Seven myths about education, by Daisy Christodoulou

Since my daughter was born, almost a year and a half ago (already!), I have been concerned about how to educate her. My own experience suggested that even the education from some of the best primary schools might still fall short of extracting as much potential as possible. For this reason, I watched the interview of Katharine Birbalsingh in The Rubin Report with great interest. She mentioned a book, called Seven Myths about Education, by Daisy Christodoulou. After reading the great reviews, I bought it immediately.

Christodoulou does something that should be common practice but it almost never is: she “steelmans” her opponents. A common practice when arguing against a position is to strawman this position: to create usually an extreme version of your opponent’s view, one that they are unlikely to hold, and then attack that view rather than your opponent’s.  Christodoulou, however, does the opposite: she goes to the actual sources to show that the myths she is referring to are present in the educational system in Britain; she takes the most benign view on the intentions of their proponents; and then she refutes them using a vast amount of evidence—including evidence from the scientific community.

The myths can be found at the end of this post. But I will mention the main two takeaways that I got from the book. One is the false dichotomy between knowledge and skills, and the failure to recognise that skill is extremely dependent on knowledge, in particular knowledge stored in our long-term memory. As we make progress in understanding how the human brain works, we are better able to tailor the way we teach to achieve the maximum impact.

The second point is more general and applies to many different situations: it seems that some (many?) teachers in Britain base their teaching on one or several theories rather than relying on the empirical evidence on what works best. Christodoulou mentions some examples of teachers that did not have any exposure to such evidence. Why would one want to be blind to this? Is not it the key objective to improve the education of our kids? I am sure it is, but sometimes it seems like it is more important to shield and protect certain theories—irrespective of how wrong they are—from the truth.

The book is great, with a superb work collecting evidence. Highly recommended.

The seven myths are:

  1. Facts prevent understanding.
  2. Teacher-led instruction is passive.
  3. The twenty-first century fundamentally changes everything.
  4. You can always just look it up.
  5. We should teach transferable skills.
  6. Projects and activities are the best way to learn.
  7. Teaching knowledge is indoctrination.
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