Deans for Impact have released a blog post that is intended help learning scientists influence education. As with many publications by Deans for Impact, it seems to have been well received. However, I always react badly to pieces that position the authors as the adults in the room and my problem with this article runs deeper still. I am going to have to dissent.
I am, of course, sympathetic to the aim of convincing teachers that learning styles are a myth. However, I feel much the same about the Deans for Impact post as I do about this piece, the aims of which I certainly do not share. So what is my issue?
I don’t believe that proponents of evidence-based education should be in the business of consciously trying to spin concepts in order to manipulate their readers. At a basic level, it is wrong because it treats the intended audience with something between disrespect and paternalism.
And I think there are important practical consequences. The authors of the Deans for Impact article seem to think that the polarisation of American politics has been driven by people expressing frank opinions that challenge the identity of others. I’m not so sure. A key component is the rise of relativism – my truth versus your truth, your facts versus my alternative facts – and this has flourished in a culture of PR and spin.
When people realise that experts and politicians are trying to manipulate them then they react against that and they stop trusting them. In a world where everything is spun, everything is spin and we are free to pick the truth that suits us.
The best way that learning scientists can serve the broader interests of education is to communicate what they believe to be true in as clear and lucid a manner as possible. People respect honesty and honesty builds trust. The conscious manipulation of others is the domain of self-help books for unsuccessful business people. That’s where it should stay.