I was definitely drawn in by the title of this book -- in my role as educational game designer, this question comes up a lot -- since ostensibly, I am supposed to be designing learning experiences more enjoyable than school is. So, what is it, then, that students don't like about school? This book does take on that question, however it also gets kind of far away from it. A better title would be: "Things a cognitive scientist has learned about education", though I'm sure that wouldn't sell as many copies. Anyway, spoilers ahead, here are the nine things that Daniel T. Willingham has learned about education:
1: People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers.
2: Factual knowledge precedes skill.
3: Memory is the residue of thought.
4: We understand things in the context of things we already know.
5: Proficiency requires practice.
6: Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.
7: Children are more alike than different in terms of learning.
8: Intelligence can be changed through hard work.
9: Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.
So, really, only #1 on that list really addresses the title of the book. However -- it does it well. Willingham made me see something that wasn't obvious to me before. As a game designer, I know that enjoyable challenges walk a balance between anxiety and boredom -- but it never sank in with me before that this is the problem with school -- most kids are either frustrated, or bored! In other words, good education is a game design problem that has not been well addressed. I'll definitely work this into my upcoming DICE talk, and sound all smart and stuff.
The rest of the book makes some really good points, backed up well with examples and studies. He gets on hobby horses from time to time, and a few high horses as well, and at least one very high hobby horse (called Chapter 7), but the book is concise, rich with examples, and very readable. The simple statement that "Memory is the residue of thought" is a very useful one, that I am already using in some of my designs, specifically some stuff we are doing at Carnegie Mellon with the Sesame Workshop.
I think there are reasons that students don't like school that are not addressed here, and that's a little disappointing, but setting the title aside, I found this text to be quite interesting an useful.