The Curse of Common Sense


How many uses can you think of?

As argument rages between progressives and traditionalists, there have been widespread calls for better research into the question of whether young children should have the opportunity to experiment with sharp knives. Amazingly, no large scale, government funded research has been conducted into this vital question.

The progressive camp insists that the time has come to reject the prejudices of the past, and allow children to discover for themselves the properties of knives, as well as other kitchen implements such as food blenders and kettles. They are disgusted with the narrow minded assertions of the traditionalist camp that it is just common sense to provide the young and inexperienced with carefully controlled instruction under adult authority before allowing them to use such implements independently.

One educational expert commented, “These people claim, without the slightest bit of research evidence, that knives should not be made available to young children to experiment with. They have the temerity to appeal to common sense! They need to stop restricting children’s activities unless they can provide conclusive evidence that it is necessary to do so.”

It seems that the practice of placing sharp knives within the reach of young children is growing in popularity, following the runaway success of a YouTube video created by Sir Chris Bobbins, in which he points out that the adult world has been tyrannically restricting the creativity of the young. He gives convincing evidence of this, by showing that a three year old can think of thousands of uses for a sharp knife, whereas a thirty year old can barely manage half a dozen. Clearly the abundant imagination of children needs to be allowed to flower more fully. As another progressive thinker has memorably said, the ‘greatest resource we have in our kitchens is the children’s imagination’.

Despite such convincing arguments and the lack of any conclusive research evidence for restricting the availability of sharp knives, there remain a significant minority of naysayers who insist that it has been the practice of the human race throughout history to train the young under adult supervision. They even consider adult authority to be paramount in the kitchen, thus preventing our young people from developing into independent minded citizens who can question the powerful.

These people really need to understand that appealing to the past in such an unthinking way will never convince the modern, forward-thinking person of the twenty-first century. The burden of proof should surely rest upon those who would stifle the creativity of the young, not upon those who are determined to liberate it.

[Image from Wikimedia]


7 thoughts on “The Curse of Common Sense

  1. Yes, there is a tendency on the left to demand at the first opportunity that every statement needs to be built open a substructure of complementary academic research papers. This has many issues, key among them, that every conversation needs to rest upon highly abstruse arguments and conclusions (a technocratic societal pathway) and that those perspectives that do not find favour within academe are thus unsupportable as arguments in the wider world.


  2. LOL! Brilliant!

    I had my own daydream one day recently after reading, yet again, a fellow U.S. teacher extolling the insight of that other Sir’s video, in which the Sir condemns schools for crushing young people’s creativity. I pictured this scene at a business staff meeting:

    Boss: Our Asian supply chain is having trouble meeting its just-in-time shipments. We need to come up with a solution to this bottleneck.

    Eager new employee: We’ve got lots of paper clips, right? I mean, I must have a few hundred just on my own desk. Why don’t we use a chain of paper clips to link the various facilities? Then we can ship parts by sliding them along these paper clip chains! Simple! (Sits back in chair with triumphant look on face)

    Boss: (in an aside to executive assistant) Who is that clown, and who hired him?

    Thank you for starting my day here on this side of the Atlantic with a good laugh.


    • I get a bit of a sinking feeling whenever someone posts and analogy to prove a point, only they pick an analogy which doesn’t really prove their point, in fact it goes a long way to shifting views in the opposite direction. A sort of “analogous irony”.

      I also get a sinking feeling when people then chirp in about “left wing”, “ring wing”, “progressive”, “traditional” etc when these really have little or no relevance. They just wish to extend the thing further for whatever reason.

      You see, anyone with any common sense at all, which was after all the title of the post, can see the weakness in the points made. Whether it is best to “tell” a kid that a knife is dangerous, or to demonstrate the dangerousness of the knife by cutting a slice of bread, the truth is that one very good way to let a kid learn that playing with knives is dangerous is to let a kid play with knives.

      Clearly to let a very young child simply play with a knife would be foolish as even after they had cut themselves once they might still do the thing again. They would probably not learn.

      I am absolutely sure that many older children do in fact actually “learn” that knives are dangerous when they do play with them, ignoring the advice (teaching) of their parents. Some will actually play with knives because they have been told they are dangerous and should not be played with.

      Telling a child that a knife is “dangerous” does not mean that they will be prevented from playing with them.

      Perhaps allowing kids to play with “slightly sharp” knives and things which will hurt them minimally but teach them and important lesson is actually a good way of going about things. I say that from my experience of being a child, my experience of being an adult, my experience of being a father, my experience of being a grandfather and my experience of being a teacher etc.

      So common sense does not tell me that even though there is a lack of research, it is obvious that in all cases and in all situations playing with knives is not the way to go.

      I also have to laugh, as people who see themselves as “traditional” are often the first first to ask for empirical support. “Evidence based practice” I think they tend to call it. I appreciate that so called “progressives” also often ask for evidence, but you seem to place such a thing firmly in the realm of the “progressive”

      I am not a progressive or a traditionalist, but I do know that there are some things, in some situations that are learned more effectively by doing the. What Eisner used to refer to in the old days (not the progressive new days) as experiential objectives. I know that there are some things that are more effectively learned by actually doing them, I would be the first to agree that for knowledge transfer, direct instruction/transfer is often the most efficient and sometimes the most effective way of doing the thing.

      For me this is common sense. The same common sense you are advocating if I understand the post correctly.

      The other point I would make, is that it is quite possible to teach a child about the dangers of knives by letting them experiment with them using a variety of approaches which illustrate the harm they can cause while reducing or eliminating the dangers to the child. These ideas would need a little “creativity” as Ken Robinson would call it, but it can easily be achieved.

      I have been reading your blogposts since you started posting them and they always give cause for reflection even if I don’t agree. You do seem however to be drifting towards what I see as that position where it is assumed that because you have a PHD, people should simply take what you say as true. This can be seen elsewhere also where individuals drop “Cambridge” into their bio or as is the case with another blogger who described themselves as a lapsed PHD candidate or similar as if this would give some weight to their arguments, especially when they were “fighting” against others who actually had PHDs.

      I am neither “progressive” nor “traditional”, and I come to this position via common sense. I will have to look at the research around “PHDs” and common sense, or maybe now having read your post here I shouldn’t, or maybe I should.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Explanation, demonstration, imitation, practice. I heard that model of teaching from someone who does military training. That would be the best way to learn how to use a dangerous tool without needless pain. I’m amazed that you could consider letting children play with knives as a better option.


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