As a middle aged man from the west of Scotland it is a very human trait for me to automatically accept that my opinions are facts. ’Sometimes Right. Sometimes Wrong. Always Certain’ as Danny Baker and Danny Kelly often proclaim. We men do that though, don’t we? Waving off any evidence which contradicts us as just a mere triviality. So, within that context I approached David Didau’s ‘What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong?’ with extreme caution. What truths could possibly lay within? What evidence could I dismiss as scientific, academic jibber jabber? How could I possibly be wrong?
It is a huge book in many ways. Almost four hundred pages if you read the appendices – which I swear I’ll get to. In these pages Mr Didau picks holes in our approach to just about every idea about education you may have ever had, offering alternatives to established teaching techniques and the beliefs that we’ve always thought effective. And he makes a compelling case. We can be a conservative lot in teaching – with a small ‘c’ – and we don’t always like to be questioned, but that is what this book does and does well. Whether you agree with him or not, this book will change you.
This not is not an ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ book in the slightest. Despite the title he’s not saying that you are wrong. You may be, probably are in some areas, but what the author is trying to do here, I think, is to ask you to at least question some of your long held beliefs about what you’re doing. We do things in teaching which we’ve always done because we convince ourselves that they work and they fit with our principles and beliefs but do they work for our students? How do we really know that? They may well work but we should be asking those questions.
The book goes some way to convincing me of a better path to learning for my students but also, ironically, nails a key stumbling block.
‘Everything about school is is set up to value performance over mastery and learning.’ p 316
While Mr Didau argues that performances of learning are poor displays of deep learning, it is difficult to shy away from the fact that Secondary Schools are judged on exam results. Therefore passing exams becomes a greater aim than ‘mastery and learning’. And even if that’s just a perception, my greatest gain from the book was that I am now convinced that there needs to be a better way for me; that maybe a lot of what I thought I knew was wrong. Not all of it though.
This is a book that left me unsettled. I read a lot of books on education and like to be challenged but this was different. It goes to the heart of what a mature, intelligent profession like teaching should be. Questioning ideas, not people. Unpacking policies, not egos. It is a hugely readable and entertaining monster of a book and you will hate it at times. But, the thing is, I’m never usually wrong, or so I thought. I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes I might be. And If I can do it, so can you.