John Catt Educational
17 Jul 2022
I’m a big fan of related expected outcomes. Pavlov famously trained dogs to salivate when he rang a bell. What’s less well celebrated or recognised is that he trained us too: every time we hear Pavlov’s name, we think of salivating dogs.
Likewise, I love reading an educational book which not only makes me think directly of the impact it could have, but of the unintended impact it might have; that I might gift the book to a friend, try and start a scheme or project as a result, lend it to a friend who isn’t in the same sector as me.
This is not one of those books. It may well be the most frustrating book you decide not to read in 2022. I promise you that few people will read it beyond 2023. It will be a bargain by 2024.
But first, a little experiment.
In your mind (or physically), walk into your school. Up the path, in through the entrance. How far do you go before it is definitively a school and not, say, a leisure centre, or mid-budget hotel? How soon is it that there is evidence of actual children in that building, either in pictures, or work or…anything?
The same test can be carried out with an educational book. There are books billed as practical guides for pedagogy, and others which are clearly aimed at a more theoretical abstraction of education and learning. This pretends to be the former but is far more the latter, describing itself as a thought-provoking book.
Instead this book decides to wear a cloak of smug worthiness. Its argument in a nutshell is this: climate change is bad, and deep thinking in education can sort it out. This feels akin to a book sponsored by BP. IT’S NOT OUR FAULT. LA LA LA LOOK OVER THERE. IT’S THE KIDS’ FAULT. I dread The Daily Telegraph or The Daily Mail getting a whiff of this book, as it will be another stick to beat teachers with.
.If graphics and prose obfuscate your point, you are creating a barrier
You can’t argue So what now? is not well-researched, but it reads like there was an air of panic just before publication about its lack of practicality. A section on developing challenge, for example, is followed by a list of add-ons from the SLT Fantasy Initiative Guidebook, including my favourite, ‘Organise a Thinking Olympics’. No, seriously. A lovely idea, but not a genuine thing to do – and a timetable initiative rather than anything curricular at that.
One note of praise should go for the book’s hard-working graphic designer. There are graphics in here which I wouldn’t have believed even existed. Among the myriad tables and charts are the OECD sun model of co-agency (a classic), several doughnuts and a delightful pyramid of knowledge.
While I adore a graphic which communicates an idea more efficiently than prose, some of these models impressively make their point more complex to unpick. You need a satnav to find your way through some of them. If graphics and prose obfuscate your point, you are creating a barrier, not tearing one down.
Of course, some ideas and theories are complex to unpick, but the authors could have spent a little longer doing this unpicking. Look at the speed at which the message got through when we distilled mindset into ‘Fixed’ and ‘Growth’, for example.
To be fair, the research and effort that has gone into the book is enormous, and being critical of it is hard to do. Despite the growth in paper straws ruining the whole milkshake experience for me, I am acutely aware of the climate catastrophe. Sadly, the authors appear to have caught onto the climate emergency while grappling for a hook, and the result is a book that won’t make me teach any differently on that topic.
They would have been far better to pitch this as a book on deep learning, or even action learning, since that is the basis for much of its research. By forcing the climate hook, it’s far weaker as a result.