Two points need to be addressed when claiming that a particular notion is a myth. Firstly, people need to believe the notion. Secondly, it must be false, otherwise it is not a myth. Daisy Christodoulou set a benchmark in demonstrating both facets of educational myths in her 2014 book.
Pedro de Bruyckere, Paul Kirschner and Casper Hulshoff take a similar approach in “Urban Myths about Learning and Education,” although their scope is much broader. Daisy identified seven myths which she described at length. De Bruyckere and colleagues have identified a total of thirty-five. The result takes on the character of an encyclopaedia and I found myself reading it in this way, dipping in and out of the different myths. In this regard, it is extraordinarily useful. Each myth is given a brief vignette that begins with a demonstration of its existence, discusses evidence for and against before coming to a judgement about just how much of a myth it really is. However, this last part sat a little oddly with me. Surely, a myth is a myth is a myth? And yet the authors categorise them from the manifestly false to those for which there is just not a great deal of evidence. Are the latter ‘myths’? I’m not entirely sure.
Nevertheless, the result is a sweep across some major themes that dominate the landscape. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes browsing education feeds on Twitter will have come across learning pyramids, digital natives, the idea that new technology is causing an education revolution, right/left brain learners and various kinds of exhortations to teachers to get out of the way of students finding things out for themselves. However, a few more unusual myths appear in the list, for instance the idea that class size doesn’t matter. Again, you are given a surprisingly powerful overview of this issue given that it’s dealt with in just four pages. The book is also peppered with pithy summary statements such as Barak Rosenshine’s 10 principles of good instruction.
Those who will find this book to be of most use are educators who already have a fair amount of scepticism about current educational fashions. In one strategic purchase, they will have a lens through which to evaluate whatever comes next around the corner. In that sense, it is a gateway drug into the broader education debate.
However, I doubt the book will do much to convince those who are true believers. As a veteran of such debates, I would suggest that many proponents of each myth could easily write as many pages simply questioning the premises of the authors – or whether it’s even possible to establish truth in the social sciences – before they begin to address the issue of the evidence that is presented.
Nevertheless, “Urban Myths about Learning and Education,” is a witty and lively review of a range of important issues. It makes a valuable reference text for the modern teacher.
The authors were kind enough to send me a review copy of their book