Told or Encouraged
To be told or to be encouraged — the educator’s conundrum.
Research carried out by Elizabeth Bonawitz and Patrick Shafio published in “Cognition” addressed the question as to whether teachers should ‘tell pupils’ the way things are or encourage them to ‘explore’ and ‘play’
In a review of the National Curriculum in which Michale Gove (the then Education Secretary) was reported as saying “lessons should emphasise the learning of facts and equip children with essential knowledge” and “every child must be given a “profound level” of mathematic and scientific knowledge” (The Guardian 20th Jan 2011)
I remember the collective sigh of educators who saw this as yet another call for a return to ‘traditional’ approaches that ‘served us well in the past’. Well, that may be the case, but we are living in a society where ‘knowledge’ is growing exponentially. I have heard suggestions that technological knowledge is doubling every 72 hours!
So how can ‘facts’ be treated as being anything other than the learning of ‘temporary information’?
Historical “facts” are matters of interpretation and cultural perspective. Perhaps, History is a set of lies we agree upon.
Scientific Theories can best be described as ‘temporary statements of how things work’ which are open to review and change in the light of new discoveries.
In philosophy the nature of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ form the heart of the debates philosophers engage in.
So, does not the rhetoric of Gove suggest that ‘facts’ are permanent and unchangeable?
This is a very worrying suggestion.
As said elsewhere in my other writings I would maintain that there are four key skill domains which need to be developed..
a) The ability to ACCESS and ASSESS information
b) The ability to COMMUNICATE IDEAS effectively in a range of media
c) The ability to MANAGE SELF
d) The ability to MANAGE CHANGE
Of course there are ‘ideas’ which need to be shared as the basis upon which to build new ideas, but these are not necessarily given the status of ‘fact’.
The skills within each of the above ‘domains’ can be developed within a context of exploration, discovery and play rather than within a framework of having to learn a series of ‘facts’.
Knowledge is not Understanding nor does it necessarily bring Wisdom.
Now here’s the real educational challenge…
Real creativity stems from the ability to share, communicate and think.
It requires those involved in creative endeavour to feel that they have something to bring to the table; a degree of confidence.
It requires those involved in innovation be be able to consider and invoke change.
It also requires “domain knowledge” — for example Mozart could be creative because he had come to understand the nature of musical scales and harmony. This understanding would have come from tuition and guidance as well as being encouraged to ‘play’ with ideas and perhaps ‘bend some of the rules’’.
This domain knowledge requires the individual to free to engage in the collection and assessment of information — not necessarily facts.
My fear is that the ‘teaching of facts’ creates the false idea that the learner simply needs to be ‘told stuff’, moreover once ‘told’ and ‘learned’ then there is no need to ‘question’.
Research carried out by Elizabeth Bonawitz and Patrick Shafio published in “Cognition” recently addresses the question as to whether teachers should ‘tell pupils’ the way things are or encourage them to ‘explore’ and ‘play’
They suggest that
“the efficient learning of specific facts may lead to the assumption that when the adult has finished teaching, there is nothing further to learn-because if there were, the adult would have said so”
Reading the full article and the associated research validates what many excellent educators already knew instinctively. Discovery through play and exploration is more empowering.
I would also propose that play within the context of developing specific skills within the four ‘skill domains’ mentioned above is the best way to prepare young people to be active within a world that does not exist yet; to undertake work and careers which are no currently on offer and tackle the problems and challenges we do not yet know are problems and challenges.
Dryden and Vos in their book, The Learning Revolution, wrote the same thing. That we are calling upon educators to realise that what children are being taught to interact with the world as it WAS and as it IS and not necessarily what it WILL BE when their pupils take their place within society.