Fear is the Mind Killer

‘Fear is the Mind Killer: Why Learning to Learn Deserves Lesson time – and how to make it work for your pupils’ By Dr James Mannion and Kate McAllister (2020), published by John Catt.

A book review by Dr Dave Walters, BA Ed Hons, MPhil Ed, Ed

The educational Holy Grail is that of developing and creating holistic lifelong learners who have the fundamental learning qualities of metacognition, self-regulation and self-regulated learning (the application of the other two). Well known as this is, this goal has eluded the educational world. Part of the problem is that all too often people look for a definitive answer to this quest. The track record of developments in the field clearly show that there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution. With ‘Fear is the Mind Killer’ (FITMK), the authors outline how taking a more contextualised ‘step back and view’ approach based on process rather than product might help others to realise this elusive educational Gold Standard.

The authors bring a researching professional (rather than a professional researcher) dimension to this issue based on theory and practice. To this end, they steer a rich grounded path to school development that others may wish to follow whilst signposting key junctures where deviations from the account presented may be required. Although appreciative of the quest to ‘scale up’, the authors do not fall into the trap of prescribing a flawless route that will work for all contexts. Instead, insightfully, they draw out some core ‘best bet’ elements, presented as a spine for improvement rather than the full skeleton.

The main argument is that leadership counts, a ‘blended’ approach to the teaching of thinking yields the greatest impact, and that context is key. The first aspect stresses the importance of leadership from the top. The Headteacher is crucial. There can be no substitute for a visionary and supportive Headteacher. Aligned to this is the ‘power of the few’ where a drive team of passionate professionals operationalise the vision and make it a contextual reality. The curriculum issue of taught and embedded is well argued and illustrated alongside the bravery required to lead this approach at both senior and middle leadership level. It is this realistic evaluative perspective that sets the book aside from others in the field.

The book is organised around a brief history of ‘Learning to Learn’ (together with arguments in favour and against the approach), the authors’ theoretical and practical background in the field, components of such a complex intervention, a case study of application and finally a process geared check list for others to consider. One of the key strengths of the account is that a rich blend of quantitative and qualitative impact data is presented with an underlying contextual current of what works best, for who and how guiding the story.

To conclude, the book contributes significantly to not only the area of teaching thinking, but to the area of authentic organisational growth in terms of developing schools from the inside out rather than from the top down. It stands as an excellent case study. The challenge now is for others in different contexts to add their story so that a rich multi-layered mosaic can be organically developed to further illustrate more widely what works best, for who and how.

Dr Dave Walters (September 2021)
Thinking Schools @Exeter (TS@Exeter)
Honorary University Fellow, Exeter University Graduate School of Education, UK
Email: dw226@exeter.ac.uk

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