Episode 140 – 15th June 2012

We speak to a number big names this week: Dan Dennett gives us his take on Alan Turing, former government chief science advisor Sir David King teases us about what really went on behind the scenes of the Iraq war, and Ben Hammersley explains why technology makes politics difficult. We also tackle Gove’s proposed new curriculum, archiving film for the future and find out if evangelical christian women really want to go out with Jesus?

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Dan Dennett on Turing (2:10) by Deborah Hyde (ft DAN DANNETT!)
Evolution: The New Classics (12:54) by Richard Dawkins
Sir David King Interview (16:22) by Liz Lutgendorff
Ben Hammersley Interview (26:29) by James O’Malley
Gove’s Curriculum (36:41) by Rob Weeks
The Digital Dilemma (45:14) by Glen Travis
Jesus Is My Boyfriend (52:49) by Jonny Scaramanga (ft Kylie Sturgess)
The sketch at the end is by David Lovesy and Brian Two

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9 thoughts on “Episode 140 – 15th June 2012

  1. Rob Weeks’ “Gove’s Curriculum” is brilliant, and he is completely right. On top of that, if we teach in the ways he advocates, children will get the knowledge Gove wants as a by-product.

  2. Thanky Jonny! I was trying not to be too ranty, but it’s something I care deeply about. It really does affect me as a corporate trainer because people assume that they’re meant to be spoon fed information, and there is little motivation to do self-led learning. Even when I was at uni that culture was there – it permeates everywhere.

    I really do fear for my son when he goes to school next year.

  3. Re: Gove’s Curriculum (36:41) by Rob Weeks

    Rob creates a straw man in which *all* learning is by wrote. He then criticizes such a scenario. Of course, nobody thinks that all learning, or even most learning, should be taught by wrote. But, to my mind, wrote learning has a definite place in education.

    He also mentions that wrote learning removes the joy from learning. Not so. I can remember the great satisfaction found in learning my times tables and being able to produce any “times tables” answer instantly. Or of learning Ozymandias by heart and coming to have a deeper understanding of it later in life – as I began to comprehend the lust for power that some people have. And how that power is often only transitory.

    I look forward to more wrote learning being introduced in our schools.

  4. It’s rote learning. Which, at the risk of being an elitist asshole, slightly discredits your expertise on the subject. Unless you meant *written* learning, of course…

    You’re right, though, that there is some nuance to be had in the debate. There are things children need to know, like multiplication tables, which pretty much have to be learned by rote. It’s the context and application which makes these things interesting, though. When I was a kid, I memorised to top speed and horsepower of all my favourite cars by rote, but I was engaging deeply with the subject, which made it worthwhile.

    Anyway, with primary school teachers already having a hugely prescribed curriculum, more rote learning hardly seems appropriate. What we need is to encourage deep learning. If the assessment tests children on their knowledge of facts, they will adapt their learning strategies to suit this. The message we are sending is that it is the facts, not the application or the understanding, that are important. That’s completely upside down.

  5. I cannot recall saying “all teaching in every lesson will be by rote”. What I was inferring was that since such prescriptive assessments of knowledge/facts would be at the core of the new curriculum, that is the natural way in which teaching will swing, because that is what performance will be assessed on.

    If you provide teachers with a list of words, poems and facts that are expected to be learned, the “best” method to teach them is by rote. I use “best” because it’s the best solution to meeting that learning need, but in my opinion it’s a poor method overall for a poorly thought out need.

    And because the curriculum is at the very heart of how teachers and schools are assessed, and forms such a large part of what they’re expected to teach, that is why I foresee rote learning as being a much more common method than it is already. Gove is in effect pushing teachers towards rote learning, as opposed to allowing them to assess the learning challenge in front of them and coming up with their own solution that is relevant to the class or even individuals.

    You mention straw man, I’ll bring in a straw poll. If we were to create a poll asking if people enjoyed rote learning in school I am happy to claim that I believe the majority of people will say that they hated it. I don’t know of many people that I have ever met who list it as one of their happiest educational experiences.

    However, in the examples you cite you do have some motivation to use rote learning to meet a goal, namely being able to provide instant multiplication answers and being able to recite a specific poem. And I did mention motivation to learn in my piece. My argument is that as you haven’t set out WHY something should be learnt to the learners they don’t have that motivation to do it. Your enjoyment has come from meeting the desired outcome, not the specific learning method.

    You should also not forget one of my main concerns too. That we will not be providing pupils with the skills they need in later education or career. You may come back and say “but not all learning will be by rote!”, but I still argue that since this will form a large part of the curriculum it will become a race to the bottom to ensure that all kids “meet standard” and recite out endless lists, ignoring other learning methods.

  6. I agree with Clive Tooth. There was a bit of straw-manning and false dichotomy argument in Rob Weeks report, that really set my teeth on edge.

    I think that in modern education, the phrase “rote learning” is being used as a derogatory catch-all expression in order to dismiss any type of repetitive effort that aims to equip children with a level of memorization, skill or facility in a subject. Learning your multiplications tables off-by-heart greatly improves mental arithmetic and is a great foundation for further mathematical learning (e.g. long division, long multiplication, calculating areas, volumes, powers, square roots etc.). There is a significant amount of repetitive effort necessary to learn your multiplication tables, and that effort cannot be avoided. It might not be the “funnest” part of education, but there are many ways that teachers and parents can make it more fun by turning it into a challenging game. For example, at the end of a maths lesson, have a mock TV game show where pupils compete against the clock or against each other to answer as many multiplication questions as they can and reward the winners with sweeties. You can guarantee if you do that every week, pupils will go home determined to go through the repetitive learning part to have a better chance of winning next week.

    Rob Weeks also claimed that it’s not necessary to learn the order of the planets in the Solar System to understand it! REALLY? Is he saying that knowing that the planet Mercury is the closest to the Sun doesn’t help you understand what Mercury is actually like e.g. that it has the fastest orbit (87 days) and can reach up to 700K on the side facing the Sun. I recall a fun game we played in geography class of making up or adapting a silly but easy to remember mnemonic for the order of the planets. I still remember mine – MANY (Mercury) VETS (Venus) EAT (Earth) MEAT (Mars) AND (Asteroid belt) JAM (Jupiter) SITTING (Saturn) UNDER (Uranus) NELLY’S (Neptune) PORCH (Pluto). Of course, now Pluto has been relegated, it just ends … SITTING UNDER NELLY!. To become a doctor there is lots of memorization necessary to pass the exams and get qualified, and they often they often use similar memory aid techniques like rhymes and mnemonics that they have to learn by rote/repetition to help them get through.

    To become mentally or physically skilled at anything that is even just a little bit demanding, it takes work, work, work or practice, practice, practice! A pianist has to repetitively practice scales when they are beginning. OK, its kind of boring practicing scales, but it’s essential if you want to get to Carnegie Hall! The hard work has to take place first, the rewards and fun comes later. Children who learn to delay gratification and put in the hard work necessary for later rewards are much more successful in life. If the education system doesn’t instill that in children, then we’re badly short-changing them.

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