A continuation of last week's episode about Daisy Christodoulou's book.
This should be a controversial episode!
I cover this book in the interests of looking at the cognitive science it refers to. However, this is also the sort of book that tries to undermine, or even overthrow, what might be interpreted as a failing ideology among many educators. It is therefore not possible for me to talk about it without at least paying some heed to a long-standing debate in education circles: progressivism versus traditionalism.
Progressivism is hard to pin down exactly, because it's used as a catch-all term for many ideas in education. Some people who would call themselves educational progressives would have completely different ideas from other self-described progressives. Ideas huddled under the progressive umbrella include character education; "whole-child" learning/development; using more "authentic" assessments (i.e. not paper-and-pencil tests); experiential learning; and discovery learning, to name but a few. You have to say though, they did a good PR job naming their ideas "progressive" - who doesn't like progress, after all?
Daisy Christodoulou is one of the relatively un-trendy educators who rails against progressivist ideas rather than campaigning for them. A former teacher in the English state school system, after several years she left her job to study cognitive science. As a teacher, she followed all the advice and guidance of her superiors and training bodies and institutes, but found that, despite this, her students weren't learning much. During her subsequent degree, she feels that she found out why - because the progressive ideas that she was being taught as a teacher in training are completely out of line with the actual science of how people think and learn.
Although it's a slim little volume, I've had to split it into two parts to cover it in enough depth. I try my hardest not to be biased and to be fair to all sides of this debate, and any failings on this point are my own. It's hard remaining neutral on such a hot topic, I have to say! I hope that the ideas in this book help to enrich your own understanding of this controversy in education, whatever your views.
Enjoy the episode.
We are now moving on to a series of episodes answering the question: How do people get good at things? In Bounce, Commonwealth champion and Olympian table-tennis player Matthew Syed shares his research into this topic.
The funny thing about Malcolm Gladwell is that everyone seems to enjoy reading him, but few remember many details of what he actually wrote. I had a conversation with a parent of one of my students not long ago about the overestimation of the importance of IQ, referencing some studies done by Lewis Terman. She listened with rapt attention and deep in thought. The information seemed new, original, and surprising to her. I mentioned that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in his book Outliers, to which she responded, "I read that book!" Apparently these things don't stick!
Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking is one of Gladwell's many bestsellers. He seems to have an enduring interest in both psychology and in education, which means that he'll make several appearances on the podcast, even though he's "just a journalist". He seems to draw people in with his combination of Viking-quality storytelling and modern statistical and scientific thinking. It seems to me that his later books are more knowledge- and idea-rich, and his earlier ones are a bit more take-one-idea-as-far-as-you-can.
The idea in Blink is that some apparent thinking is done without conscious processing (although Gladwell puts it in much sexier terms). For example, art critics know whether something is a genuine Greek sculpture or not because they can *feel* it, and they often can't explain why. Their intuitions can be - tend to be, in fact - more accurate than careful and detailed analysis and background investigations. What's going on here?
If you've been paying attention to the podcast so far, you should see where this fits in with the themes we've been exploring. Several books so far have been concerned with something similar. Thinking, Fast and Slow is about cognitive biases, which are subconscious "wrong" thinking. The Power of Habit looked at how people can learn even when they can't form any long-term memories. "Picture yourself as a stereotypical male" dealt with stereotype threat, i.e. how people subconsciously fulfil stereotypes about groups they belong to.
Apart from the idea of subconscious thinking, Gladwell also discusses some cases where this thinking is accurate, and others where it is wrong, or even disastrous. Surprise surprise, experts tend to have valid intuitions, whereas novices shouldn't trust their gut feeling. This idea of the differences between experts and novices is one reason why we're covering this book now, as our next theme for the coming weeks will be the question "how do people get good at things?".
Enjoy the episode.