I was away in Washington for my son’s wedding when The Cambridge Primary Review was published.  It was not until I returned on October 22nd that I saw the Review and the welter of comments made upon it in the press.  After all those instant reactions I was glad that I was to have the opportunity to reflect in depth on the Review and the context in which it was produced.  This has led me to conclusions different to other commentators.

The origins of the Review lie in discussions held in 2004 which led to a major grant being made to the university for work spread over four years.  Drawing on views expressed by over 1,000 organisations, numerous individuals, 4,000 published sources and some 3,000 researchers, and with an editorial team of four supported by 14 authors and 66 consultants, the Review quite rightly claims to be the biggest review of primary education in forty years (back to the Plowden Report) and, probably, in the entire history of English education.

How come it was dismissed, therefore, within a matter of a few hours by Ed Balls, the Minister of Education, as being based on totally out-of-date statistics and ideas?  Three days later the Conservative spokesman for education, Michael Gove, a former leader writer for The Times, writing under the ambivalent title of “Another academic exercise divides opinion”, damned the Report with feint praise.  He then dismissed the Report’s two key recommendations – that formal classroom studies should not start until the age of six, and that there should be a significant let up in the heavy regime of testing that put such a straight-jacket on creative work in the primary school.  Gove explained that a future Conservative government was pledged to a high level of teacher accountability and was fully resolved to lower the school starting age to four.

Curiously, as justification for his argument, Gove quoted the Jesuits who said, long ago, “Give us a child until he is seven and he is ours for life.”  Without in any way wishing to stir up a theological debate, it has always seemed to me that the Jesuits were more in favour of early indoctrination in the faith, than they were about how children should learn to think for themselves as the critical issue which Gove himself may soon have to deal with.  And it is about letting children develop their unique curiosity that the Review is all about, as it is with those Montessori, Steiner and Froebel schools so favoured by professional parents for their own children.  The evidence from Finland, where children don’t start formal schooling until the age of seven, but who record the highest literacy and numeracy skills in the entire OECD, is ignored by Conservatives and Socialists alike as it simply does not fit what either of them think England is, or could be, all about.

The Report contains some 600 pages (about half a million words) of relatively tight text which, at a minute a page, would represent ten hours reading. But it is a text so dense with argument and so littered with cross-references that I defy anyone reading it at that speed to grasp the niceties of the points which it is making, and then have enough mental energy left to question what might have been left out, and what connections between the 24 chapters have not been made.  That having been said, the Review is beautifully written and is frequently a pleasure to read.  It is finely crafted, nicely nuanced and dignified when it believes it has a point to make which is likely to be controversial.  It is rarely judgemental, avoids sensationalism, falls over itself to be even-handed, and almost lulls one into a sense that, here at last, is the ultimate statement.

I believe that I am qualified to make the comments which follow because, with every bit as much zeal as the authors of the Review, I too have been working on these issues for a long time.  I have been doing this mainly for those members of the general public who, in a democracy, want to use their votes responsibly to elect a government qualified to make right and appropriate policy, and find it increasingly difficult to make sense of endless political claims and counter-claims.  Many of these people are aware from the media and the popular scientific press of the emerging research on how the human brain has been shaped by evolution, and how children’s learning is much influenced by evolutionarily shaped pre-dispositions.

In my work I frequently refer to what I describe as the ‘predicament’ of English education; ‘predicament’ as in the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “a difficult, unpleasant or embarrassing situation.”  That ‘predicament’, it seems to me, is every bit as much to do with secondary as it is with primary education.  It is as much to do with young people’s lives beyond the walls of the school as it is within the school gates.  Furthermore, it is very much to do with national identity – what the English think about themselves, about the shifting nature of our culture, our sense of justice, our place in the world, and what we think about the deepest ecological and spiritual issues.

I should explain, because it is relevant to the conclusions that I draw from this Review, that my interest in the fundamental question as to how children learn goes back to my own youthful curiosity about how I learnt for myself.  This included the discovery, as a teenager, that if my largely self-taught skills as a woodcarver enabled me to win an international award, I should have the confidence not to go to any more of my Latin classes – my teacher being so boring that I had failed O Level three times – and start to teach myself.  Much to the amazement of my friends, and the annoyance of the staff, I did just that.  It worked and I passed with flying colours at the fourth attempt.  I learnt an enormous amount from that.  Years later as the Head of a secondary school I quickly developed great respect for the way some primary schools educated youngsters to be self-reliant.  In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s I started to pick up studies coming largely from America which were using functional MRI scans to literally ‘see’ the brain working.  One which impressed me enormously, because it helped to explain my success in Latin, showed how the emotionally positive brain is predisposed to accept challenges that the depressed brain just can’t be bothered to do – emotional and intellect are interdependent, not separate.

Then, at Christmas 1994, like thousands of others, I was immensely impressed by Susan Greenfield’s Christmas Lectures for children at the Royal Institution on the nature of the brain.  Her lectures finally helped me see that psychology alone was no longer an adequate guide to the future shape of education.  At last I was internalising what Darwin had said in 1859 that our unique mental powers (the very structure of our brain and the way we think) have been shaped over the millennia by evolution.  We are no blank slates.  Then in 1995 I went to America and spent four years working with many of the most outstanding evolutionary and neurological scientists, as well as with key members of the American Psychological Association.

So it was that in 2002 I set out to explain what this might mean to English education.  My first attempt at such a massive task required much research and took three years, in between other things.  Master and Apprentice: Reuniting Thinking with Doing eventually ran to over 190,000 words.  Although one-third the length of the Primary Review, my publisher thought it too long and recommended that it should be rewritten as three separate books – one on history and culture, one on brain research, and the other on political aspect of the future of schooling.  This was old conventional thinking: we English delight in studying the separate bits of a problem but almost invariably fail to see the big picture, so I therefore refused.  My next attempt, Towards Finding a New Order of Education, was my response to another publisher who beguiled me into trying to play the part of a latter day educational version of Martin Luther and pin my 95 Theses to the doors of every supermarket.  At  110,000 words this document was one-fifth the length of the Review, but the 95 mini essays let too much slip through the cracks.  So, late in 2006 with help from my Canadian colleague Heather MacTaggart, I set out on a third attempt to show how cultural and historical factors have given the English an education system that makes it almost impossible to cope with the ideas emerging from research in the neurobiological, evolutionary and cognitive sciences on how the human brain functions.  This is the book published this week by Continuum as Overschooled but Undereducated.  It has some 80,000 words – less than one-sixth the size of the Review.  Like that Review, Overschooled but Undereducated draws on some several thousand published works and studies, and on a loosely-structured network of colleagues from around the world.

I must acknowledge that I started to read the Review with a prejudice – that, very simply, primary education cannot be seen in isolation to secondary.  The Review, by frequently returning to the situation in the late 1960s and the recommendations of the Plowden Report (1967), fails to go back a further 20 years to the curious origins of primary schools and the way in which in 1944/5 three years were carved out of the old elementary schools to add to the money available for only one more year of schooling, so as to create the four year secondary school.  I surmise that once the terms of reference of The Cambridge Review had been drawn up all those people who were working within it conditioned themselves to regard this as being “off limits.”  As someone who is well-known for arguing that it is this structural weakness which does so much to hamper the proper development of young people, this to me is a most serious deficiency.

So I settled down to make a serious personal study of the Review.  Having lectured on so many of the topics myself over recent years I saw a most positive use of the Review unveiling before me.  For months now I have been trying to map out in my mind a much improved two or three-year course as a qualification for all aspiring teachers, something which would go halfway towards equipping English teachers with the breadth of thinking which is such a characteristic of Finland.  Taking the Review’s 24 chapters as a starting point for two dozen seminars on primary education I saw in Chapters 3 and 4 and especially 5, admirable support material.  Chapter 6 on parenting, caring and education raises issues that will challenge future teachers as they contend with children of today’s dysfunctional parents.  It is a chapter which opens up many questions about my own model of a balanced education being like a three-legged stool which, with three legs of equal length representing home, community and school, can balance on any surface, however rough.  I was much struck by the statement (page 89) that “Schools can and do make a difference (but) this is not best achieved by intruding on the privacy of individual families.”

It was in the chapter on children’s development and learning that I first became nervous that the Review was missing a trick by not calling on the work of social anthropologists so as to compare learning structures in earlier times, and in distant places for, if the evolutionists are correct in their understanding about adaptive predispositions, the brains of today’s youngsters have an innate structure that fits them well for the social practices of 30,000 years ago.  Here I am thinking of the conclusion of Shoshana Zuboff to her study of work-place learning (1989), “learning is not something that requires time-out from productive learning; learning is at the very heart of productive activity.”  I am also thinking about the work on cognitive apprenticeship as an example of how England as a relatively unlettered country led the world into the Industrial Revolution.  I worry that the name of Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard and his ground-breaking work on multiple intelligences was put on a par, in the same sentence, with the successful journalist Daniel Goldman, someone who is the first to claim that he only writes about other people’s research, but doesn’t do it himself.

But the Review continued with nothing to suggest to me that it would not soon start to explore what the English professor of psychobiology, Henry Plotkin, at the University College London says in his 1997 study Evolution in Mind that “the human mind is as much a product of evolution as are our hands or our eyes”.  In other words, just as our parents’ genes condition to a large extent what we look like, so their genes also explain the initial structure of our brains.  How might this manifest itself?  Applying Plotkin’s insight to Gardner’s proposition of seven or eight multiple intelligences would mean that each of our brains, in the way they handle various ‘ways of thinking about things’, are a composite of the genes we have received from our parents and their ancestors.  As that is the case I began to wonder when the Review would start talking about brains, and the use of predispositions.  It was Plotkin who was the first to remind me of E.O. Wilson seminal work of 1978 On Human Nature as being the first serious attempt by psychologists to share their thinking with biologists studying evolution to establish what is now a discipline in its own right – evolutionary psychology.  It is to this discipline that we must look for detailed explanations of human instinctive behaviour, especially our innate structures for learning.  Search psychology’s literature for reference to evolution and it was simply not mentioned before Wilson’s work of 1978.  Until little over thirty years ago biology had no interest in psychology, and visa versa.

So I then looked for ‘evolutionary psychology’ in the Review’s index, but it is not there.  Nor is ‘evolution’, nor is the ‘brain’.  E.O. Wilson, such a commanding figure to biologists, does not appear in the references, neither does Henry Plotkin, nor Jared Diamond whose books on human nature are to be found in every book shop around the world with his most serious speculation that to survive in the forests of New Guinea the native peoples of that island have to use a combination of their multiple intelligences more effectively than does a school child in London in 2009.

Does this omission matter?  The answer has to be an unqualified yes, for only when we understand how the brain works are we able to define what stimulates it, or what depresses it.

Chapter 11, on the early years, quite rightly quotes significantly from the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky and the origins of what is called a constructivist theory of learning – how the brain forever builds new ideas onto what it has learnt from its earlier experiences.  But nowhere in the chapter, nor in the index, is the highly regarded work by the English psycho-therapist Susan Gerhardt and her rightly important book Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain (2004).  In the clearest possible language, Gerhardt explains the key sequences of neurological development in the baby.  “The basic systems that manage emotions,” she wrote, “our stress-response system, the responsiveness of our neurological transmitters, the neural pathways which carry our explicit understanding of how intimate relationships work – none of these are in place at birth.  Nor is the vital prefrontal cortex of the brain yet developed.  Yet all of these systems will develop rapidly in the first two years of life, forming the basis of our emotional management for life.  Although later experience will elaborate our responses and add to the repertoire, the path that is trodden in early life tends to set each of us off in a particular direction that gathers its own momentum.”

To someone of Gerhardt’s sensitivity to both scientific research, and the human condition, the human brain can perhaps be likened to a modern White Board waiting for someone to turn on the electricity so as to activate all the scribbles and calculations made by our ancestors as they sought the best way of using their intelligences to survive.  Our brains are most certainly not those blank slates simply waiting for contemporary culture to write upon them, as the Behaviourists once (and still do in some cases) believe.  While the references list Alison Gopnik’s (with Patricia Kohl) 1999 book Scientists in the Crib it makes no reference, as far as I can see, in the text to her ideas, or to her most recent book published in London this year, The Philosophical Baby, with its rich description of how inherited behaviours are encased in our genes, but activated by an appropriate culture.

I was beginning to become suspicious that the Review was failing to give sufficient attention to the biomedical factors involved in human learning and was over-stressing theories based on conventional psychology.  All that being said I read on and came to the wide-ranging treatment of the Foundation Years (Chapter 11) and then to What Primary Education Is For (Chapter 12) where I could have wished for some acknowledgement of the redoubtable John Newsome, the Chief Education Officer in Hertfordshire who was such a key figure in the early development of the post-war primary school.  Twenty years before Plowden, Newsome wrote a best-selling Penguin, The Child at School, being “a parent’s guide to some of the problems and principles of education – why certain subjects are taught or particular methods used – and an explanation of exactly how a child’s time at school is spent.”  While The Cambridge Review rightly cautions against thinking that the early years of Plowden were a halcyon time, there was much that happened before that which was really of great value.

Consequently, readers of the Review should go back beyond Plowden to the times of men like John Newsome – the time which the historian David Kynaston in his just published second volume of Post War England (1951-57) calls Family Britain.  This may well sound idealistic and naive, but in very many ways it was not.  It was a time of considerable optimism, hard work and a confidence that extraordinary things could be achieved in education.  These were the years which gave birth to Plowden.

As chance would have it an obituary published last week in The Guardian (27th October) to a remarkable teacher, George Baines, who trained in the 1950s, encapsulated this well; “[his] children would begin the day with whatever task they wished.  There was a strong sense of direction, with teachers supporting each child in acquiring the six “selves”: self-awareness, self-confidence, self-direction, self-discipline, self-criticism and self-esteem – acquired in that order.  The whole school community, adults and children, were encouraged to work with ‘industry, integrity and imagination.’  If the ‘three ‘I’s’ and ‘six selves’ were developing well, with good teaching, Baines believed ‘the three R’s’ would follow.”  Note that order – the three R’s followed rather than preceded deep interest in learning.

Put that statement up on the common room notice board of every primary school in the country and see what debate that would stimulate!  Baines, and others of that time, were well supported by their local authorities; Baines was appointed to design and open a new school in 1962, and was given a year to prepare the staff for a pedagogy that reflected both the needs of the children, the beliefs of the teachers, and the physical structure of a new school.

In answer to the Review’s question “What Is Primary Education For” (Chapter 12) I would most strongly recommend reading the short essay written by John Newsome that comprises Chapter 1 of his book.  Entitled Why Education in two short sentences Newsome says something more profound about what often comes out of the many pages of the Review: “Education is ultimately a political issue, for it is concerned with the child’s relationship to the world both as a child and as a future adult.  In other words, until you have decided what the relationship between man and God or man and other men should be, and what form of political and economic society would like to see, you cannot tell what sort of education a child should have.”

Then by way of Chapters 13 and 14 I came to “Towards a New Curriculum.”  Towards the end of this chapter my attention was drawn to a quotation from Susan Greenfield’s recent speech to the House of Lords outlining many a neuroscientist’s concern about the risks of too early, and too excessive, exposure to screen-based technologies.  Susan Greenfield has gone a long way from the time, in 1994, when she delivered those children’s lectures on the brain.  Then she had appeared slightly in awe of her vast audience, and the public interest in her ideas – from being the Oxford lecturer that many a parent would hope would be tutoring their own children, Greenfield was precipitated into the public arena as the attractive, almost coy, face of neurology.  She found herself cast as brain science’s interface with education.  She is now the Director of The Royal Institution.  Her fellow neuroscientists began to cold-shoulder her for, as they claimed, she was over-simplifying the state of neurological understanding.  But maybe it was professional jealousy for, in 2003, she was created a Baroness by a government determined to show how science-friendly it was.  Recently Greenfield has made a particular study of how potentially invasive are the new technologies, and the threat this could pose to over-stimulating certain areas of the brain at the cost of leaving other neurological connections under-developed.  Greenfield sees at the micro level the significance of what many a parent intuits, namely that their child has become so captivated by electronic communication that they have lost the art of person-to-person communication, and purposeful reflection.

Her speech, according to what is reported in the Review, caused a certain amount of controversy and “in some quarters, ridicule.”  Ridicule is a strong word – meaning “the subjection of someone or something to mockery and derision”, and ‘derision’ implies that the comments are contemptuous.  Normally I think one would be most cautious about using such words especially if one felt a personal sympathy for the person being mocked.  However, the Review, having chosen to site this quotation from Susan Greenfield’s speech, must have made a very conscious decision to do this.  In what followed, the Review stated that “such an addictive aspect of young people’s lives could not be dismissed lightly”, but rather than going into a careful analysis of what Greenfield had said, the Review moved on quickly by claiming that they were recommending that ICT should be placed in the language domain of the curriculum where, it seemed to imply, it would be better integrated into the whole curriculum then being left as a free-standing and detached “skill for life.”  But yet again I was uncomfortable that the views of scientists did not really capture the interest of the reviewers.

Half way through the Report I came to the chapter “Rethinking Pedagogy” which the Review quite rightly stated was central to its entire work.  It was here that my concern about the narrowness of the way in which the Review was treating its material erupted.  To start with I did not see how to focus my comments so I read the chapter a second, and then a third time.  What I believe should have been at the very start of this chapter, or better still treated as a previous chapter on its own – namely how humans and, in particular, children learn – was preceded by an extensive study of constraints on teaching; what good teaching looks like; improving teaching, and mapping behaviour.  Only half way through the chapter was there much talk about learning and here it was an extensive (and well deserved) critique of the government’s apparent view of what the Review dramatically called “a state theory of learning.”  A theory which is imposed with ever greater energy, and enforced with greater prescription, by a government apparently frustrated (but not prepared to admit it) that it’s attempts to raise standards in this way, have stalled.  Rather like the National Research Council in the US this started out in 1999 to draw together what was known about How Humans Learn.  Subsequently it wasconstrained by the nature of the grant it received from the US Department of Education and redefined it as meaning Brain, Mind, Experience and School.  What had started as a wide-ranging study of the relationship of the brain to human behaviour, became tied by that grant to explain how brain research could be tied to the present organisation of classrooms.

Meanwhile I was caught up in my own research which revealed the quality of thinking expressed in the 18th century by totally unlettered people, yet rich in terms of their craft-based skills, I was beginning to question whether modern society’s over-dependence on the classroom was not actually weakening young people’s ability to think for themselves.  Shortly thereafter I published a Paper entitled “Can the Learning Species Fit into Schools (or at least into schools as currently structured)?”  Stated in such bold terms this Paper attracted much sympathy and led me directly to set out my argument in Overschooled but Undereducated.  the more I did that the more I was regarded by government (and often other teachers) as dangerous, if not treacherous.

Refocusing myself on the Review I found that my third reading of this chapter confirmed my earlier assumption – the authors have got caught up in a torturous argument that just goes around and around their central belief (which I totally endorse) that primary and secondary education has become trivialised by an instrumental state theory of learning.  But what really frustrated me was that the Review described the symptoms of that theory in great detail, rather than challenging the theory itself.  That theory is all too obviously a rehash of Behaviourist thinking that did so much damage in the middle of the last century.  Consequently if its proposals for the future concentrate primarily on frameworks for improving and transforming teaching (Hargreaves et al), and totally fails to acknowledge the importance of how the brain works as a learning organism it will  have wasted its opportunity.  Neurological and cognitive research was given a massive boost when, in 1992, Gerald Edelman, the Nobel winning biologist, published his research on Neural Darwinism (explaining how, at a deep structural level of the dendrite, the brain is as much the result of evolutionary processes, as is the rest of the human body).

There is no reference to Edelman in the Review, either in the index or the references.  So let me explain why he is so important because, eventually, it is his insight into the operation of the human brain that will transform formal schooling.  In the mid 1970s Edelman’s work on the human immune system revealed that, as a result of chemical interactions in the brain transmitted genetically from generation-to-generation, the human body is born with a vast number of specific antibodies each of which has the capacity to recognise and respond to particular types of harmful viruses.  This finding transformed conventional thinking.  The human immune system doesn’t just build new responses every time a new threat appears; it simply searches its vast repertoire of defence mechanisms built up in deep evolutionary history until it finds an antibody that is appropriate.  As many of my readers will now understand it is the way that the HIV virus destroys the natural immune system that creates the devastating condition for AIDS – the body just can’t respond even to the weakest of the viruses.

It was in Neural Darwinism that Edelman argued that human learning proceeds in a very similar way.  Rather than understanding that our brain is like a computer programmed from outside (as all the directives from DCSF would imply for English schools) Edelman suggested that change in our brains occurs solely through the interaction of internal processes with those aspects of the environment that attract their attention.  In other words, the drive comes from within the brain, not outside.  It is rather like the way organisms respond to the rich, layered ecology of the jungle environment.  All trees have the innate capacity to reach the sunlight and extract nutrients from the soil; those that do so thrive and reproduce – the others simply die.  What happens in a jungle is the result of natural selection.

Edelman argues that millions of years of evolution have created brains which are fully equipped at birth with basic sensory and motor components that enable each individual to function successfully in the physical world – provided it encounters the right stimulation.  You don’t have to teach a child to walk or talk; we simply provide opportunities for them to access mental processes, predispositions encased in their brains.

Thus, from a biological perspective learning becomes a delicate but powerful dialogue between genetics and the environment – the experience of our species from the distant past interacts with the experiences we each have during our lifetimes.  The whole process is dynamic and continuous.  Such a model of our brain should challenge English educators to consider that a jungle-like brain thrives best, not in classrooms designed so that teachers can deliver a specialised segment of a pre-determined curriculum, but by at last recognising that however good a class or a school may be, it can never be good enough to give children the width of experience and challenge they need to activate their phenomenal learning capabilities.  Our ancestors, after all, came from the jungles, not something that resembles a shopping mall.

I confess that I skipped some of the remaining sections.  My excuse is this.  We humans have been using our brains to think for millions of years.  Due to our evolutionary past we think largely in terms of pictures and stories – our attention span for abstract argument is short, and so from Chapter 15 I went quickly to the conclusions and recommendations to see what it said about pedagogy.  “We do not nominate any ‘best buy’ from recent pedagogy research, and indeed would strongly discourage the chasing of pedagogical fads and fashions,” states Recommendation No. 61.

As the issues I have been raising in response to some of the propositions in the Review are hardly, if at all, mentioned by the Review writers, does that mean that they have simply dismissed it as either a ‘fad’ (an intense and widely-shared enthusiasm for something that is essentially short-lived) or a ‘fashion’ (the latest style) and deemed it not worthy of further attention?

I do hope not, though I fear that some of the loose interpretations made by some popular writers drawing on the research has given rise to some extraordinary ‘snake oil’ types of programmes.  What really troubles me is that there are obviously few people within the English educational research community able to handle the rush of findings emerging from neurobiology, systems and complexity theory, anthropology, cognitive science and the principles of evolutionary developed adaptations.  The ability to synthesise, something which is not strong in the western academic tradition, does not go beyond traditional humanistic disciplines.  This creates a most serious problem at a time when biomedical sciences have so much to contribute to a new synthesis.

Of all the truisms uttered by Einstein it was his claim that you will never solve a problem if you continue to use the same methodology that created the problem in the first place.  It comes down to a question of perception.  The root of the problem lies in our inability to think in the abstract about our own brains, and how they shape the way we think.  Let me give a simple explanation; over the past 50 years medical science, by coming to understand the workings of the human body better, had been able to provide better treatment for our diseases, and taught us how to live more sensibly – we have, as it were, developed a “A User Guide” to the human body.  As a result we all live far longer than did our grandparents’ generation, or the generations before them; at its most extreme medical science can now manage pain so well as to alleviate the worst of the problems created by degenerative diseases.

I am convinced that the emerging understandings of how the human brain works could do for educationalists what medical research has done for doctors – it could equip us now with a User Guide to the Human Brain, and help us develop practices that so “go with the grain of the brain” that we would both ‘raise standards’ (not just of academic achievement but of life satisfaction) and release hitherto untapped human potential which so far is not touched by the application of expensive corrective measures of the classroom.  To write that User Guide to the human brain requires a far better understanding of the learning process from a biological perspective that can’t simply be given by psychology; it is not a question of in any way ignoring psychology and replacing it with neurobiology – it is by creating a synthesis out of the social and the biological sciences that the User Guide will be written.

Once we have such an understanding it will become as obvious to the politicians as it is to the parents and teachers that it is our innate biology that makes pre-pubescent children potentially fine, clone-like learners able to follow with enthusiasm a teacher in the classroom.  What functional MRI scans now show is that the brain starts to change quite radically in early pubescence and. through a violent period of synaptogenesis in the early years of adolescence, destroys many of the hard-won (earlier most useful) dendritic structures that gave us brains largely dependent on ‘role-models’.  This forces teenagers to take responsibility for reconnecting ‘shattered’ dendrites in ways that are based on what the individual learns/experiences for themselves.  Not until all educationalists, those in the primary as well as in the secondary years, have this unifying understanding of the learning process will it begin to become possible to see how resources should be moved from one part of the education system to another so as to equip the youngest child with such a range of skills that, as they grow older, they can be progressively weaned of their dependence on institutions and instruction.

In terms of what research it is appropriate for future Reviews to study I would urge on them the military dictum that ‘he with the best intelligence always wins.’  In educational terms that means looking for those lone scouts who are out scanning the landscape for new ideas, well in advance of those undertaking conventional research within the security of tenured posts in universities.  It is these lone ‘scouts’ moving across unfamiliar territory, who map out the way forward both for an army, and a ministry of education, and set the agenda for researchers to quantify once they start to become accepted practice.  By way of illustration, but in no order of priority, I list some 20 people whose ideas should already be helping us appreciate the territory still to be explored.


A Few References for Future Study

Perkins, David; Out-Smarting IQ: the emerging science of learnable intelligence, 1994;

Wills Christopher; The Runaway Brain: The evolution of human uniqueness, 1994 and

The Children of Prometheus: The accelerating pace of human evolution, 1998

Tattersall, Ian; Becoming Human: Evolution and human uniqueness, 1998;

Mithen, Steven;The Pre-History of the Mind, and The Singing Neanderthal: The origins of music, language, mind and body, 1996

Bruer, John; Schools for Thought: The science of learning in the classroom, 1993;

Wade, Nicholas; Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of our Ancestors, 2006;

Wright, Robert; Darwin: The Moral Animal, Why We Are As We Are: The new science of evolutionary psychology, 1994

Ridley, Matthew; Nature via Nurture: Genes, experience and what makes us human, 2003;

Pinker, Stephen; How the Mind Works, 1997, and Language Instinct: The new science of language and mind, 1994, and The Blank Slate: The modern denial of human nature, 2002;

Gazzaniga, Michael; Nature’s Mind: The biological roots of thinking, emotion, sexuality, language and intelligence, 1994;

le Doux, Joseph; Synaptic Self: How our brains become who we are, 2002;

Greenspan, Stanley; The Growth of the Mind and the Endangered Origins of Intelligence, 2997;

Coveney, Peter and Highfield, Roger; Frontiers of Complexity: Research for order in a chaotic world, 1997;

Strauch, Barbara; The Primal Teen: What the new discoveries about the teenage brain tell us about our kids, 2003.

Bogin, Barry; The Growth of Humanity, 2001

Wells, Spencer; The Journey of Man: A genetic odyssey, 2003

New York Academy of Sciences; Adolescent Brain Development, 2004

Badcock, Christopher; Evolutionary Psychology: A critical introduction, 2000

Stiles, Joan; The Fundamentals of Brain Development: Integrating nature and nurture, 2008;

Gould, Stephen; The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, 2002;

Cartwright, John; Evolution and Human Behaviour, 2000;

Hauser, Marc; Moral Minds: How nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong, 2006

Tooby and Cosmides, The Adaptive Mind, 1992

Buller, David; Adapting Minds: Evolutionary psychology and the persistent quest for human nature, 2006

… and to which I would humbly add my new book, Overschooled but Undereducated: How the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents, 2009.