Thursday, January 27, 2011


One of the fundamental changes I've seen in education is the change from learning facts, formulas and processes to investigating, designing and discussing things. Rote learning is now utterly taboo. My problem with this is that you can't have a meaningful discussion about a topic that you know nothing about, nor do I believe that designing a pizza menu or a mobile phone holder is more important than knowing about temperature, calorific value or the electromagnetic spectrum.

A group discussion about the effectiveness of different makes of running shoes is meaningless when the participants do not understand how to rearrange the equation that relates pressure, area and force. Surely it is better to be able to calculate a frequency from a given wavelength and vice versa than to investigate which brand of sunglasses cuts out the most light?

Basic skills such as drawing a graph, rearranging a formula, simple grammar, punctuation and spelling have all been lost and I'm not really sure that they have been replaced with anything of value.


jaljen said...

My idle observations suggest that young people (ranging up to their 30s) are utterly clueless as to historical or geographical fact.

I simply don't know what pops into their heads when miners are entombed in Chile. Could they find Chile on a map? Do they know anything about the Industrial Revolution? Do they wonder why we have canals? Who made the canals? When?

Such an impoverished world. So sad.

The Defence Brief said...

Jaljen, how old are you that you describe the ignorant youth to include those in their 30s? Since you don't mention any cut off point, I can only assume you include those aged right up to 39.

Frank, you have clearly misunderstood the modern world I am afraid. What use is being able to "calculate a frequency from a given wavelength and vice versa" to somebody selling trainers?

All the budding Pizza Hut employees have much better career prospects if they can design a pizza menu from day one. I am also tempted to argue that having no knowledge of calorific values is a positive asset to somebody in Pizza Hut.

How will street robbers of tomorrow make their get away if you have neglected to properly hold a debate about which running shoe is best?

Where will the next generation of Michael Fishes come from if you go around teaching them to understand such things as temperature? I damn sure no weather forcaster on tv at the moment has any clue about temperature.

Do you really want your copy of Now, Closer, Tart Daily, More, etc to be ful of WAGs with sunburnt eyes or white patches around their eyes all because you couldn't be bothered teaching them which sun glasses were right for them?

Anonymous said...

Frank - you could be my twin - my lad is in the final throws of his GCSEs and is wanting to take Physics and Biology at A level next.I asked him why not go the whole hog and take Chemistry and he would be able to expand his knowledge re the periodic table etc - he asked "What's a periodic table ?"
You couldnt make it up but he has already been guaranteed a B in most of his subjects, without even sniffing the final exam paper

Stealth Jew said...

You should read Diane Ratvich on this subject. You're quite right that there has been a deliberate movement over the last hundred years away from learning information and towards learning processes. That is, we want to teach children how to think and not what to think .The problem of course is that they have nothing to think about. Thought cannot exist in a vacuum, and one cannot think intelligently about issues without understanding the factual and historical context.

E. D. Hirsch discussed this problem in Cultural Literacy, and has devised a curriculum to counteract it, the CORE curriculum. I have a copy and I think it is available online, although it is geared towards Americans.

What annoys me the most is that they waste the primary and intermediate years. Children in grammar school are geared to learn rote information, and to mimic.

chrish said...

A joy to read this entire blog. Sense from beginning to end on this read.
Basically the culture will not dare confront-let alone "challenge" their poor and vulnerable young persons( students at uni too of course innit bruv?). If these brain dead feral misfits and freaks were to even sense that they can`t be gangstas or celebrities then over go the chairs and out may come the knife.
These kids have had certificates all their life just for breathing and not raping on a perceived "dissin`". They have the whole liberal elite telling their "guardians and concerned others" that they are brilliant and unlikely to do the full time if Mr Loophole is the duty solicitor on speed dial.
In short- as long as they know one condom brand from another,then the elite that pay your SMTs and OFSTEDs to conspire in the collected ignorance will sleep easy in their Hampstead garrets.
The sleep of reason brings forth monsters what is their sleepwalking into hell going to bring forth for our kids-for theirs will be OK up at Eton!

Anonymous said...

Learning processes is not necessarily a bad thing, provided that the processes are in order to back up facts - or to ascertain the facts in the first place.

A Chemist needs to know how to carry out an analysis - a series of processes. However, s/he must actually understand what is being analysed, which substance is being detected and how the process works to be a good analyst.

The underlying knowledge of chemistry is the most important.

Anonymous said...

My family and I left the UK last year, and have settled down in a part of the Commonwealth which is rather more civilised.

These changes in British education, of which my children were the "beneficiaries", have caused some nasty shocks all round. I don't think the intelligence of the child has much to do with it - it seems the longer the child has been in a UK school, the more work they have to do to catch up.

The work here is genuinely harder than the UK, and they cover more for each subject. Children are expected to do their homework (no homework = no marks, which was a shock to them), and behave themselves. Grades are determined mostly by half-yearly exams.

The irony is, I know people who were sent to the UK from here for a better education. It doesn't seem to happen so much now, even though many people envy the British education system. Actually I think they envy what it WAS, not what it's turned into.

- A different Anonymous

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more - I have seen my child's geography "education" - it was all "save the rainforest" and "hlt global warming". Ask them hat is the capital of Spain, and they say Paris. The brighter ones might say "Real Madrid" Sad, sad, sad. Fact knoledge has gone out of the windo, and fact knowledge is crucial to understand the workd around us, listen to news, read papers etc. It enables people to become critical thinkers and intelligent citizens that understand what's happening and where, but perhaps they're not WANTED to be able to be critical thinkers. "Questions " such as "discuss the benefits of multicutural society" are part of political brainwashing, not learning.Perhaps they're supposed to be as dumbed down ans possible in order to vote "correctly" when it comes to elections.

Neil said...

Regarding weather forecasters - there is at least one good forecaster remaining! Rob McElwee on BBC is, as far as I can tell, the only forecaster left on TV who describes the weather in terms of weather systems and meteorology, from which he then observes what weather is likely to occur in a given spot. He speaks to his audience as if they have a brain. It's honestly a joy to behold.

Watching a McElwee forecast means not only learning what the weather is likely to do, but there's a genuine danger of learning a bit of meteorology, too! I especially like catching him after the BBC 10 o' clock news, because he gets several minutes to have a good run at a 5 day forecast.

Pete said...

Stop fucking whinging.

Get out and do something else.

Or.... go teach in a public school, no?

Philip said...

Mr Chalk - are you a science teacher?

As a D&T teacher i take exception to your comments about my subject, which you seem to misunderstand.

D&T is part of a broad-based education that is vital to all involved.

However, I'm afraid that I do agree with most of what you say - it is difficult to discuss ergonomics in relation to manufacturing costs and demographics when students can barely conceive of anything outside their direct sphere of existence!

It's a sad tale, really, as I can't think of one single thing that would change this - to me it is a systemic problem, one that I'm afraid will not be fixed by making students memorise the periodic table.

By the way, who is actually saying that you can't make them memorise the periodic table?

There is a lot of talk elsewhere on the web about the expectations that we have of students, and how they will usually meet them, be they good or bad. What do you think?

Just don't talk to me about pizza menus..!



Philip said...

Came across this, although take with pinch of salt as you can probably prove anything if you had the right focus and a slack enough approach to controls, etc.



Dack said...

The balance has shifted too far from knowledge and understanding to 'skills'. The idea is they develop 'skills' and this will enable them to acquire knowledge and understanding... without much help from teachers, it seems.

A fashionable case in point:

It's the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said...

pete are you being held at gunpoint and forced to visit this site? I suggest you take some of your own advice - stop whinging and exercise your own free will!

Philip said...


RSA opening minds looks alright - I had a look at the site you suggested, and here is their explanation of what it is:

"A competence based approach enables students not just to acquire subject knowledge but to understand, use and apply it in the within the context of their wider learning and life. It also offers students a more holistic and coherent way of learning which allows them to make connections and apply knowledge across different subject areas."

The word 'holistic' is always a bit whale-song for my liking, but overall that sounds like a good thing to try and do, doesn't it?

Dack said...

Philip... it has potential, like any idea - but I've seen it in action. There's not enough stress on reading, reference & research/literacy (extended writing in particular)/depth of knowledge and understanding... It seems to have been interpreted as an excuse for (too much) group work, 'fun' activities et al. Too 'primary' in my view. It certainly isn't stretching the academically able.

Anonymous said...

I saw examples of this at our sons' playgroup and then preschool. The teachers/nurses/volunteers would dump a pile of things on the floor or a table, then tell the children to "be creative and make something". The results were invariably a total mess, with children left disappointed and frustrated while the adults rabbited on about "child centred learning".

I'm a stubborn old git—yes, with young children—so when it was my turn to supervise I did what I do with our boys when making models, doing woodwork, butchering animals, cooking or anything else.

I taught the children simple skills first: how to use the scissors, how to glue, how to draw, etc. Then I demonstrated a simple task using those skills, while explaining to the children what I was doing and why. Then turn it over to them, guiding if needed or repeating my demonstration until they grasped what was being done.

Finally, I'd finish up by taking the results of my completed simple tasks and put them together to make the desired object. Then the children would do the same with theirs.

The children were delighted as they had something recognisable to show their parents. Their parents were delighted as their children were happy and making real things. And the teachers/nurses hated my guts for going against the "child centred learning" mantra of letting them be creative on their own.

They think I'm weird. I know they're weird!

polteacher said...

Now that Frank's given up teaching you can find out more about the inanities perpetrated in the name if education at

MarkW said...

Investigating, designing and making things are, or should be, integral to any education of children, particularly younger ones.

BUT (and that should be a big "but", except that I can't adjust font size) it is no use simply learning the soft stuff.

Unless you are going to make more scientific discoveries than Newton, Einstein, The Curies, Rutherford and Bohr put together, and all before the age of 16, you won't know much science without some straight learning - and without the learning, you won't make ANY worthwhile discoveries.

Straight learning and experiment (i.e. experience) go well together. Let's stick with that.

Anonymous said...

It all makes sense now...
I teach these "brain dead feral misfits" at University level and often end up hitting head against wall over their apparent inability to carry out what I'd consider to be junior school maths.