How to win an argument in educationPosted: March 6, 2017
When the world didn’t end in a great flood as predicted on the 21st December 1954, the followers of Dorothy Martin were presented with a thorny problem. Many had given away money or left partners in order to be rescued by flying saucers from the planet Clarion. Rather than deal with the reality of being horribly, foolishly wrong, cult members largely doubled-down and became even stronger believers: The devotion of the cult had caused the aliens to save Earth instead of letting it be destroyed.
Leon Festinger and his colleagues predicted this outcome when they infiltrated the cult in a study that gave birth to Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. People, it seems, will tell themselves all sorts of untruths rather than deal with the pain of being wrong.
This does not provide much hope for those who seek to influence the education debate away from early twentieth century romanticism and towards a more rational evaluation of evidence. Evidence is simply not enough: The flying saucers didn’t come? No drama, that just proves how right we were.
But I’ll give you two reasons for hope.
Firstly, there are those rare individuals with more than their share of humility and intelligence who do change their minds.
Secondly, we mustn’t forget the others.
Sometimes, it is tempting to see the education debate as taking place between two distinct parties on Twitter and in blogs. Most of the active participants are deeply committed to their cause. After my recent post on constructivism was tweeted by a U.K. minister there was something of a furore. One progressive educator suggested I was making snide comments for the purpose of self-promotion. It makes much more sense that I am a bad guy than that I might be writing what I actually think and that I might have a point.
Few of my critics deal with the points I make. You might have noticed that.
And so to these others. Who are they? They are people like you who are not particularly committed to a position but who like reading posts and thinking about teaching. They are the ones who dip in to Twitter and read a few articles with an open mind. It is these people who will change education, and change it for the better.
That’s how the argument will be won.