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Review of “Education: a very short introduction”

I’m not one to make a habit of posting about every single book I read, but I did want to share a few thoughts about one I’ve just finished. Education: a very short introduction by Gary Thomas is part of Oxford University Press’ ‘very short introduction’ series (which now runs to nearly 350 titles). It’s the size of a small pocket diary (it really does fit into a jacket pocket) and only about 120 pages long, so even a slow reader like me can finish it in a few sittings.

Since (academic) education is more of a field than a discipline, it can be tricky to find a single introductory text to recommend to students. There are some reasonable text books on the market, but on the whole they are too long and detailed as pre-degree reading and inevitably only provide partial coverage of the material covered on the first year of an undergraduate degree in education. Thomas’ book is aimed at the general reader, but serves as an excellent primer for someone about to study the topic, including as a postgraduate trainee teacher. He manages to cover a very wide range of psychological, sociological, historical and philosophical topics in a light, yet authoritative manner. There is plenty in here on the differences between education and schooling, developments in educational thought, the challenges of education on a mass scale and so on.

I have often found that working in an education department it is assumed I know all about pedagogy, Dewey, Vygotsky and Piaget. As a sociologist, much of this was new to me and is knowledge I tried to acquire along the way. This book has filled in the gaps, at least so that I can now bluster through discussions with more confidence.

Thomas is able to weave a sustained argument about educating people through the seven short chapters. He is fair and respectful to different opinions – although it appears he favours the ‘progressive’ end of things and has some strong reservations about the ability of schools to do what we ask of them, his experience as a teacher also comes in handy when a bit of common sense is called for.

I would have liked to have seen a concluding chapter, as the book seems simply to stop abruptly. There was also scope for including some more sociology (no Bourdieu! No Durkheim!!!) but the range of thinkers covered (Aristotle to Alison Wolf) is fairly extensive.

Well worth £7.99 of anyone’s money.

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