Education: A Very Short Introduction by Gary Thomas

Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

I feel like I should title this post “Yes, I actually read an adult nonfiction book once again,” since I’ve been neglecting not only my personal reading but also my nonfiction. Lately, I’ve been reading picture books, biographies of American historical figures geared toward youth, and other such interesting, but not mind-boggling reading.

Education by Gary Thomas (Oxford University Press, 2013) is one of the newest additions to the Very Short Introduction series, a series I’ve spoken highly of in the past simply because each book does such a wonderful job of introducing a topic, the issues surrounding the topic, and the people involved without overburdening the reader. Education is no exception. In 120 slim pages, Thomas introduced me to a general history of the processes of education, the people involved in various philosophies, the different schools of thought in education, and the contemporary issues that surround the complex topic.

I read the book once. As a new homeschooling mother, I assure you that this was only a preliminary read of a book that I need to revisit. I’ve been mulling over it for a week now, pondering how to approach a review of the book. Because it is a slim introduction, it is a basic overview. And yet, reading it provided me with motivation to improve my own teaching, along with a desire to encourage change throughout mainstream education today.

Thomas’ main arguments center around the difference between schooling and education. Unsurprisingly, schooling has looked much the same since ancient Roman times. He argues that while in general, a school would still be clearly a school to the time-traveling ancient Romans, there are some positive differences and changes in how we approach teaching the young.

That said, he also expresses concern about the curriculum choices, the modern-day atmosphere of testing in schools, and the pressure to perform. These things take away from true education, he argues. I would have to agree.

Although I have read through the Common Core State Standards and have few worries about the actual content, the schools and the emphasis in them on scoring well on tests, even at the lowest grades, worry me considerably. In my state, as a homeschool parent, I am not required to follow the Core Standards in my teaching, nor am I required to submit my young son to standardized testing. But I am concerned. Many youngsters are forced into learning that they are unprepared for and tested on the facts and so forth, rather than taught to embrace learning for learning’s sake. I am consistently impressed with the Finland schooling study, in which youngsters who do not begin formal school until 7 perform better overall once they do enter school.

Thomas’ overview of education is obviously biased toward a progressive standpoint. I suspect many leaders in education would be, simply because they see that what we have in place now (in both the UK and in America) simply is not working well. I feel a need to read more about the various educational philosophies, psychological studies, and contemporary issues to get a better grip on just what my family needs best — not to mention society. Education was a nice overview as I begin this homeschooling journey toward self-education and as I  teach.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

Reviewed on June 23, 2013

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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