Censored by The Conversation

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Earlier, The Conversation published an article on play-based learning. The article, by Kate Noble of The Mitchell Institute, a think tank focused on education and health, makes an enthusiastic case for learning through play.

Play-based learning has a long record. It is often mandated in early years settings to the extent that anything that looks like formal teaching is effectively forbidden. Play clearly has an important role in human development, but we invented formal education for a reason. In Project Follow Through, the largest education experiment ever conducted, different approaches to early education were compared with each other and the more formal Direct Instruction method (which still allowed for a lot of time spent playing) not only led to better basic skills and higher order academic outcomes, it led to higher self-esteem than the alternatives. The less successful models, such as the Bank Street model, are similar to this description by Noble of a play-based approach:

“…a skilled educator can help children discover new ideas when they play with water. The educator might encourage children to playfully experiment with water tubs and toys in a way that allows them to develop their own hypotheses about how water behaves in certain situations and why.

The educator could work with the children to test their hypotheses, questioning and talking to them about what they observe during their play.”

I felt the article did not differentiate between the kinds of knowledge that can be easily learnt through play and the kinds that cannot and so I left the following comment:

“This article misses an important distinction between what David C. Geary describes as ‘biologically primary’ versus ‘biologically secondary’ knowledge.


Biologically primary knowledge is knowledge that we have evolved to acquire. For example, humans have been talking to each other for many hundreds of thousands of years and so the ability to acquire speaking and listening skills has been acted upon by the process of evolution. In contrast, writing has only been around for about 6000 years and mass literacy has only been with us since the 19th century. Therefore we have not had sufficient time to evolve ways of acquiring the skills of reading and writing.

We can pick-up biologically primary skills with ease through immersion or play. However, this has led to the misconception that we can also pick-up biologically secondary knowledge in this way. However, the evidence suggests that this is not the case:


Acquiring biologically secondary knowledge is effortful and usually requires explicit teaching. This is because biologically secondary knowledge has to pass through our extremely limited working memories which can only process about four items at any given time. Therefore, expecting children to pick up biologically secondary knowledge such as scientific knowledge of water through play is misconceived. You could argue that the need to acquire biologically secondary knowledge is why we invented schools in the first place.

This does not mean there is no room for play. It is essential in gaining biologically primary knowledge such as social skills. Schools should therefore facilitate play, but they should not expect it to do things it has not evolved to do.”

Shortly afterwards, I received an automated email from The Conversation, informing me that my comment had been deleted:

“Your comment on ‘Children learn through play – it shouldn’t stop at preschool’ has been removed.

There are several reasons why this may have occurred:

  1. Your comment may have breached our community standards. For example it may have been a personal attack, or you might not have used your real name.
  2. Your comment may have been entirely blameless but part of a thread that was removed because another comment had to be removed.
  3. It might have been removed for another editorial reason, for example to avoid repetition or keep the conversation on topic

For practical reasons we reserve the right to remove any comment and all decisions must be final, but please don’t take it personally.

If you’re playing by the rules it’s unlikely to happen again, so feel free to continue to post new comments and engage in polite and respectful discussion.”

This did not seem to add up and so I emailed Sasha Petrova, the education editor of The Conversation to inform her that I would be reposting my comment on my blog and asking for a comment on why it had been removed. Petrova replied:

“Sure. I deleted it as it is off topic. The article doesn’t call for less explicit instruction, nor is there any mention of it. It calls for more integration of play-based learning in early years of school to ease the transition to formal instruction – not that formal instruction (and even here it doesn’t specify that formal means “explicit”) must be abolished.”

So there you are. My comment was apparently off topic. No, it doesn’t make any sense to me either.


3 thoughts on “Censored by The Conversation

  1. Tempe says:

    Very fishy. They seem to have an agenda. I had comments deleted recently too which I thought were perfectly reasonable & no explanation was offered.

    I think you should keep posting because it’s clear they don’t want your opinion and they don’t want a real conversation at all.

  2. Pingback: MoP 2 : A One-Way Conversation – BAD MATHEMATICS

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