seven myths about education: the myths

Well, I’ve finally been and gone and read Daisy Christodoulou’s book Seven Myths about Education. Overall, her argument goes as follows;

• the English education system is dominated by a certain set of ideas
• the ideas can be epitomised as seven ‘myths’
• cognitive science demonstrates that the myths are wrong.

Broadly speaking, a challenge to the dominant orthodoxy of the education system is certainly overdue and cognitive science is a good place to start. But when it comes down to specifics I felt that Daisy’s analysis of the ideas, her understanding of the grounds for challenging them, and the conclusions she draws don’t stand up to scrutiny. The discrepancy between the surface plausibility of the arguments and their underlying structure would explain why this book been both lauded and criticised. Whether you laud it or criticise it will depend on the level at which you read it.

the English education system is dominated by a certain set of ideas

The evidence from theory and practice the author sets out supports her thesis that some ideas predominate in educational theory and that teachers are encouraged, if not pressurised, into implementing those ideas. But that’s not all there is to it; there are things missing from the analysis. The English education system is complex, so the quality of education students get is dependent on a range of factors. These include not only the ideas that shape the content of teacher training, the content of the curriculum and the criteria used in Ofsted inspections, but the structure of the system itself, the framework of accountability and expectations about what the system should achieve. No author could tackle everything in one book, of course, but the ideas that shape teacher training and practice need to be assessed in the context of the system as a whole, so a brief explanation of Daisy’s view of the other factors would have been helpful.

the ideas can be epitomised as seven ‘myths’

The myths are;

1. facts prevent understanding
2. teacher-led instruction is passive
3. the 21st 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 just indoctrination

The structure of the book is clear; one chapter is devoted to each myth and each of the myth chapters is divided into three sections – ‘theoretical evidence’, ‘modern practice’ and ‘why is it a myth’? Unfortunately the same degree of clarity doesn’t apply to the analysis of the ideas. Three tendencies muddy the water;

• a failure to make a clear distinction between theory, opinion and practice
• treating ideas that bear a passing resemblance to a myth as equivalent to the myth itself
• assuming that subscribing to an idea that resembles one myth implies subscribing to other myths.

a distinction between theory, opinion and practice

For some myths (3, 4, 5 and 6) the only difference between the theoretical evidence and the modern practice described is that the two sections contain different quotations – the sources are the same. This might be because the myths in question don’t have a theoretical basis; we’re not told. But given the author’s claim that she’s interested in tracing ideas (p.6) her failure to identify the roots of some of the myths is disappointing. An exploration of their origins might have shed some light on why they’ve been adopted.

ideas that bear a passing resemblance to a myth equated with the myth itself

For most of the myths, several examples of theory and practice are about ideas related to the myth, not the myth itself. For example, questioning the reliability or validity of facts is equated to ‘facts prevent understanding’; calling for holistic and coherent curriculum content to ‘projects and activities are the best way to learn’; and advocating a degree of autonomy in learning to ‘teaching knowledge is just indoctrination’. This conflation would account for the ‘illogical’ criticism Daisy complains about on her blog – people claiming that the myths don’t exist whilst simultaneously agreeing that she has found examples of them presented as best practice. If several related but different ideas are being conflated and treated as one, it’s not surprising that confusion has followed.

subscribing to an idea that resembles one myth implies subscribing to other myths

In several chapters the theoretical evidence refers to myths and related ideas other than the one the chapter purports to be about. The theoretical evidence for myth 2, ‘teacher-led instruction is passive’, refers to children’s difficulties with constant questions and with learning to read, interdisciplinary learning and the power relationship between pupil and teacher, rather than passivity. Evidence for myth 7, ‘teaching knowledge is just indoctrination’, includes questioning the objectivity of facts and advocating interdisciplinary activities and projects, rather than teachers indoctrinating children.

You could argue that people who subscribe to one myth (or ideas related to it) often do subscribe to other myths (or ideas related to them). But the author’s case rests on evidence of the prevalence of seven quite specific ideas. She also claims to trace those ideas from theory to practice (p.6). Her case would have been stronger if she’d been able to do that with more precision.

Daisy locates the origin of all the myths in postmodernism. She says;

Postmodernism is sceptical about the value of truth and knowledge, and many of these myths have at their heart a deep scepticism about the value of knowledge. It is for this reason that I begin with myth 1 (facts prevent understanding) and 2 (teacher-led instruction is passive). These could be said to be the foundation myths of all the others discussed in this book.” (p.8)

To illustrate how ideas are handled in this book, it’s worth taking a closer look at one of the foundational myths – myth 1 ‘facts prevent understanding’.

facts prevent understanding

Daisy attempts to demonstrate the theoretical basis of the myth ‘facts prevent understanding’ by quoting from Rousseau, Dewey, Freire and Dickens. But the quotations are actually about ideas other than ‘facts prevent understanding’. Rousseau expected children to learn facts via nature rather than formal schooling, Dewey objected to pedagogical methods that prevented children learning, Freire explicitly objects to the ‘banking’ approach in education because it conceals facts from children (Freire p.83) and Dickens’ concern was that facts alone were being taught.

Despite failing to demonstrate that the four authors actually thought that facts prevent understanding, Daisy refers to a ‘common trope’ between them. “They all set up polar opposites between facts, which are generally seen as bad, and something else, which is generally seen as good” (p.13). But they don’t. According to the evidence cited, what the writers objected to was the way facts were presented in schools. The alternatives they proposed might not be any better, but it doesn’t follow that any of them thought that facts, per se, were bad.

The origins of the myth, according to the author, lie with Rousseau. His emphasis was actually on what children could learn from interactions with the harsh reality of nature as distinct from than human interventions that were frequently ineffectual. Although Rousseau’s influence is clearly traceable through to modern educational practice, his underlying idea that understanding is as important as factual knowledge is also exemplified in John Locke (who influenced Rousseau), in the Socratic method and in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, taking it back to several centuries BC. In other words, a distinction between facts and understanding was around for quite a while before Rousseau appeared on the scene.

Daisy acknowledges “sometimes it is argued that these theorists were not hostile to facts per se, merely to certain prescriptive and artificial methods of learning such facts” (p.13) and says she considers this argument in full in the following chapter. What she actually does in that chapter is to quote Rousseau on endless questions from teachers, children’s curiosity and rote learning, Dewey on the correlation of school subjects, and Freire on the co-construction of learning, none of which says anything about hostility to facts.

She concludes that the national curriculum ‘opposes’ subject content and subject concepts just as Rousseau, Dewey, Freire and Dickens allegedly ‘opposed’ facts with “meaning, understanding, reasoning, significance…imagination or creativity” (p.13). Her evidence from the national curriculum certainly demonstrates a move towards subject concepts at the expense of subject content, but that’s a far cry from propagating the idea that ‘facts prevent understanding’. Yet by the end of the chapter on myth 1, theorists and government agencies are described as ‘sceptical about the value of facts’. By the end of the chapter on myth 2, theorists have become ‘hostile’ to facts. What Daisy does, in effect, is to lump together all ideas that include any reservations whatsoever about factual information, who presents it or how it is presented, and assume that what they all boil down to is a belief that ‘facts prevent understanding’. They don’t, of course.

facts

Facts are a key issue for Daisy. She cites Berger and Luckman’s The Social Construction of Reality as epitomising the thinking of some educational theorists for whom ‘the very concept of knowledge is problematic’ (p.111), and comments;

“…Berger and Luckman looked at the way that many of the facts we perceived to be true were in fact social constructions. They did not objectively exist out there somewhere. They were brought into being because we all believed in them, and very often they were buttressed by institutional power” (p.109). (Daisy’s emphasis).

What she doesn’t appear to have thought through is why anyone could see truth, facts and knowledge as problematic. Yet these concepts have had philosophers, historians, lawyers and scientists scratching their heads for centuries. This isn’t because of hostility to facts – all these disciplines actively seek out facts – but because it’s very difficult for human beings to determine what is true and therefore factual. Each of these disciplines is well aware that facts involve degrees of uncertainty and has had to devise ways of evaluating the reliability and validity of evidence behind the facts. The root of the problem isn’t that some people think that facts do not ‘objectively exist out there somewhere’ but that our awareness of what is objectively ‘out there somewhere’ is at the mercy of our perception, which is notoriously unreliable. Ironically cognitive science has recently begun to identify the mechanisms behind the vagaries of human perception that have been so perplexing for so long.

Much of the information transmitted in schools is backed by pretty solid evidence, so for all intents and purposes we can refer to it as factual; e.g. how photosynthesis works, what happens during volcanic eruptions, where and when the battle of Hastings took place, the rules of algebra. Other information is less certain; how subatomic particles behave, evolution, climate change, the causes of WW1. In the latter examples, trying to determine whether the information is factual or not is unhelpful. It’s more informative to frame it in terms of the reliability and validity of the evidence and what conclusions can be drawn about it. I think Daisy is right that currently these skills might be being introduced prematurely, before children have a sufficient grasp of the data and the structure of the relevant knowledge domain, but sooner or later students need to be introduced to uncertainty in knowledge and how to tackle it. The problematic nature of facts doesn’t mean that all facts are equally problematic. Nor does it mean that they are all equally unproblematic. The factualness of information varies, and students need to know how and why it varies.

The evidence that Daisy presents suggests that social constructivism has had a disproportionate influence on educational theory. That’s not surprising given the importance of social interaction and verbal communication in education; education lends itself to a social constructivist paradigm. But this disproportionate influence has resulted in findings from other relevant knowledge domains relevant to education being overlooked. These include fields relating to child development such as genetics, molecular biology, linguistics and developmental and cognitive psychology, and those relating to structural issues such as organisational psychology and the history of education.

I think Daisy is right to highlight the dominance of certain ideas, but she has oversimplified a complex situation. She’s taken groups of ideas with common themes – such as facts, teacher authority, an integrated curriculum – and assumed that one, often extreme, related idea can exemplify all the ideas in a group. Another oversimplification crops up in relation to cognitive science, the subject of my next post.

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23 thoughts on “seven myths about education: the myths

  1. An excellent analysis, thank you. I would be interested to know how long it took you to put it together.

    I will be looking with great interest to see how the blogosphere, especially those who have nailed their colours to the Daisy mast.

    I believe that for most professional educators this is a fringe issue, in that they teach in their classrooms in an eclectic way despite the dominant orthodoxy.

      • The mulling is apparent in the quality of the post for me. I would guess that some comments will simply regurgitate the same old “I agree with Daisy so you must be wrong” response. A great shame but hopefully some comments will be more constructive and thought provoking.

  2. So, you are objecting to how Daisy summarises each idea, not any of her actual arguments? Isn’t this a repeat of your complaints about how cognitive science is used? You declare that what others say is too simple, or doesn’t make the distinctions you want made, but in no way do you actually provide any evidence that any part of what is claimed is wrong.

    Presumably you could use this argument against anything you didn’t want to accept *regardless* of whether it was true or not? After all, people will always express their ideas as simply as possible, and pay attention only to what is relevant to their argument.

    • No, I’m saying that in several cases Daisy doesn’t demonstrate that the myths exist, because her evidence refers to different ideas from the myths. e.g. ‘facts prevent understanding’ does not mean the same as ‘facts poorly presented prevent understanding’ which is what the four ‘theorists’ Daisy cites say. It’s possible that elsewhere they did say ‘facts prevent understanding’ but since all of them explicitly complain that the way schools teach facts prevents children from learning, I think that’s unlikely. Not sure what evidence would convince you, OA.

      Of course people focus on what is relevant to their argument. But a skilled speaker or writer will signpost the fact that they have considered the context to head off objections that they’ve missed things.

      I don’t agree that people always express their ideas as simply as possible. Some people oversimplify, others overcomplicate. And it’s not uncommon for people say things like “I think x, but I take into account y, and of course z”. Spot on if there are three factors involved.

      • First point: When Daisy refers to the myth that “facts prevent understanding” she is describing the idea that the explicit teaching of facts in schools prevents understanding of the type those she identifies as advocates of the myth think is needed for learning to take place. Now, you haven’t shown a difference between what Daisy meant and the truth. You haven’t even shown a difference between what Daisy said and what she meant. You have shown a difference between the precise words she used and the words you would use to sum up the same idea. This could be used as an objection to anything.

        Second point: somebody simplifying something could point out irrelevant things they would otherwise have skipped to head off the complaint that they have missed them out irrelevant things. But as this is a pointless complaint, why bother?

        As I said, you’ve done this before. You present an objection to how something is presented as an argument against the content and you complain something is too simple without identifying the relevance of anything that is left out. Neither point is a valid argument. If Daisy were to rewrite her book to include your details and to include your forms of words for the myths, can you identify one argument in the entire book that she would then have to change?

      • Sorry, I don’t understand your first sentence.

        I can only comment on what Daisy says; that’s the only clue I have as to what she means. I have no idea what the ’truth’ is regarding this myth, nor does anyone else.

        I’m not quibbling about the wording here. A different wording of myth 1 would be; ‘facts get in the way of understanding’ or ‘facts don’t help understanding’ etc. Now, imagine you’ve carried out a survey of teacher opinion. One of the questions is: “Do you agree or disagree with the statement ‘poor teaching of facts prevents understanding’?” Let’s suppose that 98% of teachers agreed and 2% disagreed. Would you be justified in reporting the result as “98% of teachers surveyed thought that facts prevent understanding”? You wouldn’t because it doesn’t mean the same as ‘poor teaching of facts prevents understanding’, and as far as I can see, that’s what Rousseau, Dewey, Friere and Dickens were all saying. It’s possible I’ve misunderstood, and I’m happy to be shown how.

        I don’t think Daisy does ‘sum up’ ideas, she lumps together a group of similar ideas and claims they are one and the same.

        Daisy rests her whole argument on the existence of seven ‘myths’, which she then critiques. If what she meant was that seven groups of vaguely related ideas dominate the education system, she could have said that, and demonstrated how they are misguided instead.

  3. Hello,

    I tend to side with Daisy in this, to the extent that I recognise in my own experience the general picture that she paints. Though I also recognise that (a) painting a picture of the culture shared by the whole teaching profession is inevitably a fuzzy, generalised business; and (b) what is also debatable is the extent to which the theory of educationalists has actually affected the practice of teachers in the classroom.

    I would make two specific points in response to your argument.

    1. You say that “Rousseau, Dewey, Friere and Dickens” et al do not explicitly oppose facts and understanding. This may be true – but the effect of examples such as Gradgrind and the way in which such cases are quoted often suggests such an opposition. In the debate about creativity in the curriculum, it has been a commonplace to suggest that Michael Gove’s emphasis on knowledge would inhibit creativity rather than act as a stepping stone to creativity. So I think the hunt for just that passage where Dickens explicitly says “facts prevent understanding” is slightly to miss the point of how these examples are used.

    2. I think you misrepresent the nature of post-modernism. It is one thing to state that we are never certain about what is true and what is false. Socrates famously said that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing. The premise adopted by Descartes in his cogito (as in “cogito ergo sum”) was that we were the playthings of some evil demon who was bent on deceiving us in all our perceptions. But in no sense were either of these philosophers post-modernists. They are both leading advocates of the existence of absolute truth. Indeed, it is only when you accept the concept of absolute truth that you have to adopt a position of humility and concede that none of us can claim to have attained it. Post modernism is quite different. In adopting a relativist position, it asserts that each of us have our own truths – and when that is the case, no-one can criticise us for being wrong.

    I would say that the culture that Daisy criticises is widespread in education departments and has been pretty influential in government agencies – but that its influence becomes increasingly weak the closer you get to the coalface, where common sense knocks the corners off outlandish theory. This has been the leitmotif of Tom Bennet’s advice that experience trumps theory every time.

    I think Tom Bennet’s advice is misguided because theory is very important and this point is in no way rebutted by pointing out the prevalence of poor theory. This, I think, has been the real damage of Daisy’s seven myths. It is not that they have imposed a set of barmy theories on classroom teachers – it has rather been that they have discredited educational theory in their eyes, leaving teachers to get on with it themselves. The point was made rather eloquently, to my mind, by Kim Taylor, Director of the Nuffield Resources for Learning project, who wrote the following in 1970:

    “The present gap between research and daily application is such that teachers generally turn for help to those in the same boat with them, all awash in a vast sea. Professors who grandly philosophize the aims of education flash over in aircraft; those who evaluate its practices nose beneath in submarines…but our main anxiety is to stay afloat and make some sort of progress, guided, if must be, by ancient stars. We wonder how others in similar straits are getting on. “Have you tried to row facing forwards?” we shout above the racket of the elements; “No”, comes the answer, “but paddling with your feet over the stern helps”…and we suspect that the academics, secure from the daily fret of wind and wave, have forgotten what it is like to feel a little seasick all the time”.

    It is not that front-line teachers have swallowed the seven myths – but they have been cut off from the sort of support that they ought to have received from the academics, while the academics wrote self-indulgent theses on deconstructionism.

    • Hi Crispin, thank you for such a considered response. Several points in reply:

      One of the difficulties about using words to discuss ideas is that the words mean slightly different things to different people. It’s all too easy to visualise a host of similar ideas as all part of the same fuzzy cloud. So you might think that ‘facts prevent understanding’ is essentially the same as ‘knowledge prevents creativity’, but I don’t, because I see facts and knowledge as two distinct concepts and understanding and creativity as two distinct concepts. I visualise ideas in a similar way to the way I visualise molecules or mathematical operations. So ‘facts’ and ‘understanding’ are connected by an association; that could be ‘prevent’ or it could be ‘enable’ or ‘are equally important’ or some other relationship. ‘Knowledge’ has similar properties to ‘facts’ but it isn’t the same as ‘facts’. ‘Creativity’ isn’t necessarily anything to do with ‘understanding’.

      When I read Daisy’s blog about her book, I thought she was probably right about the myths dominating education. It was only when I read the book itself, that I realised she was citing other ideas as evidence of the existence of the myths. I appreciate that attempting to summarise a culture shared by the whole teaching profession is likely to be fuzzy and generalised – but in that case, why frame it in terms of specific ‘myths’? Why try to generalise about a diverse culture at all?

      1. I think you might be lumping together ideas in the same way as Daisy does. If Rousseau, Dewey, Friere and Dickens don’t actually subscribe to the facts/understanding myth, why say they do? Why not frame the myth in terms of what they do say? I think it’s because ‘facts poorly presented prevent understanding’ isn’t what most people would think of as a myth, and would be difficult to debunk.

      2. I didn’t comment on postmodernism – except to include Daisy’s reference to it. What I did comment on was the conclusion about facts that Daisy appears to draw from social constructivism – which as far as I’m aware isn’t quite the same thing. It would not surprise me if there are educational theorists who don’t believe in absolutes, but I can’t recall Daisy citing any of them. What she does cite is the views of people who see facts as problematic. As I pointed out, scientists as well as philosophers, lawyers and historians amongst others also see facts as problematic, and go to considerable lengths to ascertain how valid and reliable they are. It doesn’t follow that there are no absolutes, or that no one can be wrong, or that philosophers, lawyers, historians or scientists believe that.

      I completely agree that teachers haven’t been given the support by academics that they might need, some educational research is awful and some educationalists are off in wibble space, but that begs the question of why teachers have allowed this situation continue for so long. I suspect that teachers have simply ignored the academics if they didn’t agree with them, rather than engage. I admire Daisy for taking on the educational orthodoxy; but I’m not at all convinced she’s done it effectively.

      • Thank you for the reply Sue.

        I admire what seems to be your only too rare emphasis on defining words precisely. But that leaves the question of how those words are used in a discourse in which those precise definitions are not often respected. It is like the difference in register between a technical document and a poem in which each word triggers all sorts of associations dependent on the reader.

        When you talk about the relationship between facts, understanding and knowledge and creativity, I cannot help thinking of Bloom. In this respect, I was always a little uncertain about what Bloom meant by “understanding”, as it was given a rather modest position in the hierarchy, something less than “application” – and I am not sure anything is really understood until it is applied – in some circumstances until it has been applied to the business of creation. You might say that you need understanding of how a suspension bridge really works before you can design such a bridge and maybe you don’t ever *really* understand how a suspension bridge works until you have designed a few yourself. I think the relationship between all these things is interesting and under-explored – and can only be properly explored if you define your terms clearly – but we are getting away from Daisy’s book.

        Which I am ashamed to have to admit at this point, I haven’t read. I have only completed stage one of the two stage journey you describe – and so I am in no position to say that I will not also be disappointed when I read the actual argument. I was commenting on what struck me as the plausibility of the synopsis!

        At that level, I am not sure it really matters (a) how good Daisy’s justification is, or (b) how generally influential these myths have in fact been. I am confident that I could produce numerous examples of these positions being asserted in the blogosphere and if we agree that these positions are not justified, then we have started to make some progress towards a useful theory of learning, which it strikes me that we are so badly in need of.

        My particular interest is in digital ed-tech – and one of the reasons why I think we have made such poor progress in this area is that we have such a poor understanding of the technology that is native to the business of teaching, which we call pedagogy (rather than ed-tech which would be a perfectly reasonable thing to call it, if it didn’t already mean something else) – and a good understanding of pedagogy must underpin the design of digital systems that are going to formalise that understanding. And the reason why I am interested in the orthodoxies of the blogosphere (which might seem irrelevant to the teacher, plugging away in real classrooms) is that these are particularly important in the development of an emerging discipline such as ed-tech.

        We agree on the waywardness of much of academia. I am interested to follow the attempt to put some rigour into research, e.g. by the introduction of Randomized Control Trials, and believe that ed-tech has a useful part to play in this process by harvesting the data that is needed to provide evidence of what works.

        I also agree that teachers are somewhat to blame for not challenging the academics. My explanation for this would be that teachers work in a very isolated environment, alone in their classrooms. As they do not really work in teams and so they do not normally have to articulate their practice. The general assumption that they make is that teaching is a matter of craft which is not only personal to the teacher but in large measure dependent on the teacher’s personality. I don’t think they see it in terms of process – and that being the case, the theories of the academics (which would only become important when you have a process to apply them to) seem irrelevant. And without the support of ed-tech, I am not sure that managing education as a process-driven business, at the scale that is required in the modern world, is humanly possible. Which is why I think that digital ed-tech may be the catalyst that is required, both to implement and to validate worthwhile educational theory.

        Sorry – that was my hobby-horse. But thanks for the enjoyable discussion – it is particularly satisfying when you start from a position of apparent disagreement and move towards a measure of agreement. I shall get round to reading the Seven Myths, when I shall try and come back and let you know what I thought of the argument!

        Crispin.

      • Your analogy about technical documents and poems is apt. And I agree about the definition of terms. Although I think because Bloom’s ‘understanding/comprehension’ is in usually discussed in the context of his taxonomy, it’s pretty clear what he meant by it.

        I think Daisy’s argument is important, because it makes a contribution to a shift in educational policy supported by the DfE. If policy-makers think the myths have been influential and that Daisy has refuted them, that has significant implications. If she’s wrong, it matters.

        One of the reasons I welcomed references to cognitive psychology was that because it’s about the mechanisms of perception and thought it can give us the tools for teaching and learning via any medium. The orthodoxies of the blogosphere aren’t irrelevant, but they don’t provide an appropriate framework for designing ed-tech. (I hope I’ve understood you correctly.)

        What puzzled me about the focus on RCTs is that they will not necessarily provide the rigour that educational research needs. Psychologists and sociologists have developed a sophisticated methodology that could be applied to educational research, but to a large extent, it’s been ignored by policy-makers. Academics could provide evidence of ‘what works’ until they are blue in the face, but if governments keep changing the system at will, it will make not one jot of difference. And politicians hold the research purse-strings.

        I think the reason why teachers haven’t challenged academics is not because of isolation but because they don’t have time. Even if research methodology was part of ITT, challenging any particular pedagogical theory would involve a long learning curve and funding.

        Hope you enjoy reading the book!

  4. “Sorry, I don’t understand your first sentence.”

    That’s unfortunate. It was an explanation of how what Daisy said fits her argument perfectly well, if you don’t reinterpret it.

    “I can only comment on what Daisy says; that’s the only clue I have as to what she means.”

    There’s also something called the principle of charity. You should interpret what somebody says in order for their argument to be as strong as possible. You have, instead, interpreted it in a way that makes it easier to attack.

    ” I have no idea what the ’truth’ is regarding this myth, nor does anyone else.”

    Never a good sign when somebody puts “truth” in scare quotations. Do you really mean to claim you have no idea whether she’s right or wrong?

    “I’m not quibbling about the wording here.”

    You are reinterpreting the words so as to be able to disagree. People objected to the teaching of facts. They may have focused that criticism on how the facts were taught. To claim that Daisy was wrong to refer to the former because you prefer to talk about the latter is precisely a matter of wording. What it doesn’t give us is any indication that Daisy is wrong. Daisy could rephrase and her argument would still hold up. As with the arguments over working memory, you have objected to the summing up, not the content, of the argument.

    • The sentence in question runs “she is describing the idea that the explicit teaching of facts in schools prevents understanding of the type those she identifies as advocates of the myth think is needed for learning to take place.” There are so many subordinate clauses in it and it’s so speculative, it’s impossible to be sure what it’s referring to.

      I don’t think the principle of charity implies that errors should be glossed over.

      You said “Now, you haven’t shown a difference between what Daisy meant and the truth. You haven’t even shown a difference between what Daisy said and what she meant.” What I pointed out is that the evidence Daisy cites to demonstrate the existence of the myths, in several cases refers to different ideas to the myths themselves. I don’t know who really subscribes to what ideas despite what they say – if that’s what you mean by ‘the truth’ – nor does anyone else. Nor do I have any idea what Daisy means if it’s different from what she says. And they weren’t ‘scare’ quotes, they were ‘quote’ quotes.

      If theorists were focussing on how facts were taught, then why is Daisy right to refer to that as ‘objecting to the teaching of facts’ and why am I wrong to refer to it as ‘how facts were taught’?

      • So just to get this straight, when I added enough clauses to deal with the issues you raised you found the sentence to be too complicated to understand? But when Daisy refers to the issue in just a few words it is oversimplified and misses the distinction *you* want to make?

        Do you understand why your criticism looks arbitrary and without substance? Daisy is never going to sum things up in a way that makes the distinctions you want made, but unless you actually have a solid argument to the importance of those distinctions, it really shouldn’t matter. When people make the comment “I don’t object to X *per se*” having just objected to X at length, it always looks insincere and pedantic. When you put forward the same type of hair-splitting on behalf of others, it just seems ridiculous.

      • I had to read the sentence at least five times, before I could figure out what it was getting at. Not sure one clause per issue in one sentence is the best way to deal with multiple issues, but this is what I think the sentence means:

        Advocates of myth 1 think a certain type of understanding is needed for learning to take place.
        These advocates believe that the explicit teaching of facts in schools prevents this type of understanding.
        Daisy has identified some people as advocates of myth 1.
        ‘Facts prevent understanding’ describes myth 1.

        Is that right?

        If you can’t see the difference between objecting to *the way* facts were taught in schools, and facts being taught in schools, then that would explain why you see my criticism the way you do.

  5. “it always looks insincere and pedantic. ”
    “Do you understand why your criticism looks arbitrary and without substance? ”
    “it just seems ridiculous.”

    Not to me. I would suggest when making comments such as this, they should be qualified with the words “To me”………otherwise there may appear to some to be hint of solipsism, to me at least. This is now LI does it….”What she doesn’t appear to have thought through ” rather than ‘Daisy hasn’t thought through”. See the difference?

    “Daisy is never going to sum things up in a way that makes the distinctions you want made,”

    To me, the above post goes to great lengths to explain that Daisy C makes claims but the “evidence” she presents does not support those claims for various reasons.

    “When people make the comment “I don’t object to X *per se*” having just objected to X at length, it always ”

    I don’t agree per se that dogs should be allowed to walk in the street, but I do believe they should not be there without a lead, without being under control and some breeds should perhaps be muzzled while in the street.

    • The point is that nobody would ever need to make that dog statement, because the distinction is obvious. It’s usually only when somebody’s opposition to something is not persuading people that it becomes necessary to suggest that it is not actually opposition but some more nuanced objection to some specific aspect of what is being opposed. Often that aspect is actually just an excuse to restate the objection.

      But, of course, that is all beside the point. If there is a distinction here that is relevant, that actually has implication for Daisy’s argument as opposed to Sue’s comfort with how Daisy sums up her point, then Sue should be able to elaborate on it and we will be able to see that it isn’t the sort of pedantic objection I described above. Your dog example illustrates that it is a theoretical possibility that Sue could have an actual argument. Unfortunately neither of you seem able to indicate what it is.

  6. You will not be surprised that I see the situation differently.

    I feel that the above post does explain well the poor case made by Daisy. Indeed it focuses well on a small part of Daisy book so that a logical piece could be written succinctly.

    “Your dog example illustrates that it is a theoretical possibility “. Just your interpretation I feel. You come at it from the POV that LI does not have an argument, without addressing any of the points made.

    I might call it the “la la la I’m not listening approach to argumentation”.

    Some might get the impression that think you had some vested interest in pushing the boo.

    • You don’t appear to have answered my main point. We still don’t know what is actually wrong in Daisy’s *argument* as opposed to wrong in how she chose to summarise the ideas.

      Sue’s standard objection to most arguments is to find a summary of the ideas from the text and claim it is “over simplified” or “lumps together” too much but without identifying any simplification or distinction that actually has consequences for the argument, particularly when the whole text of the argument rather than the summary is considered. It is a clever debating tactic in as much as it then becomes possible to “argue” simply by listing irrelevant details. What it does not do is actually give anyone rational ground to doubt the argument in question.

      Willingham’s description of memory might be too “over-simplified” for Sue, but it still justifies attempts to avoid over-loading working memory. Kirshner et al’s argument against minimally guided instruction might “lump together” many teaching techniques, but it’s still a good argument against them all. Christodoulou’s myths might be both “over simplified” and guilty of “lumping together” teaching methods according to Sue, but she, nevertheless, provides good arguments against actual ideas that are widely held.

      Oh, and your ad hominem at the end is appalling. Given how many years you’ve been stalking me across the internet, you know that isn’t the case.

      • Daisy’s argument rests on the premise that some people believe and act on the myths. She calls myth 1 – ‘facts prevent understanding’ – foundational. Prior to reading the book, I assumed that Daisy had indeed found evidence showing that some people believed this myth. It was only on reading the book that I discovered she was using the term to refer to the myths-and/or-related-ideas. Nothing wrong with doing that, except that that Daisy says she goes to great lengths to prove that each myth is prevalent in education, which isn’t the same thing. It’s not surprising that there’s been disagreement about whether the myths exist or not if some of the myths represent several different ideas.

        I don’t know if you noticed, but I did say next post will be about cognitive science – the heart of the argument.

  7. You actually now seem to be ignoring my point completely.

    One last time.

    You are objecting to how Daisy sums up the idea that people have objected to the practice of teaching facts (in the particular context of how facts were being taught). Whereas Daisy sums this up as a myth that facts prevents understanding, you would be far more pedantic. The idea that “facts” in this context could (without stretching language) refer to the practice of teaching facts doesn’t seem to have occurred to you. Nor does the possibility that anyone reading objections to the teaching of facts would assume that the objections were made in a particular context and could be understood in that context. So you object to how Daisy summed up this idea, but not the idea itself.

    However, your pedantry seems to serve no useful purpose. If Daisy were to release a Pedant’s Edition of her book to be read only by those looking to pick holes in it, then it wouldn’t change her argument. She would still examine and argue against the pedant-friendly version of the same myth, she would just express it differently. Her argument would still hold. Her book would still be about 7 myths.

    Now you can complain as much as you like that, given your pedantic reading of Daisy’s words, Daisy is wrong. But she’s only been wrong in how much good will and common sense she has attributed to her readers. It’s your problem if you have interpreted her words this way because nobody else (unless they too want to raise pointless objections) has any reason to be concerned about the distinctions you’ve drawn. They are a complaint about the phrasing of the book not the substance, and they are a pedantic complaint at that. If you were to abide by the principle of charity (i.e. that you should interpret another’s argument in the strongest way possible) you would have no objection left. Like your objections to Kirshner et al and to Willingham (and did you do a review of Rob Peal’s book that was along not entirely dissimilar lines, in that it made a weak objection to an irrelevant detail that had no consequence for his argument?), nobody can actually identify anything you object to in the content of the argument, only objections to the simplicity and lack of irrelevant detail with which it was expressed.

    Now, instead of just stating the same argument again, can you please identify what you would argue against in the Pedant’s Edition of the book?

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