Think about these questions:

  • How many shark attacks have there been in the past few years?

  • Did the lighter or the match come first?

  • Roughly what proportion of Earth’s population live in the northern hemisphere?

Our brains produce an answer to these questions, and often immediately; but the answers might surprise you! Sharks actually kill far fewer people than you might expect. The first lighter dated back hundreds of years, preceding matches. Ninety percent of Earth’s population live in the northern hemisphere.

We can accept facts like these easily, because we tend to be pretty open to agreeing we may have been wrong in our answer. But what happens when our brain tells us we know the answer, and we don’t check to see if we are actually correct? That might sound trivial, but far from it.

It is a human trait to have gut feelings and intuitive thoughts, and we apply this thinking process to all areas of our lives. Most of the time this is a good thing, as we need to make quick decisions in our complex world, and the insights and memories we automatically draw on help us do that.

But our brain plays tricks on us in many different ways. For instance, we pay a lot of attention to past events – if we bet on tails and win a few times, we are more likely to bet on tails again, but the odds of winning are still fifty percent! Negative information affects us more strongly than positive information, which is why stories about political scandal overshadow stories about community or altruism. And most of us think we are above average drivers and, as a consequence, can become overconfident.

There is one big advantage though: biases in our thinking are universal, and the pitfalls are common, so we can help one another spot them. And this is true in the case of education as well.

Reflection of this kind can have a massive impact, given we are talking about how we make lifechanging decisions: which school a child goes to, which courses are chosen at age 16, and how we prepare for particular professions.

This book, therefore, is for anyone who wants to be empowered to spot thinking biases, and apply the hugely compelling evidence to their education choices.

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