Math became quite advanced in the 1600s. Medicine could barely claim a scientific basis until the 1900s. Education? Education is just starting to get there.
The flip flops between "phonics" being the best method to teach reading and "whole language" being the best method to teach reading go back at least to the 1850s because education establishments depended on anecdotal and not rigorous scientific evidence to establish policy. There have been at least four flip flops regarding reading instruction because science was not used to resolve the issue. Many scientific arguments have been made on the subject but not enough large scale controlled studies.
This book is not about reading instruction. It is about the use of the scientific method to resolve the effectiveness of competing alternative methods of instruction.
Some of the discoveries disclosed by scientific inquiry discussed in this book are diametrically opposite to today's teaching methods and many are quite counter intuitive.
I won't go into detail about the content of this book, but one research project discussed in the book demonstrated how little we know.
Take two groups of students and allow one group to use computer monitors that display crisp and clear instructional material. The second group gets the same material, but the monitors are sub-standard and the images are blurred but readable with difficulty.
Who learns more? The answer? Experiments demonstrated that the students using the poor equipment learned more and retained significantly more. Why? They had to struggle. Unbelieveable, but apparently true.
I think about that when I struggle with some of the more confusingly worded Khan Academy problems. You learn from a struggle and not from spoon feeding.
This book is not about anecdotal evidence to support educational theories. It is about what has been proven to work in rigorous scientific studies. It was written by educational researchers at universities and not classroom teachers who often hold diametrically opposite views about what works. Take fifty classroom teachers and you may have twenty different opinions on how best to teach any given thing.
Our big companies such as Google and Amazon use small scale "A/B tests" on a large number of issues daily. They use the results to scientifically tailor the services they deliver to the public.
Primary and Secondary educational establishments run by governmental entities deal more in tradition. There is a trend toward "evidence based" instruction, but often the "evidence" was not scientifically generated with control groups and the examination of alternative methods.
This is a wonderful book. Perhaps there will be a day when every educational manager will take it's message to heart and adopt methods that can withstand rigorous scientific examination.
I was impressed by the depth and uniqueness of many opinions expressed by Peter Thiel in this book. It is very perceptive and analytical. I highly recommend the book although I profoundly disagree with one repeated theme.
In this book, the author is often writing strictly to investors and the managers of companies. He praises monopolies and advocates that that audience avoid any business venture in which they cannot achieve total or partial monopoly status.
His reasoning is that only monopolies have spectacular profit margins. That is true, but it is usually at the expense of the consumer. From the perspective of a consumer, monopolies are horrible. The history of Standard Oil shows just how anti-social monopolies can be. Of course, if your perspective is that of the owner of a monopoly, monopolies are great.
Thiel never seemed to recognize that monopolies hurt consumers and at times argued otherwise citing innovations that derive from reinvestment of monopoly profits. It is true that monopolies have more cash which they may invest in a manner beneficial to innovation and ignores that monopoly power is just as likely to allow the monopoly to sit tight and stifle innovation by others. Just think of how the cable TV companies have coupled high prices with low-quality services when they are the single provider in a market.
The author had so many other deep insights into business and society that I am glad that I listened to the entire book. I learned many things. A book can deserve five stars even when it occasionally takes a partisan stance that has anti-social implications.