ResearchED Melbourne 2017 sparks witch huntPosted: April 22, 2017 Embed from Getty Images
I have been loosely involved in researchED Australia over the last couple of years. For the first event in Sydney in 2015, I suggested a couple of speakers. It was me who recommended that Kevin Donnelly be invited to take part in a panel discussion. At that time, he and Ken Wiltshire had just completed a review of the Australian Curriculum commissioned by the federal government and so he seemed like a perfect fit for such a conference. What research evidence had informed their review? Others didn’t see it that way. Donnelly is a noted social conservative and so, rather than come along and challenge his views, a number of people stated that they would boycott the event.
Last year the storm was more muted and it mainly just involved people expressing surprise and annoyance that they had not been invited to speak. This year has seen the temperature rise again with a group of Australian academics fanning a full-scale Twitter witch hunt.
In the promotional material, someone spotted that one of the things researchED looks at is, ‘the lies you may have been told during training’. ‘Lie’ is an emotive word and ‘myth’ would probably have been a better choice in this context. However, it is clear that this statement does not claim that all trainee teachers are told untruths and it does not suggest who might be telling them. In my experience, trainees are just as likely to be told dodgy things by other trainee teachers and by their placement schools as they are at university.
Nevertheless, this clause was seized upon and interpreted as a statement that university lecturers lie to preservice teachers:
The Australian College of Teachers (ACE) was copied in to this tweet – they are partnering with researchED for 2017 and so the intention was presumably to exert some pressure.
This pattern continued with the Australian Council of Deans of Education being tagged in a subsequent tweet:
One academic decided to send the offending clause to her own Dean and tweet about this:
The outrage continued with various people mounting their high horses and demanding an apology while a number of rather bemused bystanders asked what the fuss was about.
Eventually, events took a surreal turn. I wrote a blog post that was totally unrelated to researchED about a new Brookings report on preschool education. This was then called ‘toxic’ and a couple of researchED presenters and a think-tank were copied in with the following statement:
Again, I can only assume that the intention of this was to apply pressure.
So what is this all about? Why all the fuss? Why does researchED present such a threat to this group? After all, it is only a conference and it often hosts discussions that thrash out different opinions. I don’t really know what is at the root of this animosity and could only speculate.
More surprising, perhaps, is that one of the antagonists spoke at last year’s event. Since then, she has expressed concern that neither Tom nor I attended her talk. This can be a difficult issue because researchED events have a number of talks scheduled simultaneously and so it is not possible to see all of them.
Anyway, I suppose this fuss must mean something. ResearchED is an edgy event – an event that some people clearly would prefer you not to attend. So why not come along and find out why? One day of the annual ACE conference is given over to rED – the 3rd July. There is also an event at Brighton Grammar on the 1st July headlined by John Hattie. Read about it here. It would be great to see you there. I’ll be the one with the broomstick and the black cat.