It all started with Martin bloody Robinson and his brilliant book Trivium 21c. He illustrated a world which I never knew existed until reading his words. I’ve had two headteachers who have spent hours convincing me about the benefits of wider reading so when the challenge of Trivium 21c was offered, I was hungry for it and willing to listen to Martin’s take on this classical approach to schooling.
I felt as though I’d been in the caves for years and was finally standing in the sunlight absorbing its warmth. In Trivium 21c there was the possibility of thinking differently. After that followed Debra Kidd’s Teaching: notes from the front line and the possibility of an educational revolution, an invitation of a different approach to policy which many teachers don’t get to explore. Why? Because they simply don’t know it is there, so the opportunity is something which all school leaders should share with their staff. We all want students who are educated, free-thinkers and who make well-informed decisions. One way we can do this is by empowering our teachers to lead the way. This Much I Know about Love Over Fear by John Tomsett was the final piece in my own educational canon this year since John’s writing shows leadership can be done differently. Inspirational leadership. I know it exists, I’m lucky enough to have experienced it first hand but always thought my headteachers were mavericks and stood alone. John is proof (among many others I have since discovered through the wonder of EduTwitter) that brave leadership really does exist. There are many other great sources of information which have broadened my perspective this year and I’m quietly hoping that the wonderful Jill Berry one day publish her doctoral thesis as her model of leadership is one which we should aspire to. I thought my cup of knowledge for 2015 was overflowing as the year was drawing to a close…
Then along came Daisy…
Daisy’s reputation speaks for itself. A brilliant scholar and a respected voice in her field, her ascension into the hierarchy of educational who’s who has happened at an alarming rate. My old history teacher might argue that she’s not even wet behind the ears which is why some cynics may choose to dismiss her thoughts. Her apparent lack of experience at the chalkface is also why I was somewhat skeptical about what she had to say (and the fact that we appeared to have completely opposite opinions on a many issues in education). Dismiss her cleverly-constructed, well-researched, empirically backed opinions at your peril! I humbly admit that, in my limited first hand experience of Daisy’s work, my skepticism was unfounded and, I tend to agree with her more than disagree. I have written about Daisy’s ability as an excellent orator at the Michaela debate previously here. However, this blog is about seven questions that Daisy’s challenging (and perhaps a little controversial) book Seven Myths about Education has got me asking. If you haven’t read it then I suggest you do (you can get it here). Agree or disagree, her compelling arguments will have you questioning your own “truths” which is why I just had to put my ideas onto paper. Here are seven questions the Seven Myths have caused me to ask:
1. Why seven myths and why these seven?
When you begin to question what you have considered to be true and see that your beliefs are flawed you are caused to question everything! I wonder are there other myths which didn’t make her list and why didn’t they?
2. Among the many who argue for a progressive education, how many of them have actually been in receipt of one themselves?
When we complain that students can’t work independently it’s perhaps because they dont know how to? Maybe we’ve always assumed they can and then taught them as if they were already independent? A progressive approach would advocate skills over knowledge which, according to supported theory, would never engage the long-term memory in cognitive thinking thus making independence difficult. Many who stand for this approach seem to have had the privilege of a knowledge-based education. Their well-practised long-term memory would deliver cognition akin to that of an expert and so they thrive in environments which require creative or independent thought. Upon reflection, denying our students the opportunity to become experts through knowledge and practice seems a little cruel, does it not?
3. Have Ofsted got it wrong in the message they are sending?
The perspective Daisy gives on Ofsted inspection reports is one which I have never considered before but the observations appear accurate nonetheless. As a head of department, I would trawl subject specific reports in an effort to find silver bullets, never looking at them through a knowledge versus skills approach. With retrospect and this different viewpoint, it’s understandable why schools adopted four-part lessons, progress checks every twenty minutes and engagement over knowledge when this was the message Ofsted were giving out.
4. What can we do to encourage teachers to be less Ofsted, more learning driven?
I know what some great headteachers do, I have my own belief of what I would hope to be one day brave enough to do. I guess my next question is what Daisy would do?
5. What would a Core Knowledge Curriculum look like in the UK and who would we entrust to develop it?
In the book it is stated that E. D. Hirsch developed a Core Knowledge Curriculum in the USA which has been adopted by 768 schools. Daisy expressed a desire for something similar in this country. Who would be the candidate (or candidates) to develop such a schema and why? Would bias be an issue? As David Didau argues in What if everything you knew about education was wrong?, “We depend on our own intuition and routinely disregard uncomfortable evidence.” This would suggest that whoever led the project would be thwarted by their own bias. How can we achieve a truly great knowledge based curriculum? What is the solution to achieving knowledge which gives equality and democracy without indoctrination of one form or another?
6. Is there any place for project-based learning in schools?
This is a question I’d like to ask Daisy Christodoulou herself. Is there a point where knowledge is secure and we introduce projects or would there be no place for it in Daisy’s approach to education and what would be her reasons for this choice?
7. Are traditional and progressive approaches mutually exclusive or can you be both?
Indecision may or may not be my problem but I’m prone to it! The older I get, the more I learn, the less I know and the more I question myself. If you’d have asked me two years ago, I’d have described myself as a progressive. At the beginning of this year I encouraged myself to take a more traditional approach to my teaching, which I feel I have achieved. However, I’m now inclined to believe that, from lesson to lesson, I swing from just left of centre to just right on the progressive/traditional continuum, taking what I consider the best of both and what’s fit for purpose. Many believe you’re one or the other but can you be both?
Great writers challenge you, they make your head hurt by getting you to think. In writing Seven Myths of Education, Daisy Christodoulou achieved this with almost every page. She’s successfully encouraged me to entertain a different perspective whilst reassuring me that it is ok to feel the discomfort of uncertainty. More importantly, she has developed my understanding by offering an alternative. It seems fitting that Daisy has taken my education as we leap into 2016, in a new direction. I have recently started reading David Didau’s What if everything you knew about education was wrong? I’d previously avoided it because David provokes a reaction from me with every blog he writes, he really questions my “truths” and almost always makes me feel uncomfortable with his aphorisms on Twitter. Daisy has given me the confidence to be challenged and to push my boundaries. She has helped me accept that it’s ok to be wrong every now and them. After all, experience shapes and refines us; the more varied the experience, the better we become.