Christodoulou explodes the progressive myths which continue to dominate British and American education. She points out that the use of discovery learning, the isolated teaching of transferable skills and an obsession with technology all prevent pupils from developing a solid grounding in core knowledge that will enable them to master subjects.
Peal provides a vigorous and clear outline of how British education has been ruined by discovery learning and permissive discipline. This book is a call to arms to carry out what Harold Wilson originally asked for: ‘grammar schools for all’.
Hirsch argues that a coherent knowledge-rich curriculum is the only way to provide an effective and equitable education. Progressive ideas about general skills and natural development have led to approaches which privileges those who gain knowledge outside school, while leaving the disadvantaged in their place. Particularly interesting is the case of France, which Hirsch examines in some detail. When France embraced progressive ideas and moved away from a coherent primary curriculum, they saw achievement and equity plummet across their education system.
In this much longer and more broad-ranging work, Hirsch examines the ideological roots of progressive educational theory, tracing them back to Romantic ideas about the sacredness of the child. He also examines how progressive ideas have taken hold through the intellectual insecurity of university education schools, and their resulting eagerness to find an area of study unique to them and within their power. Promoting skills over knowledge enabled them to claim intellectual territory which was not already dominated by traditional university departments. There is an excellent glossary of progressive edu-speak at the back, to enable ordinary folk to break through the superficial aura conjured up by spurious pseudoscience.
Willingham shows the vital importance of storing facts and procedures in long term memory, so that working memory does not become crowded or confused. Cognitive science proves how essential memorisation is for mastery of any subject. It also makes clear that skills cannot be separated from knowledge: we can think about a subject because we know something about it. The more we know, the more effectively we think.
A devastating account of how liberal education has been denied to generations of American children, as the progressive theorists have reinvented themselves over and over again, always presenting their tired and failed ideas as a radical educational revolution.
Read this book and grapple with some of the most fundamental ideas that underpin your practice, even if you never realised they did. The most important point Didau makes is that we cannot measure learning, only performance. When we convince ourselves that our pupils have ‘got it’ in one lesson, we’re living in fantasy land, and observably rapid progress in performance can undermine long term learning.
And finally, if you don’t have time to read a book, read this masterful article by E D Hirsch on the unreliability of classroom based research, and the key findings of cognitive science on which we can depend for developing better teaching.