A little room for the untrendy theorists

19th October 2012 at 01:00

The British quietly love stories about Americans trying to prevent schools teaching evolution. Such news reports from the US provide a feeling of superiority: "How backward! They're not still arguing about that, are they?" When a school board in Georgia puts stickers on classroom books informing pupils that "evolution is a theory, not a fact", or a museum in Kentucky depicts Adam and Eve living cosily alongside dinosaurs, we snicker.

We feel safe in our superiority because we know it is very unlikely to happen here. Yes, we might already have a chain of academies overseen by creationists, and some of the zanier religious groups trying to set up free schools, but they are being watched like hawks.

Politicians, scientists and the press over here are reassuringly quick to stifle any whisper that someone might be promoting creationism in schools. Sometimes they are even too quick: the excellent academic Michael Reiss became the subject of a witch-hunt for making the entirely sensible suggestion that creationism could be explored in science lessons - to show its lack of scientific basis.

We are less willing to come to the defence of learning theorists. There is not the same rush to defend John Dewey, for example, who is criticised in the US by some of the same Christian extremists who attack Darwin.

Four key learning theories - from Dewey, Maslow, Bruner and Vygotsky - are set out in this issue in a handy beginners' guide. To many teachers who have undergone PGCEs, these theories will be familiar. But to increasing numbers of teachers who came into the profession via other routes, such as Teach First, they may not. Learning theories have become politically unfashionable, along with any academic form of teacher training.

However, the core theories are not hideously "child-centred" or examples of left-wing brainwashing. They are simple to the point almost of being obvious. More importantly, they act as reminders that there really is more to teaching than getting pupils to rote-learn facts written on a blackboard. We're not still arguing about that, are we?

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro michael.shaw@tes.co.uk @mrmichaelshaw.

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