Why smart people say stupid things: a response to Jack Ma

2019-01-24T14:36:07+00:00January 24th, 2019|Featured|

In case you're unaware, I've just published a book that explains the role of knowledge in thought. Rather than rehash the arguments in depth (there are a series of chapter summaries here) suffice it to say that no one, no matter how intelligent they believe themselves to be, can think about something of which they have no awareness. It's literally impossible, but I'll pause for you to give it go if you're unconvinced... We can only think about things we know, and, the more we know the greater our capacity for thought. It therefore follows that if we want young people [...]

Skill = knowledge + practice

2021-10-24T23:34:41+01:00January 11th, 2019|learning|

Over the years I've thought a lot about whether we should be teaching children knowledge of the world or the skills to flourish within it. The debate has moved on a lot in recent years and today it's rare to find anyone arguing against teaching knowledge, but there are many who would still advocate for a balance of knowledge and skill. The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to see just how meaningless this distinction is. Knowledge and skill are two sides of the same coin. Or, to attempt another analogy, think about teaching as cooking: 'knowledge' is [...]

If not knowledge, what?

2018-12-05T16:36:02+00:00July 14th, 2017|Featured|

knowledge /ˈnɒlɪdʒ/ noun facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. "a thirst for knowledge" awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation. "the programme had been developed without his knowledge" It came home to me for the first time yesterday that those of us who talk about putting knowledge at the heart of education might not be talking about the same thing. In a recent post, I wrote the following: Philosophers tend to think about knowledge as justified true belief. Getting to grips with this would involve recapping some [...]

‘Understanding’ and Occam’s razor

2020-03-28T06:59:44+00:00June 24th, 2017|learning|

At the beginning of the 20th century, the physicists Hendrik Lorentz and Albert Einstein both concluded independently that measurements of light speed would be the same for all observers. But while both arrived at the same results from their equations, Lorentz’s explanation relied on changes that take place in ‘the ether’. Because Einstein's paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies made no reference to a mysterious, undetectable substance, his explanation was accepted as being the most likely. Even after Einstein's theory of special relativity had been accepted, Lorentz wasn't willing to let go of his belief in 'luminiferous aether'. In 1909 he wrote, "Yet, I think, something may also [...]

Everyone values critical thinking, don’t they?

2019-10-19T22:30:02+01:00May 2nd, 2017|Featured|

NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir! Charles Dickens, Hard Times Gradgrind was a fictional character. Dickens invented him as a caricature of what was no doubt some fairly awful teaching in [...]

Why what you teach matters

2016-11-05T15:11:11+00:00November 4th, 2016|curriculum, learning|

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that within the next two years Ofsted will stop grading the quality of teaching, learning and assessment as part of their overall judgement on schools' effectiveness. This will probably be replaced with a judgement on a school's curriculum and assessment policies and practices. If I'm right, how a teacher teaches will become less and less important, instead, schools will be increasingly held to account for what they teach. Even if I'm wrong, I think it's still very important to think carefully about what we teach. Judgements on how teachers teach are primarily  concerned with whether children [...]

The Illusion of Knowing

2017-04-18T23:41:37+01:00November 20th, 2015|leadership|

Knowledge, n.: The small part of ignorance that we arrange and classify. Ambrose Bierce Advanced Learning has commissioned me to write a piece about the uses and abuses of data in schools. My thesis, if that's not too grand a term, is that while data can be extraordinarily useful in helping us make good decisions, too much data leads, inexorably, to overload. When we have too much data we start doing silly things with it, just because we have it. The cost of bad data is the conviction that we have figured out all the possible permutations and know exactly what we're doing [...]

A decreased focus on facts & knowledge won't help either

2015-09-21T19:17:50+01:00September 21st, 2015|Featured|

Knowledge is that which, next to virtue, truly raises one person above another. - Joseph Addison The TES reports today that “A leading independent school headmaster has warned that the greater focus on facts and knowledge in reformed GCSEs and A-levels may fail to equip pupils for the modern world.” Well, duh. Anything may fail or succeed in its aims, but this statement sort of assumes that up until now GCSEs and A levels have been doing a bang up job of preparing students for the modern world. I have little doubt that some pupils will continue to be every bit [...]

Chicken or egg? Thoughts about thinking

2015-04-24T19:08:55+01:00April 24th, 2015|Featured|

Which comes first? The chicken of knowledge or the egg of thinking? Over the past few years I have been advocating the view that thinking is a very shallow experience without knowledge. It seems self-evident that you can't think about something you don't yet know. Give it a go... tricky, isn't it? But not only that, the more you know the better you can think about it. If I ask you to think about, say quantum physics, unless you know something about it you'll probably be reduced to "What's quantum physics?" or repeating quantum physics, quantum physics over and over again. [...]

Can a good teacher teach anything well?

2016-09-03T16:06:52+01:00December 14th, 2013|learning|

I used to work for a headteacher who was fond of saying "We're teachers of children, not teachers of subjects." This was justification for having non-specialist teachers in certain shortage subjects. Like any axiom, there's some truth in this statement: teaching children is an art unto itself. There's definitely a case to be made for the fact that I might do a better job of teaching a maths lesson than a random maths graduate. My years of teaching experience mean that I'm well-versed in the essentials of persuading teenagers to sit down and do some work instead of snap-chatting each other. [...]

Some dichotomies are real: the ‘and/or debate’

2018-09-24T23:29:26+01:00December 6th, 2013|Featured|

I get quite cross when I hear people who really should know better dismissing the knowledge/skills debate as a “mindless dichotomy". It’s not. The ideological opposition between proponents of these views is real, pervasive and powerful. The attempt by some educators to pretend that these differences don’t really exist is unhelpful. For the record, here is what I believe: Knowledge is transformational. You can’t think about something you don’t know. Once you know a thing it becomes possible to think about it. The thinking, in whatever form it takes, is a 'skill'. Not all knowledge is equal. Some propositional knowledge has [...]

It’s not what you know… oh, hang on: it IS what you know!

2018-09-24T23:37:12+01:00November 9th, 2013|learning|

I'm fed up of people who should know better saying they're bored with the false dichotomy of skills versus knowledge. The knowledge vs skills debate is always worth having because it conceals a more fundamental disagreement (a real dichotomy, if you will) about what's most important. Let's agree that no one is actually advocating that no knowledge is taught. I'm sure this is true. But saying that knowledge is 'just a foundation for higher order thinking' isn't good enough either. This picture from Joe Kirby's blog sums it up for me: Analysis, application, evaluation and all the rest are the merely the [...]

Go to Top