The Charlatans

Over the weekend, Ballarat held its annual heritage festival. I managed to pop along on Sunday with my family. Unfortunately, it rained and so we took the opportunity to go inside to The Mining Exchange and have a look at some of the exhibits. My daughters were drawn to an exuberant man in a top hat and purple cravat, extolling the virtues of a wonder pill. He was a ‘quack’ doctor and it hit me that mainstream quacks are now largely absent from our experience of medicine, or at least they do us the service of retreating to the margins and labelling themselves as ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ practitioners. We’ve made some progress.

I often disagree with people in education. For instance, I recently argued against this piece that I felt was contemptuous of teachers working in so-called ‘no excuses’ schools. However, at least the author knows what she is on about, having built a career researching the issue in depth. And I often find myself at odds with Dan Meyer’s prescriptions for a funkier kind of maths teaching. But, again, at least I have some respect for the fact that he did have a brief teaching career. These guys are definitely not charlatans. I think they might be wrong but that’s a different matter.

No, the charlatans have never taught and never worked as academics researching education. Instead, they come straight out of some kind of business background – often tech businesses or self-help books for business people – and launch themselves onto the prawn sandwich and fizz circuit. They proclaim that schools are like factories or, worse, prisons. And we need a revolution.

It’s odd that these folks get corporate backing for what is essentially an attack on teachers and the education system.

You’d think that companies who wanted to project a caring image would run a mile from these slick eduquacks. After all, survey after survey shows that the public trust teachers and don’t trust business people. For instance, this 2015 poll rated different professions for honesty and ethics. School teachers came in fourth behind nurses, pharmacists and doctors, with an overall positive rating of 78%. The rating for business executives was 18%.

So why, as a business, would you employ ex business people to criticise teachers? Education is a strange world indeed.

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