Posts Tagged learning

Something is destroying British education, says former Chief Inspector of Schools

Henry Hazlitt
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Chris Woodhead, a man many teachers loved to hate when he was Chief Inspector of Schools under the Conservative and then Labour governments, 1994-2000, has written a book in which he expresses his views about British education. An excerpt was published in the Times (online), May 10, 2009.

Fifty years ago the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch asked whether we could maintain educational standards while making education more “democratic”. The experience of the past 12 years has taught us we cannot.

John Holt, in Freedom and Beyond (1972), wrote about a fallacy of universal education: the idea that if everybody was equally educated, everyone would have a better job. (I don’t have the book, and could only find online this excerpt, which is not quite what I was looking for, but close).

Woodhead, in this excerpt, does not closely examine this fallacy, or delve too deeply into the possible meanings of “democratic”. He refers to Murdoch writing 50 years ago, which certainly predates Holt by about 25 years.

Woodhead goes a little deeper into what he means by freedom:

By freedom I mean an appreciation of what the greatest human beings achieved; a sense of what other people in other ages knew to be important and possible; a liberation from the tyranny of the majority view; a release from the monotony of the quotidian. I want every child, every “disadvantaged” child in particular, to walk as far as they can down that road to freedom.

Why “every disadvantaged child in particular“, and would this mean that disadvantaged children would be given preference (in an ideal, Woodhead world) to others? It’s impossible to tell from this excerpt alone, but leaving that aside, this concept of freedom seems rather threadbare: there is no suggestion, for instance, of the freedom to create new, exciting realities, only a typically conservative reliance on the past – “what the greatest human beings achieved… what people in other ages knew…” Nor is there any awareness of any form of tyranny other than “the majority view”. What about the tyranny of ruling elites, or of the state?

Woodhead goes on for a couple of pages which could easily have been expressed in a single word: egalitarianism.

I am reading a fascinating biography of Murray Rothbard, which mentions an essay of his on egalitarianism (pdf warning). Rothbard is an exciting thinker to read: highly knowledgeable, and with a flowing, readable style which leavens the erudition with a mordant wit. I am looking forward to reading Rothbard’s essay: I expect to learn much about the history of the egalitarian concept, as well as a barrage of solid arguments against it. Another great thinker whose essays and books are available on the Mises Institute website is Henry Hazlitt. In The Science of Thinking, Hazlitt makes this suggestion for choosing what books to read:

you should endeavor to get, in as short a time as possible, the greatest number of important facts and the main outlines of the best that has been thought. So if you sincerely intend to master any subject, the best way to begin is by the selection of the most comprehensive and authoritative work you can secure. … If you take up the most thorough book first you need merely glance through the smaller books, for the chances are that they will contain little that is new to you, unless they happen to be more recent.

I recommend Hazlitt, and Rothbard. If you want to learn about freedom and egalitarianism, reading Rothbard will be more profitable than reading Woodhead.

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Nutshell Notes

A couple of years ago, while taking an online course on blogging – the TESOL EVO course, 2006 – I was introduced to Ed Nuhfer. He was an invited guest on a fascinating course about JiTT: Just in Time Teaching. Ed Nuhfer gave an online presentation about Knowledge Surveys. It was an interesting presentation, well backed up by data collected by Nuhfer over a number of years. It was great to be able to interact with an expert, and Nuhfer directed me to his online teacher-development newsletters called Nutshell Notes.

Today, I wanted to review some of these, particularly ones about a Teaching System. I clicked on an old link, but it came up empty. However, I typed Nutshell into the search function, and found that all of Ed Nuhfer’s Nutshell Notes have been put together into a PDF downloadable file (1.36 mb). Indexed and all. Wonderful. Ones I particularly enjoyed are issues on syllabus, teaching to elicit higher levels of thinking, rubrics, and a series about the Perry model (of university student intellectual development). Nuhfer liked to keep his Nutshell Notes to one A4 page.

Speaking of professional development for teachers, here’s another rich and thought-provoking resource I discovered, by chance, a couple of years ago: James Atherton (now retired) has a blog, Recent Reflection, which provides links to his two other main sites (static, not blogs): doceo and learning and teaching. I haven’t figured out what the difference is between the two: I’ve found practical articles on note-taking or creating handouts as well as more philosophical articles about learning styles (Atherton thinks that pandering to learning styles may be doing the students a disservice). The doceo site has a nice graphic index where you can browse just by clicking the mouse, and so does the learning and teaching site.

Visiting Atherton’s blog is fun if you enjoy serendipity. The item on the top today when I visited was this enchanting item about inflatable street art. “It’s what art is all about.” Check it out.


I recommend the following digital products: WP GDPR Fix, a WordPress plugin that quickly and easily helps you make your WP blog GDPR compliant. Brett Kelly's "Evernote Essentials", Dan Gold's $5 guides to Getting Everything Done with Evernote and Springpad, and DocumentSnap Solutions' Paperless Document Organization Guides. Be sure to try DocumentSnap's free email course on going paperless first before buying his products. Sign up for it on his homepage.
Disclosure of Material Connection: My recommendations above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission. Your cost will be the same as if you order directly. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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