More on the bucket theory of learning

Roger Titcombe's picture
The fate of the unfortunate Zarkov in 'Flash Gordon', described here, will remind fans of Charles Dickens of the wretched pupils at the mercy of Thomas Gradgrind in 'Hard Times'. Although gloriously over the top, Thomas exemplifies the absurdity of the 'knowledge based' curriculum that is seeing a revival in some of our Academies and Free Schools.

It is also worth comparing Gradgrind's pure form of 'bucket filling' as a theory of learning, with the richness of developmental practice in Richard Dawes' school in Kings Somborne described here.

The dates are interesting. 'Hard Times' was first published in 1854. Dawes' masterpiece, 'Suggestive Hints towards improved Secular Instruction' was first published in 1847.

The historical pedagogical tussle between the Dawes and Gradgrind approaches was resolved firmly in favour of Gradgrind. By the early 1860s, an economy-minded Liberal government wanted the state to get value for money. Grant payments were linked to pupils' success in basic tests in reading, writing and arithmetic. The system was dubbed 'payment by results', and the methods of Gradgrind became the approved method of educational delivery.

Here are some quotes from Thomas Gradgrind and a visitor, presumably a school inspector, together confronting the pupils.

"Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him who were to be so filled with facts."

"...he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge.

"'Very Well', said this gentleman [the visitor], briskly smiling, and folding his arms. 'That's a horse. Now let me ask you girls and boys, would you paper a room with representations of horses?'"

"After a pause, one half of the children cried in chorus, 'Yes Sir! Upon which the other half seeing in the gentleman's face that Yes was wrong, cried out in chorus , 'No Sir!' - as the custom is in these examinations."

"'I'll explain it to you, then', said the gentleman, after another and a dismal pause, 'why you wouldn't paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality - in fact? Do you?'"

"'Yes sir!' from one half. 'No, sir!' from the other."

"'Of course no,' said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the wrong half."

"'Fact, fact, fact!' said the gentleman. And 'Fact, fact, fact!' repeated Thomas Gradgrind."

"'You are to be in all things regulated and governed,' said the gentleman, 'by fact. We hope to have , before long a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who force the people to be a people of fact, and nothing but fact."
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