I was walking through town earlier today with my family when we saw a hipster fall off his unicycle.
It brought to mind a outing to see a band a few months ago with a friend. I looked around the bar and realised that I was the only man in there who was not sporting a beard. I think such beards have something to tell us about education.
Now before you ask me to check my privilege and stop oppressing hirsute organic-coffee drinkers or darkly mutter that I am perhaps in cahoots with Gillette and Remington, I would like to stress that I have absolutely nothing against beards. A good friend of mine has had a neat and mildy attractive goatee since at least 1999. Hipster beards are a current fashion and this is exactly how such cultural phenomena are supposed to work, even if they leave me a little bemused.
So exactly why am I all caught-up in beards, like a crumb of potato chip or some egg? Well, because I don’t think that education should be subjected to fashions in the same way as men’s faces and yet I think there are quite a few of these around. Such as…
1. Blaming children for having the wrong mindset
Carol Dweck wrote a useful book summarising her research on the affective side of learning. Unfortunately, we have morphed this into yet another way for adolescents to feel insecure and inadequate. There are posters spelling-out just how bad you are if you have a ‘fixed mindset’, drawing a stark contrast with those sorted individuals who have ‘growth’ mindsets. A child does badly on a test – possibly because she hasn’t been taught very well – and feels bad about it. What do we conclude? That’s she’s got a fixed mindset.
And it is a ‘she’, isn’t it? It’s all about these smart girls. What’s their problem, eh? They should be satisfied with being taught badly just like all the lazy boys are.
2. Saying “I don’t teach content, I teach children”
What can this possibly mean? Taken one way, it is trivially true but then, when you think about it for a bit, it’s manifestly false. It’s a classic deepity. Exactly what are you teaching these children?
3. The Maker Movement
Kids need to make things out of toilet rolls, plastic and some wires. For at least one hour per week. Because innovation.
4. Common Core means that you’ll have to start teaching in a very specific way and I can provide training on that
The fact that Common Core doesn’t apply anywhere outside of the U.S. makes the constant barrage of this stuff particularly irritating. The fact that people are using Common Core maths to push dodgy problem-solving strategies makes it doubly so.
5. Motivational posters and infographics
6. Randomly Skyping a class full of kids in a different country
I honestly can’t work this one out. I suppose it’s because technology.
7. Flipping Classrooms
To be fair, this has been going on for a while but I just don’t see the logic. Lecturing works best when it’s interactive, peppered with questions and the lecturer can read the responses of the audience; ‘they look bemused – I might try explaining that again.’ Suggesting that we can parcel this off into a homework task where a kid watches a video seems a little implausible. What if they don’t watch the video or don’t really follow much of it?
It is an odd mix of devaluing explicit instruction – classes are freed-up for all those wonderful questions – whilst insisting that students receive the worst possible kind of explicit instruction. Incidentally, this is why MOOCs don’t work.
A bar full of beards
When I was at university, we used to say that having a beardy bloke in the bar was a sign of good luck. Nowadays there are beards everywhere. See if you can spot some educational hipster beards yourself. Feel free to add them to the comments.