Myth Two – Teacher-led instruction is passive

This blog post summarises chapter 2 of my book Seven Myths about Education. It will be published on March 5th 2014 by Routledge. To read the introduction to this sequence of posts, click here. Click here to preorder if you are in the UK, and here if you are in the US.

In this chapter, I look at how Rousseau, Dewey and Freire’s opposition to facts works in practice. I show how their pedagogical approach rejects teacher-led learning, and instead encourages pupils to discover knowledge for themselves. Teacher-led instruction is stereotyped as passive and boring. I then look at some of the descriptions of good practice from modern English classrooms, which all tend to assume that independent enquiry and discovery are good and teacher explanation and direction are bad. I then show why this isn’t the case and why teacher-directed learning can in fact be an extraordinarily active process for the pupil. I also look briefly at the remarkable story of Siegfried Englemann and Direct Instruction.


7 thoughts on “Myth Two – Teacher-led instruction is passive

  1. Pingback: Seven Myths about Education – Introduction | The Wing to Heaven

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  3. beesaman

    I think you need to go and actually read some more Dewey, as he certainly was not against learning ‘facts’, or ideas as he as a fallibilist deemed them. What he was opposed to was pointless abstractions and instead favoured contextualised learning. But then that’s the difference between a Pragmatic Functional Constructivist and your and Hirsch’s far more authoritarian behaviourism.

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  5. John Costello

    Hi Daisy,

    Not sure if you’ll pick up on a comment this late to the party, but I wanted to second Beesaman’s proposal that you read some more of John Dewey – I similarly thought he was mischaracterized in your book.

    Specifically, I would read the first chapter of Experience and Education, which is hosted for free here:

    As a general comment on your book, I really liked both your intentions and your vision for what good education looks like. I just wish you spent a little less time bashing Dewey and Freire in ways that didn’t seem particularly helpful or accurate.

  6. Robert Craigen

    bee and john your comments are misplaced here, they ostensibly speak to Myth #1.

    To answer your statements, here is Dewey in (1897 “Pedagogic Creed”):

    “I believe that under existing conditions far too much of the stimulus and control proceeds from the teacher, because of neglect of the idea of the school as a form of social life.”

    “I believe that the teacher’s place and work in the school is to be interpreted from this same basis. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences.”

    That’s about as direct an assertion of Social Constructivism as you’ll see. You won’t see much denial of belief in teaching “facts” because Dewey, like modern social constructivists does not consider facts to be a “thing”, or important enough to speak of as such. Modern social constructionists and constructivists generally prefer to speak of “artifacts” rather than “facts” — that is, the only “facts” acquired are those obtained as a byproduct of the “social consensus”. It shares philosophical roots with certain forms of postmodernist philosophy.

    Daisy’s chapter on Myth #1 articulates the doctrine in question as “Facts prevent understanding”. I’ve heard critics who seem to believe “Nobody ever says that!” is a valid critique of her contention in the chapter. Well, Daisy never contends that anyone uses that phrase — that is her characterization of a particular doctrine, and as it is her book, she has license to articulate it as she sees fit. I happen to think it is apropos. She sees it as ridiculous (as do I) and wishes her reader to see the ludicrous side of the doctrine, so that is her way of saying it. People might articulate this same doctrine without ever using the words “Facts”, “prevent” or “understanding”. The doctrine is not the *words* — it is the underlying concept. I have encountered the doctrine many times in my advocacy for the learning of the so-called “math facts”. Ministry operatives have stated to me, unequivocally, that students must NOT be taught to memorize these because if they learn them “by rote” then this will doom them not to ever understand why they are true. They never say “facts prevent understanding” but that is their clear belief.

    I’ll give you another example of author’s license in framing the subject of discourse: In Tom Bennett’s book he has a chapter called “Buck Rogers of the 21st Century Learning”. Assuming that the reader gets the rather transparent joke, they will immediately grasp that Tom thinks 21CL is a ludicrous collection of ideas. However, you will *never* find a 21CL advocate describing the theory in this way. Does that refute what he has to say — simply because advocates never include the “Buck Rogers” part? Of course not! One must address what he *says* about it, not how he chooses to dress it up in order to dress it down. When someone addresses one’s tone or colouration, to me it simply means that they prefer not to address the actual content of their argument.


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