Why I am no longer a member of the ATL, part II

Posted on 07-04-2012

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post explaining why I left the ATL teaching union.

Put briefly, it’s because the ATL’s views on the curriculum and the role of knowledge are completely inimical to good teaching.

As if to confirm how right I was, the Telegraph have an article in their online edition about another speech that was given to the ATL conference. According to the speaker, Jon Overton, ‘we are no longer in an age where a substantial “fact bank” in our heads is required.’ The invention of smartphones means that pupils can depend on looking things up on the internet. Instead,

‘what we need to equip our young people with are skills; interpersonal skills, enquiry skills, the ability to innovate. That is what universities are saying is lacking, that is what employers say is lacking; transferrable [sic] skills that ultimately will make a difference in the life of a young person. ‘

This speech repeats three common myths. Here they are, with further links to things I have written explaining exactly why they are myths.

Myth one: It is possible to outsource memory to the internet. 

No, it isn’t. We need to commit facts to long-term memory in order to free up space to solve problems in working memory, which is limited. These memorised facts are vitally important and are the basis of all higher-order thought.

Myth two: It is possible to teach generic and transferable skills in the abstract.

It isn’t. Skills are tied to domain-specific knowledge. You might be able to analyse a history source, but that doesn’t mean you can analyse a maths problem, and vice versa. Likewise, you need to know and understand a field before you can start innovating in it.

Myth three: Modern technology will change everything about education.

Modern technology is amazing. But it doesn’t change the need for pupils to commit facts to memory (see myth one) and in lots of other ways its impact on education is being misdiagnosed, and even overhyped.