The 7 hipster beards of education

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

Please stop.

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.


By Anna reg (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 at (, via Wikimedia Commons


8 thoughts on “The 7 hipster beards of education

  1. The Quirky Teacher says:

    Except for taking the register twice a day, pretty much the whole of British state education is a giant hipster beard.

  2. Ha! Agree with this – ever since a (respected) head teacher declared to me that we must make sure Year 6 rub their belly, pat their head and hold water on their tongue (because BRAIN GYM) I have been incredulous as to what teachers fall for. I guess it’s about trying to look ahead of the curve…

    However…erm… #mysteryskype …. Best way to spend 20mins ever!

  3. Understanding the conceptual underpinning of a math procedure ensures that you will remember it. BEARD! Ultimately, you have to memorize some formulas, procedures, whether you understand their derivation or not.

  4. Geng says:

    Made me laugh. I was recently out and randomly met a fellow language teacher from another part of the state (US) (wearing a very hipster-esque beard). When he found out that I teach a language he had to effuse about the fabulousness that is TPRS and assure me that he had had some reservations too but that it has completely changed his teaching these past few years and I really ought to give it more consideration. I had never put the beard and the philosophy together but you are so right–there is definitely a correlation!

  5. Chester Draws says:

    At least where I teach, the “beard” that gets me the most is that questions have to be “relevant” to their lives.

    We have to find real life statistics for our Year 13 (Year 12 in Aus, US) kids, because real is authentic and good. But real statistics that are exactly right are phenomenally hard to find.

    That is hard enough, but now those statistics are expected to be “relevant” directly to my students. So I can’t do gun crime in the US or cars sold in China — both of which they would actually find reasonably accessible, because the contexts are obvious — and have to do something much more boring but from New Zealand. It drives me crazy.

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