‘Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts’

Following news of yesterday’s letter from 100 academics criticising Michael Gove’s proposed curriculum reforms and the emphasis on learning facts, the Telegraph today carries two articles  disagreeing with the letter’s authors.

First this from writer Harry Mount suggesting that learning by rote is “at the heart of all learning’…

When future generations come to study the causes of Britain’s global decline, Exhibit A will be a letter in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, signed by 100 academics from across the country. In it, the various professors attacked Michael Gove’s proposed national curriculum for consisting of “endless lists of spellings, facts and rules”. My God, the madness! Sometimes the Education Secretary must wake up in the morning and wonder whether it’s all worth the struggle. His opponents are of such a deep strain of perverse idiocy that it is impossible to argue with them – ideology has defeated reason.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – an expression few schoolboys will now know, thanks to the sort of educational philosophy on display in that terrifying letter. If the people at the top of the educational tree are anti-knowledge, what chance is there for the children starting out at the bottom?

The “spellings, facts and rules” that these clever fools are attacking have another name – an education. Without spellings, facts and rules, you aren’t educated. Instead, you’re left floundering in a knowledge-free vacuum, barely comforted by the progressive lie that ignorance somehow magically generates thought.

More at: Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts

And this from David green, director of think tank Civitas, suggesting the letter’s authors have not kept up with the discoveries of modern neuroscience…

The main constraint is the low capacity of the short-term memory we use for reasoning. We can only take in three or four new things at a time. That is why, for example, PIN numbers are only four digits. To think, analyse, and solve problems, we have to refer to our long-term memory. The more we have in our long-term memory, the more reasoning our short-term memory can cope with.

Accumulating knowledge is especially important for children who come from homes where education is a low priority. The academics no doubt claim to be “progressives”, but their conformist enthusiasm for the educational nostrums of the 1970s is failing children from the poorest backgrounds. Such children stand to gain the most from a national curriculum with high expectations.

And what they will gain is not a bunch of disjointed facts but the ability to see through fallacious reasoning of the kind revealed by the 100 academics. Perhaps that’s what they are really afraid of.

More at:  Michael Gove’s critics are afraid of change

John Rentoul in the Independent is also critical of the academics: The “Ability to Think”

The Telegraph also has a ‘fisk’ of the letter from 100 academics by Toby Young

What do you think? Is it naive to think there might be a sensible middle ground? Share your thoughts with Schools Improvement Net using this form. 

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Categories: Learning and Policy.

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