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Education Bookcast

Education Bookcast is a podcast in which we talk about one education-related book or article per episode.
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Now displaying: July, 2018
Jul 30, 2018

I've spent a total of seven episodes up till now on Edward de Bono's work on creativity, lateral thinking, and the workings of the mind. While reading his books, a number of criticisms arose in my mind which I never felt I had the chance to fully express. In the name of balance, I also looked for any criticisms of de Bono online, and I found some quite damning allegations. My criticisms from his books and these allegations are topics I would like to spend one episode talking about.

The main problems with de Bono's books are two: (1) they are too repetitive (they all seem to say the same thing, with occasional novelties); and (2) they provide no references (ever! in 67 books by an Oxford- and Cambridge-educated author with a PhD!!). Each of these is concerning for different reasons. If de Bono kept "writing the same book" 67 times, why did he feel the need to publish so many books? And if he's supposed to be an authority on creativity, why couldn't he have come up with new ideas to fill those 67 books with?

The problem of references appears even more concerning after reading allegations from de Bono's former associates that his work is practically all plagiarised. This would certainly explain his unwillingness to write references, since he would be trying to claim all those other people's work as his own. 

There is a real 此地无银三百两 moment at the start of one of his later books. (The Chinese reads "in this place there are not three hundred caddies of silver". There is a story that somebody tried to hide their money by burying it and, for good measure, putting up a sign with the above words just next to where it was buried. The saying means to deny something in such a way as to incriminate oneself, or reveal the very thing that was supposed to be hidden by denial.) He leaves an Author's Note to the effect that he is sorry for not referencing anybody, because he forgot, and he really wants to give the right people credit, honest!, he just can't remember any of the conversations he's had or things that he's read for the past, oh, fifty years. It's somewhat ridiculous and really adds fuel to the suspicion that he hasn't been intellectually honest in his works.

This episode may not be rich in insights into creativity, other than perhaps that which Einstein bequeathed to us: "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." Although I really think that there is value to the ideas that de Bono came up with / stole during his career, the possibility of plagiarism, and the lack of his own creativity in writing books with something genuinely new to say over a more than fifty-year-long career, detract from the strength of his arguments.

The jury is out on where de Bono's ideas come from (although he is definitely guilty of being repetitive in his writing). We must also be aware that those who allege that de Bono has stolen the ideas of others are not necessarily trustworthy themselves. While the story weaved together by these threads is plausible, it is not known for certain to be the truth. This episode seeks only to be fair in highlighting suspicions, although nothing is proven definitively.

Enjoy the episode.

Jul 16, 2018

Stress is broadly understood to be a serious health risk and a destructive factor in many people's lives. It has been advertised as such for several decades. In The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal explains how new research shows that stress may actually be something positive and life-enhancing rather than ruinous.

The most central concept is that of "stress mindsets". Similar to fixed vs. growth mindset as described in Carol Dweck's book (covered in the first episode of this podcast), stress mindsets concern one's beliefs about the effects of stress. People with a "positive stress mindset" believe that there can be benefits to stress, whereas those with a "negative stress mindset" - encouraged by ideas promulgated in the past few decades - believe that stress is uniformly bad for you. It turns out that merely believing something different about stress is enough to change its effects radically for the better.

The evidence on the so-called "upside of stress" takes many forms, but perhaps the most convincing evidence is endocrinological. McGonigal cites studies showing that people who have higher stress hormone concentrations following a car accident are *less* likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder; that the stress hormone dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a brain *steroid* (as in, it literally makes your brain grow); and that the ratio of DHEA to cortisol (another stress hormone, but not a steroid) is dependent on your *beliefs* about stress. (My overuse of asterisks hints at how excited I am.)

On of the most surprising findings is that stress and happiness are internationally positively correlated. (In case you're interested, the most stressed out country in the world is the Philippines. It's also one of the happiest.) How could this be? McGonigal explains that this relates to what stress is, psychologically speaking. Stress is a state we experience when something we value is at stake. In other words, a meaningful life cannot help being stressful, since in order to be meaningful, one must be working towards or fighting for something that one cares for. Low levels of stress are actually correlated with increased depression risk, and the explanation for this is likely to be similar.

Overall, then, a big change in the way we see stress is possible, and it carries great benefits.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Jul 2, 2018

Edward de Bono has written a lot of books. Although they often contain small novelties, overall his bibliography is quite repetitive, meaning that it's not worth making an episode about every one of his books individually. In this episode, we'll look at six of his books in quick succession. It's the audio summary equivalent of "skimming" these books, which deserve little more if you're already familiar with the books of his we've considered so far on the podcast.

First we look at the "six series": Six Thinking Hats, Six Action Shoes, Six Value Medals and Six Frames for Thinking about Information. The first of these we already saw in the first episode about Edward de Bono, and so there is no need to go into it again in depth, but it is clearly the ancestor of the rest. They all tend to say the same sort of thing, but in slightly different contexts. It's worth quickly skimming through this and then moving on, as there doesn't appear to be much novelty here, just the ability to produce too many sequels, like the Saw movies.

Next we look at Teaching Thinking and Teach Your Child to Think. These are surprisingly underwhelming and not particularly useful. There is some "evidence" provided of the effectiveness of direct teaching of thinking which is completely unreferenced and not peer reviewed, and so, unless you consider the author unusually worthy of blind trust, you are forced to ignore this "evidence". The thinking methods taught in a typical Cognitive Research Trust class (CoRT, de Bono's organisation for teaching thinking) are presented, which is interesting, but also a bit of an anticlimax, as they don't seem to amount to anything particularly novel or special.

Finally, we look at Simplicity, which is ironically more complicated a book than it need be. We can extract a long list of thinking techniques from it, with the occasional pearl, but the book as a whole is not worth diving into too deeply.

Overall, this makes for an unusually fast-moving episode. This is simply because there isn't much to say per book, and I have no reason to waffle and waste your time. It should round out your knowledge of some of the rest of the author's work, and you might have a few useful takeaways here and there as well.

Enjoy the episode.

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