The authors' contention is that if the details of instruction are in place—well designed sets of examples and adequate practice—student learning can be accelerated far beyond what is currently being achieved in schools. Their ideas, as presented in this book, are in tune with John Stuart Mill's System of Logic.
Engelmann and Carnine look at Mill's 1843 publication, which describes four major templates for organizing examples so they support only one interpretation. Mill applied these templates to science. He contended that although his methods could be used to instruct others, his system of logic did not apply to education.
Engelmann and Carnine apply them to instruction and present arguments that the methods fit instruction better than they fit science. Engelmann and Carnine speculate as to the impact Mill's methods could have had on education in the early 20th century, and how these changes would have greatly changed the way we teach today. The authors look at John Dewey and show how his position would have changed if Mill’s principles were applied to education.
They conclude that Dewey probably would not have endorsed "look say" or "the sight method" of teaching reading. They also conclude that there probably would have been a much closer tie between psychology and education as a science because both have the same goals of changing behavior in specific ways through the presentation of training examples that are generated by Mill's methods.
The authors apply Mill's rules to their own work on Direct Instruction and show how well it aligns with them. They also show the importance of combining the logical analysis with empirical data that confirm what learners learn.
Overall, this book is a fascinating read, with many examples and interesting historical asides. It postulates an instructional methodology that could have been ours a century ago had Mill included education as a science and not an art. More importantly, it shows that if today's educators adopt instruction that is consistent with Mill's methods, education could still become a science resulting in our schools improving dramatically.