Author: Greg Ashman

The Knowledge Gap—A Review

Let me lead you through a portal created in the basement of some secretive and sinister government laboratory and into the Educational Upside Down. The Educational Upside Down is a parallel dimension where elementary school children are captivated by street signs and bored rigid by myths and tales of heroes. It is a dimension where early readers work out the relationships between the sounds of English and the letters that represent these sounds largely by being immersed in anodyne, specially written story books. Yet, weirdly, it is also a dimension where children have to be explicitly taught ‘comprehension strategies’ to understand what they read, such as activating their prior knowledge or deciding which sentence is the most important, and then must practice these strategies for the greater part of the school day. This is a dimension where knowledge of the world—that same prior knowledge that needs activating—is the last thing that it would occur to anyone to actually teach children in schools. The Educational Upside Down is frightening and surreal, not merely because it denies …

What ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ Gets Wrong About Early Education

Back in 2015, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt published an essay in The Atlantic about the nascent American campus culture of safe spaces and no-platforming. In the intervening three years, this culture has flourished and Lukianoff and Haidt have turned their critique into a book. The book is an interesting read and one that is strong in documenting some of the defining events of the last few years. I am less convinced of the explanation that Lukianoff and Haidt put forward for those events; an explanation they describe as a culture of ‘safetyism.’ Modern society, they claim, is teaching young people the opposite of the tenets of cognitive behavioural therapy. Young people are told to trust their feelings, that what doesn’t kill them makes them weaker and that the world can be divided into goodies and baddies. This seems like a plausible account, even if I am no expert in the veracity of cognitive behavioural therapy. However, Lukianoff and Haidt’s explanation may underplay the extent to which campus politics is a real, if misguided, reaction …

The Tragedy of Australian Education

In April, the Australian government finally published its airy and platitudinous report and review of the country’s schools. Popularly known as ‘Gonski 2.0’ after David Gonski, the businessman who chaired the review panel and who had chaired a previous review of school funding, it provided little evidence to support its proposals, despite evidence being a key requirement in the terms of reference. The report states that Australia must ditch its ‘industrial model’ of school education, the sort of cliché you would expect to hear in the most derivative education conference speech. Instead, each young person must “emerge from schooling as a creative, connected, and engaged learner with a growth mindset” (see here for a double meta-analyses of growth mindset interventions which shows that they have virtually no effect). The details of how to achieve this are vague, but the panel is clear on one key point: rigid, age-based curriculum content must be blown apart in favor of progressing students individually through a set of skills such as literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and self-management. Despite its managerial …