Teaching’s Stockholm SyndromePosted: April 30, 2016
I have been reflecting further on the way that one academic chose to write about a group of teachers. It’s just one example, I concede, but it’s prompted me to wonder whether there are wider implications.
Perhaps they really don’t like us?
Consider this. In the paper that I linked to in my last post – a paper that should be widely read – the two contrasting types of teaching were referred to as ‘teacher-led’ versus ‘child-centred’. The evidence in this case was clear: principals who subscribed to child-centred approaches tended to run schools with lower attainment and greater inequality of outcome.
This is hardly a new finding. Indeed, the authors referred to previous studies in their discussion. So what keeps child-centred teaching alive? It is, after all, more than 100 years old. By now we should have worked out that it is less effective and that it replicates inequality. The fact that we haven’t represents a challenge to the idea of memetics: that poor ideas will eventually be out competed by better ones.
On this last point, the timescale of education might have something to do with it. The lifecycle of education is a lengthy 12 years. But why else do people cling to child-centred ideas? There is a lot of supporting theory, I suppose, but the evidence falsifies the theory.
Until now, I have tended to think that the theory is the attraction. People have romantic views and child-centred education fits these. No matter that it is worse for inequality: in theory it is more equitable and so academics who are generally of the political left sign up in their droves.
But I’m now wondering if there’s another factor: an actual dislike of teachers. There have certainly been many scandals about how teachers in the recent past have behaved and most of us will be able to point to teachers with whom we still harbour a grievance.
If you dislike and distrust teachers then it seems natural to favour a child-centred approach over a teacher-led one: give those teachers as little power and influence as possible. It also explains why you might feel queasy about instructing teachers in behaviour management techniques. As I’ve noted before, the recent Carter review of teacher education in the UK stated:
“We have identified what appear to be potentially significant gaps in a range of courses in areas such as subject knowledge development, subject-specific pedagogy, behaviour management, assessment and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). We believe there may be a case for a better shared understanding of what the essential elements of good ITT content look like.”
If this is a factor behind the disavowal of teacher-led pedagogy then there seems something of a paradox. Yes, many education academics have never been teachers but we have to acknowledge that many others do come from teaching backgrounds.
Perhaps there’s a kind of Stockholm Syndrome here. We have been captured and we have come to empathise with our captors. And this makes us a guilty profession, a profession of low self-esteem, a profession of self-loathing.
Perhaps it’s time to get up off our knees.