Twigg says evidence shows sun orbits earth.

Posted on 21-02-2012

Stephen Twigg has made an important speech stating that the problem in the English education system is that there is too much dogma and not enough evidence. Certainly there is some truth in that. I personally am extremely dismayed by the way that the scientific evidence about how humans learn is barely known amongst educators in this country, and by the way that scientifically incoherent fads are promoted instead. I tend to agree with Anderson, Reder and Simon that

New “theories” of education are introduced into schools every day (without labeling them as experiments) on the basis of their philosophical or common-sense plausibility but without genuine empirical support.

So it’s probably a good idea to have more evidence about what works in education. What does Twigg cite as one of the main examples of dogma prevailing over evidence?

I have criticised the dogma that comes from the current Government…that says learning core knowledge is more important than transferable skills.

Astonishing. Twigg thinks that learning core knowledge is unevidenced dogma. He also thinks that learning transferable skills has a strong evidence base.

Is he aware of the scientific literature proving that his facile separation of knowledge and skills is wrong? Is he aware of the evidence base showing that the ability to transfer skill is dependent on core knowledge and is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to teach in the abstract? Is he aware of the practical success that a curriculum based on core knowledge has had?

Indeed, the Anderson, Reder and Simon article I quoted at the start was being critical of precisely the sort of skills-based education Twigg seems to be advocating. Herbert Simon, one of the co-authors of that article (and a Nobel Prize winner, incidentally), did much of the original research on how cognitive skills are domain-specific and cannot be taught in the abstract or transferred particularly easily. Ironically enough, that article goes on to advocate a body similar to the one Twigg is proposing – an institution that would evaluate new educational ideas against the available evidence.  Ironic, of course, because that article is aware that all the evidence stacks up against learning transferable skills.

As I say, it is astonishing. Twigg is arguing for a greater evidence base in education whilst simultaneously promoting unevidenced moonshine.

What next? Twigg says evidence proves we should teach Brain Gym.

Twigg says evidence shows we should teach theory of air-borne cholera.

Twigg says evidence shows sun orbits earth.