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Education Bookcast

May 16, 2016

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.