Deeper Learning Gets Deep Sixed

As a public policy grad student 15 years ago, I had Tom Loveless.  He was great.  Basically, he called b.s. on a ton of ed policy fads.  This didn't always endear him to other ed policy folks, who promoted the fads.

Tom is at it again.  This time he takes on "Deeper Learning" in a blog he wrote for Brookings Institute:

My hope is that readers of this Chalkboard post will be skeptical when encountering deeper learning in the future.  I will describe two examples of deeper learning that readers should find troubling.  I will not offer a thorough critique of deeper learning or its philosophical kin.  For that, I urge you to read E.D. Hirsch’s The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them.  Published in 1996, the book pre-dates today’s deeper learning fad but convincingly rebuts its twentieth century ancestors, showing not only that these anti-knowledge movements lack anything resembling evidentiary support for their claims, but that they also, in disparaging academic content taught in public schools, exacerbate social inequality.  The premise is simple.  If public schools don’t teach algebra or chemistry or history or great literature or how to write well—the old-fashioned learning that has been around for centuries and remains high status knowledge in most cultures—rich kids will get it somewhere else.  Poor kids won’t.

Emphasis mine. 

Tom walks through 2 concrete examples of what he means.  Read the whole thing, it's short. 

Then he concludes:

I am not disputing that some tasks are more cognitively demanding than others and some learning is more complex than other learning.   Educators have known that for a long time.  Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Cognitive Domain (1956) laid out a hierarchy of skills: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  It is difficult to identify a more powerful influence on the American school curriculum, and perhaps curricula worldwide, than Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The first two layers, knowledge and comprehension, are synonyms for remembering and understanding what one has learned.  Although the hierarchical structure of Bloom’s Taxonomy has been challenged, no serious model has emerged that eradicates the prerequisite roles of knowledge and comprehension.  It is difficult to think deeply about Shakespeare without actually having read his work, remembering it, and grasping at least a good part of what he was saying.

Deeper learning, like its intellectual ancestors, tries to turn all of this on its head and upend the pre-eminence of knowledge.  CGI and PISA both exist in opposition to an element of knowledge in the traditional school curriculum.  The first grade math curriculum of CGI wishes to move beyond algorithms, to dig beneath them, really, so as to uncover what is happening when two numbers, as in the example above, are added together. 

Yes, I know, algorithms can be horribly boring, especially when taught as rote procedure; however, the algorithms of arithmetic are elegant procedures jam-packed with mathematics.