Bad ideas and educational scripture

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Do you think it is possible for a person to communicate a concept to another person? So do I. In fact, it would be bizarre to suggest otherwise, right? Welcome to the world of education.

Lorraine Hammond recently wrote an excellent piece for The Conversation, explaining what ‘explicit instruction’ involves. This follows on from this week’s news about NAPLAN and the fact that in some areas where we are seeing improvements, explicit instruction has been identified as a possible cause.

In the comments on Hammond’s article, Scott Webster, Associate Professor of Education at Deakin University, wrote the following:

“When we delve into learning more deeply we find that, along with Dewey and Vygotsky, conceptual re-formation cannot occur due to explicit instruction simply because what is ‘explicit’ can only ever be ‘information’ and not conceptual ideals. Both Dewey and Vygotsky were highly critical of explicit and direct instruction.”

I do not know whether this accurately represents the views of Dewey and Vygotsky and it does not really matter. We can easily be drawn into endless exegesis of such writers, as I have discovered when writing about Dewey. No statement can be made that someone will not challenge as a misinterpretation and because they are no longer with us, we cannot check with the source. So be it.

The point I would ask is why we would rely on scripture in the first place? How do we know that Dewey’s or Vygotsky’s views are correct? I know Vygotsky did some experimental work, but we should be able to point to far more than this as the basis for claims about education, particularly ones that fly in the face of common sense. Are we really supposed to believe that only ‘information’ can be explicitly taught and not concepts? If this were true, we should be able to point to a wide body of experimental evidence that shows that, for example, students cannot transfer their learning to novel situations unless they discover the concepts for themselves. I am aware of no such body of evidence.

Webster also tries to draw a distinction between ‘learning’ and ‘education’ in some manner that is not entirely clear. Later, he states that he is concerned about ‘indoctrination’ and links explicit instruction to ‘training people to be indoctrinated’. Invoking Godwin’s law, he suggests that in the 1930s, ‘the country with the lowest rates of ill-literacy at this time was Nazi Germany.’

So the problem with teaching kids phonics or their times-tables or the order of the planets in the solar system is that it all ends with Nazi Germany.

Yet explicit teaching has vastly more evidence to support its use than any of the commonly promoted alternatives such as inquiry learning. Perhaps this is why some academics feel the need to turn away from the evidence. Maybe it is a kind of performative peacock’s tail – the more you can deny reality, the greater your commitment to the cause?

In a sense, it doesn’t matter, it just reconfirms my view that teachers need to take control of education.

30 thoughts on “Bad ideas and educational scripture

  1. It just reconfirms my view that teachers need to take control of education.

    Or that we should just go back to the days of Teachers Colleges, when people were actually shown how to teach effectively, instead of being fed a bunch of cock-eyed, juvenile theories.

    It’s gotten to the stage where I’m almost serious about that.

    1. I passed that stage many years ago. Direct instruction (actually teaching) got a bad name thanks to a recurrent stream of strawman arguments or themes. Drill and kill; rote memorization; facts they can look up; factory model; sage on the stage, etc. These bogus claims have lead to the proliferation of debunked failed methodologies such as discovery/inquiry learning, project based learning, facilitating (guide on the side), and a hyper-focus on the unteachable: critical thinking skills.

      All of this has acted to undermine actual teaching skill sets that make content interesting, meaningful, and inspiring.

  2. If we’re going to connect direct instruction with Nazi Germany, we might just as plausibly connect Vygotsky’s ideas with Stalin’s Soviet Union.

  3. Amen, brother. In addition, I would find any statistic from that nation during the Nazis’ regime highly suspect. Remember their purported unemployment rates?

  4. conceptual re-formation cannot occur due to explicit instruction simply because what is ‘explicit’ can only ever be ‘information’ and not conceptual ideals.

    He even calls it ‘information’, not information, as if he doubts that even information exists.

    It is indeed a magnificent peacock’s tail.

  5. Hi Greg
    It is good to see you raise these issues for your readers, as they are important. Thanks for including the link to the article on ‘The Conversation’ so your readers can see the context the comments were made. It might have also helped to clarity your own position and how attached you currently are to explicit teaching, and therefore perhaps having a disposition to being resistant to it being challenged. As you are undertaking a PhD I am surprised that you are referring to theory and theorists as unimportant ‘scripture’. Surely theory simply represents whether one’s practices are to be intelligently guided or not.

    It is because that you are enrolled in a PhD that I am assuming you are seeking further understandings. Therefore, with this in mind, I wish to offer some sources because many of your statements could do with further validation. You have experienced that people have challenged your interpretation of Dewey. However, this experience does not mean that relativism reigns and that any interpretation is as good as any other. We really ought to be willing to read and think a great deal in order to develop a rigorous position upon which we can stand – i.e. understand (as per Heidegger). This will allow careful discrimination between important concepts such as information, meaning, knowledge, truth and validity. For your work in a PhD, much of this is often referred to as a theoretical framework.

    Regarding one of my comments specifically, you mention that you are unsure if Dewey and Vygotsky’s views are accurately represented or not. Therefore, can I recommend:
    Dewey, J. 1985 ‘Democracy and Education’ in J. A. Boydston (ed) John Dewey the Middle Works vol.9 1916. Specifically Chapter 2, Education as a social function’, subsection 4 ‘The school as a special environment’ pp. 22-27, which includes the quote “We never educate directly, but indirectly by means of the environment”.
    and ‘Chapter 12 ‘Thinking in Education’, pp. 159-170, particularly page 166 where he states that “It is that no thought, no idea, can possibly be conveyed as an idea from one person to another.”
    Vygotsky, L. 1986 Thought and Language A. Kozulin (Tr. & ed) chapter 6 ‘The development of scientific concepts in childhood: The design of a working hypothesis’ pp. 146-209, particularly p. 150 where he states that “direct teaching of concepts is impossible and fruitless.” I’d recommend not just stopping at these brief quotes of course but to at least study the entire chapters – and better still, to read the entire books to fully appreciate the context and that perhaps such an understanding is not quite so ‘bizarre’ after all.

    Yes conceptualising the difference between ‘education’ and ‘learning’ is not an easy task and yet is crucially important, otherwise the sort of ‘learning’ that can be fostered might lend itself more to training, conditioning or even mis-education such as indoctrination. Only some sorts of learning can be considered as having educative value. To grasp these conceptual differences is difficult and I don’t believe they can be communicated directly. For my first-year students I set Dewey’s ‘Experience and Education’ which is available online as a pdf, or it can be bought as a stand-alone book (for around $20) or it can be found in a library that has the collection of Dewey’s works – in his ‘Later Works vol. 13’.
    I also recommend:
    The second posting by Max King in the same ‘Conversation’ article, where he begins “Thanks Scott – as would have been evident from my comments….”
    R. S. Peters 1966 ‘Ethics and Education’. George Allen & Unwin: London. Is a classic and chapter 1 ‘Criteria of ‘education’’ would be a good place to start.
    Pring, R. 2004 ‘Philosophy of Education: Aims, Theory, Common Sense and Research’. Continuum: London. Many chapters are worth studying as they cover ‘education’, ‘educated persons’ and ‘common sense’.
    Biesta, G. J. J. 2006 ‘Beyond Learning: Democratic Education for a Human Future’. Boulder: Paradigm.
    Biesta, G. J. J. 2010 ‘Good Education in an Age of Measurement.’ Boulder: Paradigm.

    In your final statement you assert that “teachers ought to take control of education”. I actually fully endorse that teachers – as educators – ought to take control of education. But to do so, we first need to clearly understand how ‘education’ is to be understood.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my position regarding explicit teaching. For instance, if you are viewing this on a computer rather than a phone then at the side of the page you will see a link to a video of me discussing explicit teaching (it will appear at the bottom if you are on a phone).

      Thank you for the reading list. I have already read some of the items on that list. Some are referenced in The Truth About Teaching, my book for new teachers (again, there is a link at the side/bottom of the page).

      Do you not find it perhaps ironic or even paradoxical to suggest reading a book in order to understand the concept that ‘direct teaching of concepts is impossible and fruitless’. If this were true, then I could not possibly come to understand this idea by reading the book, no matter how well-crafted the explanation. If a live teacher with varied tone, expression and real-time feedback at his or her disposal cannot directly convey concepts then how can words on a page? How are we even communicating concepts now? I think it is this kind of logic that makes some education ‘theory’ border on self parody.

      And to my mind, someone like John Dewey is not really a ‘theorist’. I have a science background and a scientific theory is one that it supported by a substantial body of empirical evidence e.g. the theory of evolution. Dewey’s thoughts on education are not supported by a substantial body of empirical evidence and so I would describe him more as a ‘philosopher’. I see no reason to base my practice as a teacher on the opinions of dead philosophers, no matter how eminent. Perhaps you could explain why we should?

      As to my final comments, my own story is perhaps typical of a growing movement of teachers. For many years, I could not get inquiry learning or related approaches to work very well and often resorted to a form of explicit teaching. I felt guilty about this because I ‘knew’ that inquiry-style approaches were superior and supported by evidence. It was only later in my career that I started reading the research for myself and realised that this was not the case, that there was a large body of evidence supporting explicit teaching and very little supporting inquiry. I read about Project Follow Through – the largest education experiment ever conducted that I had somehow not known about. I read about process-product research. I read about Cognitive Load Theory. I felt cheated. Although I had been using explicit forms of teaching, I had not utilised the best practices highlighted by the research and so I had not been as effective as I could have been.

      I hear the same story again and again, from followers in the UK, Australia, the US and other parts of the world. We have been let down by the education establishment, by ‘theory’, by our training and by pseudo-intellectual discussions of ‘how ‘education’ is to be understood’ and so it is now time for us to become the experts and reclaim teaching for ourselves. This blog is part of that movement.

      1. Greg – your comment seems to be an extension of your earlier assertions. Perhaps some serious engagement with some of this material (or others of course) might be opportunity to share and negotiate understandings. However, I feel that you are being very quick to paint me with a brush tarnished ‘other’ and entirely miss what I have written and instead are keen to promote the fact that you have written a book and have a science degree. I am sorry but this distracts from the central argument. Also we need to be careful not to mistakenly conflate science with empiricism – which of course has ramifications for how ‘evidence’ is to be understood. However your background in science may help if you are familiar with the work of Kuhn and his notion of paradigms (related to concepts perhaps) and Popper’s notion of the difficulty of inductive reasoning in the face of deductive ways of understanding, as these dovetail well into the work of Dewey. Interestingly you show very little interest in the work of Dewey. Greg it might be worth having a look through something like Google Scholar and searching the citations to Dewey to see how many other people are similarly dismissive of him being a ‘theorist’. Or perhaps you have already established this as an acceptable view in a peer reviewed journal?

        In response to your question – “Do you not find it perhaps ironic or even paradoxical to suggest reading a book in order to understand the concept that ‘direct teaching of concepts is impossible and fruitless”. My answer – no not at all. You will notice that I did not recommend reading a page or two – something akin perhaps to the length of time of a teacher’s explicit explanation. Instead I invited you to read a number of books from a variety of authors which takes much longer than one lesson and involves a lot of reflective thinking for which one can control the pace of text, can re-read when felt necessary and can stop reading in order to think.

        What is key of course is an appreciation of what a concept is – perhaps you might be adopting a rather positivistic notion of this? Calling upon Kuhn and Popper we can appreciate how difficult it is to actually change a conceptual understanding.

        So I’d much prefer if you (and your readers) engage with the actual argument dealing with how ‘learning’ is conceived differently depending upon whether the aim is to train, indoctrinate or educate. If you are naturally predisposed to disliking me simply because I am an academic, then please focus upon other sources to continue this inquiry.

      2. “your comment seems to be an extension of your earlier assertions”

        This is incorrect. I offer evidence for my position that explicit instruction is an effective approach. See e.g. Rosenshine or the evidence base for Cognitive Load Theory.

        “I feel that you are being very quick to paint me with a brush tarnished ‘other’ and entirely miss what I have written and instead are keen to promote the fact that you have written a book and have a science degree.”

        I have dealt with what you have written. See my previous comments. In your original comment you kept referring to me as a PhD student and suggested lots of things for me to read (which may be what sarapeden found condescending below). I mentioned my book in this context because I write about some of the texts you suggested I read in this book. I mentioned my science background as a way of explaining why I don’t accept that Dewey’s thoughts on education are a ‘theory’.

        “However your background in science may help if you are familiar with the work of Kuhn and his notion of paradigms (related to concepts perhaps) and Popper’s notion of the difficulty of inductive reasoning in the face of deductive ways of understanding, as these dovetail well into the work of Dewey.”

        I think the fact that inductive reasoning is difficult bolsters the case for explicit instruction over asking students to make these deductive steps for themselves. In addition, I think Popper’s idea of falsification is relevant here. What evidence would demonstrate to your satisfaction that you are wrong? If you cannot think of any then you have an unfalsfiable position which is a pretty profound problem from Popper’s point of view.

        “Interestingly you show very little interest in the work of Dewey.”

        I’ve written about Dewey in my book and elsewhere and I refer to him in presentations. So I am interested in Dewey, I just don’t agree with him.

        “Greg it might be worth having a look through something like Google Scholar and searching the citations to Dewey to see how many other people are similarly dismissive of him being a ‘theorist’. Or perhaps you have already established this as an acceptable view in a peer reviewed journal?”

        This seems to be a mix of two logical fallacies – appeal to authority and appeal to popularity. What matters to me is whether Dewey’s views are pertinent to the way I teach. If not, they are perhaps interesting but irrelevant. If they are, then I want to know whether his views are supported by a substantial body of evidence. They appear not to be.

        It is not the case that just because a large number of eminent people believe something to be true that it is true. See the four humours in medicine.

        “In response to your question – “Do you not find it perhaps ironic or even paradoxical to suggest reading a book in order to understand the concept that ‘direct teaching of concepts is impossible and fruitless”. My answer – no not at all. You will notice that I did not recommend reading a page or two – something akin perhaps to the length of time of a teacher’s explicit explanation. Instead I invited you to read a number of books from a variety of authors which takes much longer than one lesson and involves a lot of reflective thinking for which one can control the pace of text, can re-read when felt necessary and can stop reading in order to think.”

        This is a very interesting point. I am not aware of anyone who claims that complex concepts such as, for example, natural selection can be grasped in one lesson. Indeed, if this were true then we could dispense with primary and secondary education in far less than 12 years. Is it really just the amount of explicit teaching that is the issue? If there is enough of it, then are you fine with that? I have to say that your characterisation of explicit teaching seems odd. If you read the Rosenshine article above you will see that it involves a lot of checking for understanding, looping back, reviewing previous learning etc. It certainly does not look anything like a teacher reading a page or two from a book.

        Yet the inconsistency remains. Either you or Dewey seem to be having it both ways. After all, Dewey wrote ‘subject-matter never can be got into a child from without’. He did not write, ‘subject-matter never can be got into a child from without, but that only applies to subject matter of about one or two pages in length and longer stuff is fine.’

        “perhaps you might be adopting a rather positivistic notion of this?”

        Accusing someone of ‘positivism’ is a way of dismissing their argument without having to engage with it.

        “So I’d much prefer if you (and your readers) engage with the actual argument dealing with how ‘learning’ is conceived differently depending upon whether the aim is to train, indoctrinate or educate.”

        I don’t see why we should. You haven’t made a case for considering this distinction. Indoctrination could as easily arise out of your methods as mine. Indeed, in other comments on this post, you seem to want to impose your own notion of a good life on students. I want to give them enabling knowledge to choose a good life of their own.

        “If you are naturally predisposed to disliking me simply because I am an academic, then please focus upon other sources to continue this inquiry.”

        I do not dislike you. I imagine you are perfectly lovely. However, I do not like your arguments because I think they damage students. I will focus on whatever sources I wish in my inquiry, particularly those in the public domain.

    2. Only some sorts of learning can be considered as having educative value.

      Well yes. But only some sorts of education might be considered useful too. There’s people out there with degrees in Leninist economics, creationist science and homeopathy.

      One of the reasons otherwise reasonable people will not listen to academics is because they simply can’t stand simple words being murdered. You can, as you have, tried to distinguish education from learning. But that’s not the common meanings of the words and it only makes your argument harder to follow than it needs to be.

      Education occurs via learning. For most of us, that learning is best acquired via being taught. Direct, explicit, teaching being the most effective method.

      As you are undertaking a PhD I am surprised that you are referring to theory and theorists as unimportant ‘scripture’.

      Not sure where you got the “unimportant” from. Dewey is very important in understanding where educationalists have ended up.

      What he isn’t very important for is teachers knowing how to teach. In my experience knowledge of Dewey is, if anything, inversely related to how good a person is as a teacher.

      “We never educate directly, but indirectly by means of the environment”.

      I suspect Greg would consider that a “deepity”.

      1. Yes. I’m sure Greg would … and so would I (and you, I bet) and pretty much anyone not bedazzled by the fact that it was written by someone well known. 🙂

      2. Hi Chester. I like your expression of relating to simple words being murdered 😀 I admit that this can often be perceived on first glance because academics have to be careful about specialist terminologies and so make a point of distinguishing between them.

        I can fully appreciate that when confronted for the first time to clarify the differences between schooling, learning, knowing, thinking and education, that these might be assumed to be very similar. However, they have important differences and one that I am trying to draw attention to through these latest comments is that if we truly care about educating our nation to be able to live a democratic way of life, then the sorts of people they become through their learning experiences becomes extremely important. This is because there are powerful interest groups working today who would rather schools indoctrinate students rather than educate them (see for example Chomsky’s references to the Trilateral Commission’s report ‘The Crisis of Democracy’). Both indoctrination and education involve ‘learning’ but significantly different types of learning which impact students, as human persons, differently.

        Just to clarify, having a degree in anything, does not necessarily equate to ‘education’ but perhaps instead to ‘qualification’. Can I invite you to have a read of Max King’s statement as I have mentioned earlier?

        A provocative example might help: if you wanted to indoctrinate a group of young people to be enthusiastically devoted to an extremist view, and willing perhaps, to commit violence in order to support the cause, then explicit instruction is an ideal pedagogical approach to use where students must trust (blindly) in the ‘correct’ answer/view. This approach is used in the military and other environments when ‘training’ is the main goal. Students do learn skills and knowledge but importantly they must comply to the authority of the techniques, answers, text, teacher etc., so in doing so we must be concerned regarding what kind of persons they are becoming. Through explicit instruction we are not enabling our students to be safeguarded against the plethora of propaganda that is being produced currently by our mainstream media and by many of our politicians. Indeed explicit instruction encourages habits that make our students more vulnerable to such manipulations.

        However, if you wanted to ‘educate’ people to be able to live democratic lives, then their character, concerns and attitudes must necessarily become disposed to critically dissent with equals. This is the basis of democracy which is also simultaneously a moral way of life, because careful thought must be invested into the long-term consequences of one’s activities in relation with others as all those who may be affected must be consulted. I could go on but can I invite you, if you are curious, to have a look at the literature on the differences between training, indoctrination and education and then determine for yourself whether such distinctions are important for our work as teachers.

      3. if you wanted to indoctrinate a group of young people to be enthusiastically devoted to an extremist view, and willing perhaps, to commit violence in order to support the cause, then explicit instruction is an ideal pedagogical approach to use where students must trust (blindly) in the ‘correct’ answer/view.

        So explicit teaching is ineffective as a way to educate non-political information and skills, but extremely effective when transmitting extremist views? That’s wildly contradictory.

        The Soviet governments of the eastern bloc discovered that no amount of teaching, explicit or otherwise, makes people believe. Forty years of atheist teaching on the Poles had less than no effect. Propaganda is effective only when the audience is willing to believe.

        Explicit teaching is very effective at conveying information and methods. It only conveys belief when the teacher is trusted. (In that context Dewey had a point.) Indeed the lack of subtlety in the conveying of information could be seen as a bonus of explicit teaching — there’s no lying about what is being delivered.

        Moreover, non-explicit systems are equally effective at sorting out the “correct” viewpoint. The modern thing is “critical thinking”. Yet if my children had advanced any sort of actual critical thinking about problems at school in a project — say that a rise in sea levels is best sorted out by dykes rather than worrying about whole cities drowning — they would have received very short shrift by their teachers. “Critical thinking”, as intended by schools, is every bit as one-sided as any other system.

        The political messages delivered by teachers to pupils will depend on the politics of the teachers and the schools, not on the system of teaching. If we don’t want our pupils to be given a one-sided political view, then the solution is to ensure that teaching is open to people of all political persuasions, and that they are not permitted to teach extreme views on threat of dismissal. (The teacher unions could help here, by renouncing all ties to political parties, and by allowing schools to remove grossly unsuitable teachers.)

        It seems that you have seen the desire of authoritarian systems to spread propaganda, and their preference for explicit teaching, and assumed correlation is causation.

        I think that choosing the way to educate our children on the basis that we should not do anything that an authoritarian system does is crazy. They use explicit methods because they work. We should do the same.

    3. I’m interested in whether or not you are aware of the degree to which your comments come across as condescending, to a degree that makes you sound foolish?

      The thrust of your argument seems to be “Dewey and Vygotsky really did say smart things; go and read them if you don’t believe me.” In my opinion, yours is not a commentary that really advances the discussion or the exchange of ideas.

      How about we try to figure out which fundamental premises are really at the heart of the argument? I would say that we could probably all agree (to at least some small degree) that the human brain “constructs knowledge” in the sense that learning actually does change the brain in some manner. So the question to me is – what kind of experiences can change the brain in a manner that we will call learning?

      Some people believe that some kinds of learning can happen as the result of the experience of a teacher directly explaining something. You seem to agree that would perhaps be “learning” but you would not be consider it to be “educative”. So I am more interested in your opinion of what is “educative.

      However, you say it’s too difficult for you to explain the difference because “To grasp these conceptual differences is difficult and I don’t believe they can be communicated directly.” Therefore, you recommend that we should read someone else.

      If you can’t explain it, but someone else can, isn’t that because you haven’t really fully “learned” the difference? You say that “we first need to clearly understand how ‘education’ is to be understood’. And yet it would seem you can’t explain how ‘education is to be understood’. I’m more likely to value and consider your opinion when you can articulate it.

      Hope you’ll comment again when you have an opinion regarding the difference between learning that has educative value and learning that doesn’t have educative value. I suspect that I’d very much enjoy having that debate with you.

      S

      1. Hi Sarapen
        Thanks for your comment and I am sorry that you perceive my own comments to be condescending. I am honestly surprised that anyone would draw this conclusion. This is certainly not my intent as I have only bothered to participate in order to discuss further. Your reference to ‘foolish’ doesn’t exactly make opportunity to discuss further on this blog ‘inviting’.

        No the thrust of my argument is certainly not “Dewey and Vygotsky really did say smart things; go and read them if you don’t believe me.” Both of these contributors have had a significant impact on educational literature – not policies and practices related to schooling. The invitation is to broaden understandings rather than resort to personal opinions based on anecdotal evidence. If people are not aware of their works then we can leave them to the side at this point.

        Your fundamental premise that “the human brain “constructs knowledge” in the sense that learning actually does change the brain in some manner” is problematic in several ways. Firstly it reduces a human person in quite an atrophied manner to a singular organ – i.e. brain. Secondly it privileges knowledge over character, and thirdly it incorporates a ‘neutral’ term of ‘constructs’ rather than one more akin to human agency such as wants/wills/desires to know. I am more inclined to begin with something along the lines of:

        Firstly, we ought to work towards an agreement as to what ought to constitute a ‘good’ life for us as a community/society? For example should we accept that ‘economics’ is the most important point our politicians ought to talk about in the lead up to the election? Or should we be disturbed about their apparent minimalist response to the illegal arrest of Julian Assange? Should we accept that more of our taxes are to be paid to US-based military corporations (i.e. our budget has increased it last year to 2% as requested by the US military industrial complex via the Council on Foreign Relations). Should we accept that our education system is influenced by global interest groups such as the Trilateral Commission which desires that our schools ought to indoctrinate students for the purpose of eliminating the desire to participate democratically? Should we accept that so many of our public resources are sold to private ownership? Should we be concerned that so many of our natural resources are being given away almost for nothing (e.g. natural gas) to corporations. Should we have ‘free’ health care and education or should individuals pay full price for them? Should we aggressively pursue policies to reduce greenhouse gases? What ought to be the relationship of the mass public (demos) to the ruling elites? Have we something to learn from the yellow shirts in France? Should we aspire to encourage our students to experience such activities as protest marches against climate change in order to enable them to develop a habitual disposition to challenge authorities if they feel that they are acting against the interests of the public at large?

        Once we clarify this first point – then secondly we are able to address the aims and purposes of education, which in turn will provide criteria by which we can unpack the sorts of pedagogical approaches that might have more value than others.

        Thirdly, we can perhaps develop a more holistic view of human persons who might be more than just brains. This would importantly identify the sort of character/disposition and desires that students ought to have to be able to flourish and grow in a society which is able to do likewise. That is, the ‘good’ for individuals is simultaneously the ‘good’ for society.

        Fourthly, we might better then to determine the sorts of experiences that students ought to be engaged with in order to mature in the ways that have been identified in point 3 so that the ‘big picture’ of point 1 might be actualised.

        How does this sound for starters – hopefully not condescending 😉
        Cheers
        Scott

      2. Scott,
        It is quite easy to be absolutely condescending and correct. It just doesn’t look good or help people see your point. Your views that politicians are talking about the wrong things is condescending to almost everyone involved. Presumably they aim to talk about what is important to people and according to you either they have that wrong or the majority of people do. That others are concerned about the means of enjoying the fruits of their labor (economics) more than you may just mean you lead quite a privileged existence compared to the typical voter who is more concerned about job security and affording a good life than you are.

  6. Personally I think that there is a very big gulf between education ‘academics’ and classroom teachers.
    When I have bottom set Y9 last lesson on a wet Friday afternoon I don’t particularly care what Dewey or Vygotsky thought about learning and education. What I do want to know is what works.

    1. I am really sorry that you have taken this view of academics as if you could speak for us all. I am of the firm belief that the friction should not be between academics and teachers. I have several friends who are teachers and we regularly engage in each other’s work. Actually academics have very little influence in schooling policies and practices. Instead, we have government bureaucrats assigned to writing policies, and if you look at the list of references in such policy documents I suspect you will find most of the them are made to other government departments and their think tanks – with only a very few cherry picked academic writings. Certainly nothing critical from academics will be included. The curricula are primarily political documents.

      For me personally, when I took a class full of year 9 indigenous students on a wet Friday afternoon, I found the ideas from Dewey, Vygotsky and others to be incredibly enlightening – and of course were employed for the benefit of the students. In choosing to only work in state (public) schools I experienced that my students and their parents nominated me for a national teaching award – so I guess applying some ‘theoretical’ ideas to Friday afternoon classes was appreciated 😉 I owe so many of my teaching ideas to what I have read and I am sorry to hear you have not had the same experience.

  7. Give them what they need to be successful with a task that you give them and whatever they need to be able to do it even better than they thought they could (i.e. plenty of explicit teaching/direct instruction). 🙂

    1. I actually think that the biggest issue highlighted by Scott Webster’s comment, is the different understanding of explicit instruction held by he and others, compared with my understanding of explicit instruction. E.g. Is the following explicit instruction? (This off the top of my head … not intended to be a comprehensive example):

      Read three sources, which each describe very different views of WHAT constitutes learning/education; then summarize the thoughts of the authors and provide a personal critique of each view. Next, compare and contrast the views of the three authors as expressed in these three pieces. Then, discuss your understanding, critiques and comparisons with others. Finally, integrate their thinking with your own, as you deem appropriate, in order to write a persuasive piece as to what consitutes the most USEFUL view of “learning” for teachers.

      I would call that explicit instruction in how to develop an informed view regarding which views of learning are useful (although it relies on students already having been provided instruction in how to read, summarize, critique, compare, contrast, and integrate information). I suspect that others would consider it too directive to be considered an inquiry or problem based approach. Is it? What counts as explicit or direct instruction? Without defining terms, the discussion seems to me to be largely a waste of time.

      1. Hi Sarapeden. I think you are raising some great questions here that I wish could have initiated the discussion. I totally agree with you that unless we can establish some common understandings regarding certain terms then it makes any further discussion difficult to say the least. My only concern is that this particular blog does not seem conducive as demonstrated by the initial post which accused my attempt to seek clarification and distinction as a slide to Godwin’s law which of course, when read carefully, it clearly was not. But careful reading is not something valued by some.
        Indeed the original posting consists of other hyperbolic statements such as “So the problem with teaching kids phonics or their times-tables or the order of the planets in the solar system is that it all ends with Nazi Germany” simply doesn’t encourage intelligent exploration and debate – as is evidenced by many other comments which have been made since. This is a pity – so many people wanting to condemn views which happen to differ to their own. Perhaps this is why explicit instruction appears so attractive to them 😉
        Anyway as you have already indicated, the overall discussion is not actually going anywhere on this blog and so I am finishing off. All the very best. Scott

      2. I do use hyperbole because I think it makes posts more interesting and honest. This is not an academic journal. It seems odd that you would pick up on this, given that you have linked explicit teaching to ‘indoctrination’ and invoked Nazi Germany. I do not agree that ‘of course, when read carefully, it clearly was not’ a case of Godwin’s Law. I have read your statement very carefully and it was precisely a case of Godwin’s Law.

  8. Greg,

    I’d like to point out that Scott’s invocation of the Nazi’s is actually doing him a disservice.

    Direct instruction is so powerful, and so useful, and so effective, and so key to communicating ideas that can be acted on that the Nazi’s were able to use it to teach an entire nation their way of thinking, despite it being completely crazy. Would to God they had stuck with Dewey’s theories of education and left folks scratching their heads wondering what that was all about instead.

    Cheers,

    Josh

    1. Joshua please read things more carefully. The reference pertains to rates of low ill-literacy and the lack of relation to valuing democracy.

  9. Hi again Greg. I am putting up my final reply now but unfortunately I can’t see an option to reply to your latest posting in the same thread – so am having to resort to what might look like a new thread>

    GA: This is incorrect. I offer evidence for my position that explicit instruction is an effective approach.
    SW: You might need to check social-efficiency ideology. When a claim is made that something is ‘effective’ it requires that further criteria be provided so that we know what something is effective for. For example, what is explicit instruction ‘effective’ for… training? Or indoctrination? Or education?

    GA: I have dealt with what you have written.
    SW: No Greg, you haven’t. As per your comment below, you write “I don’t see why we should”. BTW it is interesting that you use the term ‘we’.

    GA: I mentioned my science background as a way of explaining why I don’t accept that Dewey’s thoughts on education are a ‘theory’.
    SW: And I am responding by pointing out that an appeal to a science background is not an argument which justifies what you are asserting. Are you suggesting that ‘theory’ is only able to be understood from a natural (or is it physical perhaps) science perspective?? And if so, does such a perspective have validity or is it just a matter of mere opinion?

    GA: I think the fact that inductive reasoning is difficult bolsters the case for explicit instruction over asking students to make these deductive steps for themselves.
    SW: No it doesn’t. You might have to read or re-read Popper regarding inductive and deductive reasoning. It is not simply that inductive reasoning is ‘difficult’. The key here is deductive thinking because there are no un-interpreted data. This is why for your own PhD work having a theoretical framework is so important. Sorry if you consider this condescending – I have only been wanting to help. No worries though if you are not interested.

    GA: This seems to be a mix of two logical fallacies – appeal to authority and appeal to popularity…. It is not the case that just because a large number of eminent people believe something to be true that it is true.
    SW: Hmmm…. You might want to reconsider what you are actually saying here Greg with regards to the role of professional journals. Clearly your statement doesn’t reflect their role and your appeal to these fallacies is misleading because professional journals do not rely upon either of these. Some reference to ‘validity’ might assist, or even some reference to a definition of ‘knowledge’ would help.

    GA: Accusing someone of ‘positivism’ is a way of dismissing their argument without having to engage with it.
    SW: 😀 😀 and supposedly you have been engaging with my arguments LOL.

    SW past comment: “So I’d much prefer if you (and your readers) engage with the actual argument dealing with how ‘learning’ is conceived differently depending upon whether the aim is to train, indoctrinate or educate.”
    GA: I don’t see why we should.
    SW: But might it be important?

    SW: Indoctrination could as easily arise out of your methods as mine.
    SW: And how might this be the case? Do you actually magically know what my ‘methods’ are? And how are you defining indoctrination?

    GA: You seem to want to impose your own notion of a good life on students
    SW: Good grief – what a weird statement to make Greg. And the evidence for your statement here is…???

    GA: I do not like your arguments because I think they damage students.
    SW: A rather hyperbolic statement to say the least don’t you think? Clearly this is what you ‘want’ to believe. You have no evidence whatsoever – in fact what I have shared with you would indicate the complete opposite. I’d appreciate if you actually read the work of others more carefully.

    Suffice to conclude Greg, your comments and blog doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of curiosity to share but rather the ‘we’ to which you refer seem to be more inclined to indulge in ad hominem attacks rather than thoughtful discussions. So I shan’t spend any more time here.
    All the best with your future studies.
    Regards
    Scott

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think WordPress only allows a set number of replies to each individual comment.

      To your points:

      “You might need to check social-efficiency ideology. When a claim is made that something is ‘effective’ it requires that further criteria be provided so that we know what something is effective for. For example, what is explicit instruction ‘effective’ for… training? Or indoctrination? Or education?”

      As I have previously mentioned, I do not accept your taxonomy. I view the effectiveness of a pedagogical approach as the degree to which students learn and can apply the intended concepts. For instance, in mathematics, if I am teaching students about quadratic equations, I would want them to be able to solve problems involving quadratic equations at the end of this process. Ideally, these would vary from those used for teaching i.e. we would achieve a degree of transfer. I haven’t explained this before because I did not think it was necessary. I would suggest that this is perhaps the common sense view of what effectiveness means.

      “No Greg, you haven’t. As per your comment below, you write “I don’t see why we should”. BTW it is interesting that you use the term ‘we’.”

      Thank you. I now understand what you mean by this. No, I haven’t accepted your taxonomy (training, learning, indoctrination, education etc.) as you haven’t given a convincing reason to do so. It is not clear what this adds to the argument. However, I believe I have engaged in your arguments. I assume you don’t require me to accept your arguments in order to describe me as having engaged with them.

      My use of the word ‘we’ is a response to you referring to me and my readers.

      “Are you suggesting that ‘theory’ is only able to be understood from a natural (or is it physical perhaps) science perspective?? And if so, does such a perspective have validity or is it just a matter of mere opinion?”

      It is very much my opinion that a theory should be supported by a substantial body of evidence, yes. It is interesting to wonder what the difference is between ‘mere opinion’ and the opinions of someone like Dewey that you refer to as ‘theory’.

      “The key here is deductive thinking because there are no un-interpreted data.”

      I don’t know what you mean by this.

      “This is why for your own PhD work having a theoretical framework is so important.”

      Not that I have brought my PhD into this discussion, but I will point out that it does have a theoretical framework, Cognitive Load Theory, which is supported by a substantial body of evidence.

      “Hmmm…. You might want to reconsider what you are actually saying here Greg with regards to the role of professional journals. Clearly your statement doesn’t reflect their role and your appeal to these fallacies is misleading because professional journals do not rely upon either of these. Some reference to ‘validity’ might assist, or even some reference to a definition of ‘knowledge’ would help.”

      Are we to accept everything in professional journals to be true? That would be odd. As far as I am aware, debates rage across professional journals about contentious topics. Your suggestion above that, “it might be worth having a look through something like Google Scholar and searching the citations to Dewey to see how many other people are similarly dismissive of him being a ‘theorist’” fits the definition of both an appeal to authority and an appeal to popularity.

      “And how might this be the case? Do you actually magically know what my ‘methods’ are? And how are you defining indoctrination?”

      Given your scepticism about explicit teaching, I assume you advocate for inquiry learning or variations on this theme. If not, you can always clarify.

      I don’t feel the need to define ‘indoctrination’ given that you have introduced the term. However, I would consider it to consist of inculcating beliefs in an ideology or religion. You could do this via inquiry learning by presenting a biased selection of sources. It may perhaps be trickier, given that inquiry is less effective than explicit teaching, but the students may be less aware that they have been indoctrinated and may therefore hold onto this beliefs more strongly.

      “Good grief – what a weird statement to make Greg. And the evidence for your statement here is…???”

      I was referring to what you wrote in a different comment about “This would importantly identify the sort of character/disposition and desires that students ought to have to be able to flourish and grow in a society which is able to do likewise.” I find the idea of identifying desires that students ought to have to be Orwellian.

      “A rather hyperbolic statement to say the least don’t you think? Clearly this is what you ‘want’ to believe. You have no evidence whatsoever – in fact what I have shared with you would indicate the complete opposite. I’d appreciate if you actually read the work of others more carefully.”

      I do think arguing against explicit teaching is damaging to students because explicit teaching is the most effective form of teaching. If we use less of it on the spurious grounds that it may lead to ‘indoctrination’ then fewer children will learn key life skills such as reading, writing and mathematics and they possess less key enabling knowledge. This means they will have fewer resources available to pursue their own goals.

      “Suffice to conclude Greg, your comments and blog doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of curiosity to share but rather the ‘we’ to which you refer seem to be more inclined to indulge in ad hominem attacks rather than thoughtful discussions.”

      I do not believe I have indulged in any ad hominem attacks. I have largely responded to what you have written.

    2. “Are you suggesting that ‘theory’ is only able to be understood from a natural (or is it physical perhaps) science perspective?? And if so, does such a perspective have validity or is it just a matter of mere opinion?”

      Yes. This was perhaps my greatest frustration while going through teacher training. I come from a physics/mathematics background, and I keep getting the impression that my concept of theory is different from the concept of “theory” used by most in education. As Greg has also stated, a theory is falsifiable, supported by a strong basis of evidence (as objectively measured as possible, and with a proper statistical analysis) and is consistent with other theory about the same subject (in the case of education, also consistent with with we know about cognitive psychology.) The moment a single data point appears which contradicts a theory, I start considering throwing said theory under a bus.

      This is so ingrained in me it’s become the way I learn, the first thing I ask myself when confronted with new knowledge is “Is this really true? How can I disprove it?” Only after I have understood why all my attempts to disprove fail do I get the impression I have learned something new.

      A lot of education theory does not meet this standard, some has trouble reaching my standard for slightly believable pop-psychology.

      When commenting about this during teacher training I got the response that I “worry too much about what is true or not.”

  10. It is not an ad-hominem fallacy to point out someone is a fraud. This regularly happens when someone attempts to teach anti vax ideas at a university. There we see the students themselves flagging this violation of scientific rigor and dangerous false attempts at balance.

    The are frauds in academia. They may believe what they say but falling for your own BS doesn’t stop it being fraudulent. Just because fooling yourself worked doesn’t make it less of a deception to try to fool others.

    It can be quite easy to see a fraud in action. When presented with a compelling factual error in what they say do they thank you or give you credit for a point well made? I think Greg’s point about the huge problem with a short bit of reading verses a long one is compelling evidence of BS. As is the garbage about the brain not being the home of character. Checking for BS is actually easy here – you just look for one compelling error and see how they will not address it when it should be the most important thing to them. Imagine any real scientist doing this – someone finds a flaw in Andrew Wiles’ proof and instead of spending a year fixing it he points them to an unrelated chapter.

    When your argument involves shifting your ground from what the other person is obviously talking about to something you have decided the words can mean Humpty Dumpty style it is pretty clear who is full of BS. Everyone here went to high school. Everyone knows it involves lots of learning pretty straightforward stuff – from quadratics to cell biology. Someone arguing that no it is all about winning minds in a political revolution is denying what is evident to anyone.

    When someone has pointed out all the arguments made are fraudulent the conclusion that the person is operating a scam (even if unconsciously) is not a further attempt to dismiss their arguments. That is not needed. It is done.. It is a call to stop paying them to do this and stop others wasting their lives listening to them. Just as we would with an anti-vax proponent.

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