational administrator and don't know where to start
then I recommend this book as a good starting place. It is specifically
about the English school system but the English don't have these problems
on their own. Where I work ``experiential learning'' is one of the current
buzz words and the administrators want to create a register of transferable
skills for all courses we teach. The science adviser to our Prime Minister
recently launched the ``participatory science project'' which appears
to be a programme much like some of the failed ideas discussed in this book.
So there is much of value for people who do not live in England.
I'll say now that I don't like the way the word ``myth'' is used in the
title so I will call the seven ``myths'' harmful fallacies because I think
that better reflects what they are.
Each chapter is structured in the same way with three parts.
The first part addresses the theory behind each educational idea. It
identifies the leading theorists and summarizes their ideas. The end notes
in each chapter give references to original sources if you want to check
them or do additional reading. It is interesting that even
though the author clearly considers these ideas to be harmful fallacies,
they do come across as very plausible and it is easy to see why they
are attractive to teachers, educational administrators, parents and
The second part addresses the question -- are these ideas
actually being used in the classroom? Educational theorists can think and
published any idea they like, but as long as no one is using their ideas
then there is nothing to be concerned about. The author draws a lot of her
evidence from school inspection reports from the English
Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills. There
are other sources which the author uses, each of which is identified in
detail in the end notes. In each case the author presents a strong case
that each of these harmful fallacies is used in practice in English
schools and that that practice is supported and encouraged by the statutory
bodies responsible for monitoring the quality of education in English schools.
The third part addresses the issue -- why do these very plausible and
widely used methods fail? For people who are not familiar with the
scientific literature on teaching and learning, it is extremely difficult
to figure out what is wrong. All these ideas seem so plausible that they
seem to be self-evidently true. The fact that they fail in practice seems
a baffling mystery. Without wishing to give too much away and detract from
the author's sales, a common thread which runs through a number of these
teaching methods is that they overload working memory and make very
ineffective use of long term memory leading to a lot of effort expended
and very little learned. Of course, that is not the sole reason and
details of other problems are given and the reader is provided
with references to the original research findings. I think she has
summarized in an easily readable for the present state of scientific
evidence about the ineffecitiveness of these harmful fallacies.
There is one which is different and that is in chapter seven which
addresses ``knowledge is indoctrination''. That is clearly ideologically
driven something which you either chose to beleive or not believe but
which doesn't lend itself to careful scientific investigation.
The book as two forwards, a set of acknowledgements prior to the
book proper, then an introduction, the seven chapter titles are
Ch1 Facts prevent understanding
Ch2 Teacher-lead instruction is passive
Ch3 The twenty-first century fundamentally changes everything
Ch4 You can always look it up
Ch5 We should teach transferable skills
Ch6 Projects and activities are the best way to learn
Ch7 Teaching knowledge is indoctrination.
Finally there is a conclusion and an index. The index was three pages
and I found it adequate for my needs. There are a few typos but it was
fairly easy to understand what was being said in sentences with errors.
This book isn't the last word on any of these subjects so a natural
question is -- where to now? After reading the book, if you are convinced
that the author is wrong I don't have any recommendations. But if you are
persuaded by the evidence presented, then the obvious thing is to try to
change the education system to use practices which are known to be better. But
for students and parents this change will almost certainly be too
slow to make a difference on the time scales necessary. Even if you
can bring about change, your children will pass through several years of
education learning very little. So in the short term parents and students
must try to find ways that they can make up for the deficits being created
within their particular education system. Rather going straight to subject
matter and age specific recommendations I think a good next step would be
to read D. T. Willingham's ``Why Don't Students Like School?''
Willingham is a cognitive scientist. His book will give you a deeper
understanding of learning and hence, I hope, a better idea of what to look
for when trying to help your son or daughter, if you are a parent, or
trying to help yourself if you are a student.
I believe people award stars too easily so my final judgement is four stars.
Its a good book but primarily a compilation of other people's work. A good
starting point but if you already know quite a bit about the subject it
won't add much to your understanding.