Ignorance is strengthPosted: August 5, 2017
In 2011, I read an academic paper that changed the course of my career. Until this point, I had taught fairly explicitly but this was a guilty secret. I knew that it was superior for students to find things out for themselves and so I viewed my own explicit teaching as a cheat; a dodge. This meant that I could not work at improving it. In 2011, this changed.
And once you realise the possibilities of explicit teaching and you abandon the pursuit of generic skills, you start to see value in a much richer academic curriculum. I have some sympathy for those who argue that curriculum is more important than teaching methods but I believe the two are strongly linked by ideas about what education can achieve.
Yet there are those who would deny me my experience. The story goes that most real teachers who aren’t on Twitter don’t care about some vitriolic debate about teaching methods or curriculum. They just get on with the job like proper little troopers. Perhaps this is how you feel?
If so, it is worth noting that this narrative has been constructed. It is seductive because it spares us the work of finding out what the debate is about. Teachers can think of themselves as pragmatic types who just get the job done. Ignorance is strength.
As with all constructed narratives, it is worth looking at who is constructing it and why. Education academics should be in favour of critical thinking and open discussion. And yet it is they who seem to push this barrow. “There’s nothing to see here,” they claim. “It’s just some funny foreigners on Twitter,” they suggest on Twitter.
This narrative has been constructed because it is highly effective. By denying the grounds for any debate, there is no need to support a position with arguments or evidence. It’s just those silly obsessives mouthing off again. Yet the same people take plenty of positions themselves that are worthy of scrutiny: For example on direct instruction or teacher preparation.
The reading ‘wars’ help explain what this is about. By writing off the debate as something only of interest to obsessives, constructivists were extremely effective at marketing a version of whole language known as ‘balanced literacy‘. Who could possibly object to balance, right? So it works.
And the vitriol? From my perspective, a lot to of it seems to be aimed at me. I write reasoned posts about the evidence as I see it, accepting that I might be wrong. In return, I get compared to Tommy Robinson by Twitter trolls and receive threats to complain to my school or university. I’ve even had threats of legal action. Yet the narrative is constructed so that bloggers like me are to blame for any unpleasantness. It’s our fault. We bring it on ourselves by disagreeing with important people and asking for evidence.
It’s up to you how you read the debate. You are free to dismiss it if you wish. But before you do, ask yourself whose interests this serves.