Psychologist logo
BPS updates

One to one... with Guy Claxton

Professor of the Learning Sciences, and Co-Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning, at the University of Winchester. He also holds visiting appointments at Exeter and Bristol Universities. Includes online only answers.

08 October 2012

One inspiration
Jeffrey Gray – for the intricacy and precision of his thought, and the inquisitive and courteous way he would engage with all kinds of people (some of whom seemed quite nuts to me).

One moment that changed the course of your career
A bit of a cliché, but discovering Carl Rogers' On Becoming a Person, and feeling myself known for the first time – after eight years of hard-nosed Oxbridge psychology!

One book all psychologists should read
Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind shows how you can tackle really important themes in a way that is both elegant and precise.

One thing that you would change about psychology
I think, now, we can afford to be more imaginative and speculative without fearing that, if we are, we will lose our scientific rigour. I love the way that approaches from literary fiction, psychoanalysis, neuroscience, philosophy, experimental cognitive science and the spiritual traditions such as Buddhism are beginning to inform each other. We shouldn't be shy about sharing this synthesis with our students, nor about separating the wheat from the chaff.

One challenge you think psychology faces
Education systems around the world are reformulating the goals of education in terms of 'key competencies' or, as I call them, 'learning-oriented habits of mind'. We need much more research about how mainstream classrooms can be configured to become effective incubators of dispositions such as curiosity, resilience or imagination. And we need to understand much better the conditions that facilitate habit change in teachers as well.

One regret 
That I failed to become The Wilde Reader (now Professor) in Mental Philosophy at Oxford. I just loved the job title (though preferably without the 'e')!

One way Buddhism has influenced my professional life
All my work in what we now call 'expansive education' – helping young people expand their capacity and appetite for real-world learning – stems from the core Buddhist virtues of curiosity and investigation. Buddhism is the only religion I know that requires you to doubt everything and inquire ceaselessly – and which has a very sophisticated set of ways of training the necessary mental resources.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists 
Read C. Wright Mills' essay on 'intellectual craftsmanship' and follow his advice – keep a notebook in which you collect all kinds of observations and thoughts about whatever you find quirky or puzzling about human behaviour.

One way to become a more effective learner
There's so many! Here's three for starters. Use mental rehearsal more – it's good for much more than learning sports or musical instruments. Find a confidante who will listen to your half-baked ideas without arguing. And make time every day, even if it's only five minutes before you get up, for your mind to drift in the hypnagogic zone between conscious and unconscious cognition.

One final thought
I remember at Dartington, in the 1990s, talking to a group approvingly about a book called What Psychology Knows That Everyone Should. Dick Joyce, who was in the audience, wryly observed that we needed a complementary book called What Everyone Knows That Psychology Should. I think we have made some progress in both directions – but still could do a lot better.

One thing that makes you laugh 
A pigeon perching on a No Waiting sign.

One of your greatest achievements
Creating the Building Learning Power framework – something that is scientifically well informed and practically useful for teachers who want to become 'expansive educators'.

One treasured possession
A wicked-looking photo of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. And a photocopy of a hand-written reference from Jerry Bruner in which he recommended me for being 'nervy enough to draw on anything, even Zen Buddhism, in his desire to improve education'.

One hero from psychology past or present
David Perkins, for the breadth of his thinking about 'expandable intelligence', the lucidity of his writing, and his disconcerting willingness to give thinking the time it needs.

One thing that organised psychology (e.g. the BPS or APA) could do better
Educational psychology has been too timid in its engagement with the debate about the purpose of 21st-century education. It has tended to focus either on measures that improve conventional test scores, or on helping sub-populations of students with special needs. There's a wealth of research about the expandability of mental and epistemic functioning which ought to be informing the global debate about how to better equip young people to meet the mental demands of the 21st century.

One psychological superpower

One cultural recommendation 
Any music that makes you dreamy. Japanese flute does it for me…

One alternative career path you may have chosen
Rock drummer or monk.

One proud moment
Learning to tango with Flavia Cacace from Strictly Come Dancing! And getting a rave review of The Wayward Mind from Cambridge English don Robert Macfarlane in The Spectator.