Andrew Old wrote a blog post where he highlighted some of the criticisms levelled at teacher-bloggers by established researchers and academics. I thought this was interesting and Tweeted a link, tagging a few Aussie education folk to generate a discussion. This discussion then became one about setting-up binaries and who counts as a teacher. Unfortunately, although this is an important discussion with real, rather than esoteric, consequences it was a discussion that impinged upon people’s sense of their own identity. And so the line between the issue and the personal became blurred.
If you read my blog or follow me on Twitter then you know that I prefer to focus on the issues rather than the personal. So I would like to encourage you all to attempt to do the same and to tread with caution. It is sometimes a good idea to stop.
Instead, I will extend this discussion by steering towards a more conceptual issue that arose. It is apparent that there are many who are deeply frustrated by what they see as educators arguing with other educators; the setting up of binaries that I mentioned. Should we not unite as a collective? Should we not focus on the real enemy?
I’m not entirely sure who this external enemy is. However, by reading some of the output of educational sociologists, I can guess that it comprises neoliberal politicians who institute testing regimes and possibly some of the think-tanks to which they pay attention. Researchers picture themselves as the natural leaders of the resistance and we should all unite behind them because there is strength in numbers and weakness in disunity. We should be a strong collective all working together.
The trouble is that I don’t want to be a part of it. I agree that government schools should be better funded, especially in Australia, but I see this as no panacea. I taught during a massive injection of funds into schools in the U.K. and this resulted in not a great deal. There was lots of silliness and some great new buildings, although often even these were hobbled by grandiose notions of open plan classrooms and other far-fetched, future-fetishising ideas. When a PFI deal delivered a new building to the ‘school facing challenging circumstances’ where I worked in London, the first thing we had to do was install walls in the Art department.
And I have no great issue with standardised testing, having worked both in schools that have gained low scores and those that have gained high ones. What’s the problem with knowing how your students are doing in literacy and maths? No, these tests aren’t perfect and the results don’t represent everything about these subjects or everything that a school does but I really don’t think anyone is claiming that they do.
As a head of science in London, I led a team that took the department from around 30% of students gaining a level 5 in the now defunct Key Stage Three Science SATs to around 70% gaining a level 5. In my opinion, we didn’t do this by teaching to the test, we did it by improving behaviour in the classroom and the quality of teaching. Small wonder this filtered through to GCSE science results in later years. Having a standard to measure progress against, whilst acknowledging that it is only one measure, is extremely useful. When you don’t have a standard it’s much harder to improve anything.
Rather than hatching plans to test and privatise everything, it seems to me that the main problem with politicians is that they are pretty clueless about education. Even the ones occupying ministerial positions are often just waiting in line for a higher status post. There are exceptions who display a genuine interest – U.K. ministers David Blunkett and Michael Gove spring to mind – but they are rarely welcomed by the educational collective.
I feel no personal animosity towards researchers and academics. I value them and I might even be one myself some day. I just don’t think the interests of teachers and academics align in such a way that we are all part of a collective effort. Academics, by nature of the way that they make their careers, are drawn to novelty and innovation. The pressures are different.
And I worry about that state of the academy. Australia, for instance, is the home of cognitive load theory. Yet you would be hard-pressed to find much Australian interest. It is far more popular in Holland. And when I point out that ed schools are teaching learning styles, I get accused of obsessing about details whereas the appropriate response would be to empathise with my frustration. This is just the most egregious example of what the academy has inflicted on teachers. Behind it stands massed ranks of inquiry learning propaganda, critical theory, poorly defined differentiation and constructivism, all lacking substantive evidence.
I prefer not to be press-ganged into a collective that promotes silly things.