Ideas Holding Back Education

A recently released e-book exposes seven ideas (myths) that permeate the world of education, while all the time holding back student achievement.

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. reviews the book in his blog.

A British schoolteacher, Daisy Christodoulou, has just published a short, pungent e-book called Seven Myths about Education. It’s a must-read for anyone in a position to influence our low-performing public school system. The book’s focus is on British education, but it deserves to be nominated as a “best book of 2013? on American education, because there’s not a farthing’s worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas.

Here are Ms Christodoulou’s seven myths:

1 – Facts prevent understanding
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive
3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything
4 – You can always just look it up
5 – We should teach transferable skills
6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

Christodoulou incriminates schools of education from her own personal experience:

I discussed the way that many educational theorists used the concept of hegemony to explain the way that certain ideas and practices become accepted by people within an institution. Hegemony is a useful concept. I would argue that the myths I have discussed here are hegemonic within the education system. It is hard to have a discussion about education without sooner or later hitting one of these myths. As theorists of hegemony realise, the most powerful thing about hegemonic ideas is that they seem to be natural common sense. They are just a normal part of everyday life. This makes them exceptionally difficult to challenge, because it does not seem as if there is anything there to challenge. However, as the theorists of hegemony also realised, hegemonic ideas depend on certain unseen processes. One tactic is the suppression of all evidence that contradicts them. I trained as a teacher, taught for three years, attended numerous in-service training days, wrote several essays about education and followed educational policy closely without ever even encountering any of the evidence about knowledge I speak of here, let alone actually hearing anyone advocate it. … For three years I struggled to improve my pupils’ education without ever knowing that I could be using hugely more effective methods. 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. We need to reform the main teacher training and inspection agencies so that they stop promoting completely discredited ideas and give more space to theories with much greater scientific backing.

Based upon the “hegemonic” thought system teachers find themselves. E.D. Hirsch makes this prediction about the Common Core initiative.

If educators had been less captivated by anti-knowledge myths, they could have met the requirements of NCLB, and made adequate yearly progress for all groups. . . Our educators now stand ready to commit the same mistakes with the Common Core State Standards. . . If the Common Core standards fail as NCLB did, it will not be because the standards themselves are defective. It will be because our schools are completely dominated by the seven myths analyzed by Daisy Christodoulou.

 

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