The Future of Teaching
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And the Myths That Hold It Back
Drawing on recent experience in England, North America and Australasia, but applicable round the world, The Future of Teaching clears away this logjam of bad science and slack thinking and frees up the stream of much-needed innovation. This timely book aims to banish arguments based on false claims about the brain and poor understanding of cognitive science, reclaim the nuanced middle ground of teaching that develops both rigorous knowledge and ‘character’, and lay the foundations for a 21st-century education worthy of the name.
It’s time for the educational slugfest to stop. ‘Traditional’ and ‘progressive’ education are both caricatures, and bashing cartoon images of each other is unprofitable and unedifying. The search for a new model of education – one that is genuinely empowering for all young people – is serious and necessary. Some good progress has already been made, but teachers and school leaders are being held back by specious beliefs, false oppositions and the limited thinking of orthodoxy.
‘So much simplistic nonsense is being touted about “direct instruction” and the “knowledge rich curriculum”, it is great to see someone finally talking sense. As a practising cognitive scientist, Guy Claxton is perfectly equipped to take us beyond the familiar slanging-match between traditionalists and progressives. He illuminates, with his trademark wit and style, complex issues such as the function of knowledge, the psychology of creative and critical thinking, the true nature of memory, the culture of the classroom, and the many purposes of education. A timely tour de force.’
John Hattie, Laureate Professor, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
‘I love this book. Guy cuts through the ongoing tangle of arguments about traditional vs. progressive teaching as smoothly as a knife through butter. With a potent mixture of hard science and compelling stories, he exposes the flaws in both extremes and points the way to a compelling synthesis. This book is a must read for educators everywhere.’
Jo Boaler, Stanford University Professor of Education, and author of Limitless Mind
‘The experience of the Covid pandemic not only can, but must, lead to a new conversation about how to develop schooling to equip children for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Guy Claxton’s passionate and cogent book is the best possible starting point for that conversation.’
Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, The Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the RSA)
‘Guy Claxton’s terrific new book makes a much-needed contribution to educational debate at a time when ideology and “the complacency of certainty” are threatening to sound the death knell of a vibrant teaching community. Curiosity, disciplined enquiry and an appreciation of evidence fuel our professional learning and inform our ambition to tackle education disadvantage – and this book champions them all. I might not agree with every word Guy writes but I encourage everyone who is curious about the possibilities of teaching, and restless for change, to read it.’
Sir Kevan Collins, UK government Education Recovery Commissioner
‘This is a refreshingly thoughtful overview of education’s recent debates and of where teaching is headed, focusing in particular on the place of knowledge and its relation to skills. Its measured and balanced approach stands in contrast to the extraordinarily ideological positions taken by so many commentators in this field. As the book shows, far too many start with instincts (whether conservative or progressive) and then search around for supportive evidence, ignoring any which doesn’t fit. As a result our educational debates – and policy – too often embody a spirit opposite to what we should want young people to learn: the ability to think critically, to grasp complexity and cultivate wisdom. Good teaching always combines the transfer of knowledge and cultivation of skills, and the best teachers have a feel for the many subtle ways in which knowledge connects to thought and action. Hopefully this book can help us break free from the crude, and overly binary, thinking that dominates so much commentary on teaching.’
Sir Geoff Mulgan, ex-CEO of NESTA and Professor of Collective Intelligence at UCL
‘This is the book that was crying out to be written. Systematically, and with refreshing clarity, Guy challenges many of the assumptions that have held sway in education for the last decade. I defy anyone not to be challenged, stimulated, and inspired by the breadth of Guy’s expertise. His is no cheap or superficial assault on current orthodoxy but a fair-minded, forensic pulling apart of partial, lazy or simply wrong-headed thinking that too many have fallen for in the desire for simple truths. Whether it’s his analysis of the different types of knowledge, a more nuanced application of neuroscience, or a wider concept of learning than the filling up of long-term memory, Guy points the way to a more expansive vision of education – one that is more balanced, that learns from the progressives’ mistakes of the past, and moves powerfully beyond the overly narrow traditionalist vision of the present. The phrase that a book is a ‘must read’ is often overused. In this case it is no exaggeration. For me it has provided the intellectual underpinning and deep evidence base for a lot of what we have tried to do at School 21. I know it will resonate with all educationalists looking for a bigger and bolder purpose for education.’
Peter Hyman, co-founder of School 21 and Big Education
‘In The Future of Teaching, Guy Claxton dissects the harmful misconception that education is binary—either traditional or progressive—and that one must champion either content knowledge or thinking skills. He provides instead a powerful vision of content-rich learning that is challenging and purposeful, and which fosters critical thinking and craftsmanship at the same time as building a foundation of knowledge and understanding.’
Ron Berger, Senior Advisor for Teaching and Learning, EL Education and author of An Ethic of Excellence
‘What Guy Claxton calls the divisive “Punch and Judy” battle between progressive vs traditional camps in education should have been consigned to the last century – but unfortunately it is still rumbling on. The Future of Teaching provides abundant evidence to challenge simplistic thinking on both sides of the argument, and raise the quality of debate. Highly recommended.’
Fiona Millar, Journalist, Campaigner and Author of The Best for My Child
‘This is the book I’ve been longing to read for at least six years. The surgical dismantling of myths and misinformation, the clarity of explanation of complex ideas, the clear examples from real schools, and the humour peppered throughout had me punching the air, laughing, and then thinking hard to process those ah-ha moments. I’ll read it again and again.’
Dr Debra Kidd, Author of A Curriculum of Hope
‘The urgent need for schools that truly equip young people to flourish in the 21st century is too often hamstrung by a vocal and disproportionately influential lobby in education. This incisive book interrogates relevant evidence and confronts claims that ‘direct instruction’ has a mandate from cognitive science. It should help to release the suppressed innovation that is bursting to happen in our system.’
Douglas Archibald, Executive Director, Whole Education
‘What a sensational book – hugely entertaining, informative and readable. A blistering critique of the neo-traditionalist view of teaching and learning: it should come with a box of popcorn, or fireworks or something. Timely, urgent and compelling, The Future of Teaching is a truly epic achievement.’
Dr James Mannion, Co-author of Fear is the Mind Killer.
‘Guy Claxton is the current go-to guy for deep, positive thinking about education. I urge you to buy this book, drink deeply from it, and be emboldened with your own innovations.’
Charlotte Church, Singer, Educator, Activist’
This is a timely, pertinent, and much needed work, which looks at re-examining the nature and future of education and how to equip pupils of today with the skills and character to face the world of the future. Anyone interested and willing to engage in this debate around the possibilities of teaching and education would find this a highly fruitful and thought-provoking read. It draws on up-to-date research and debunks much of the outdated thinking which supports exclusive knowledge-rich curriculums, effectively demonstrating the importance of one size doesn’t and will never fit all.’
Meg Barclay, The School Librarian