When I’ve lost my sense of humour

I often wake up early. Sometimes, I notice that I am exactly the same man as always but with one key difference, I have lost my sense of humour.

That was today.

I am worrying about Australia and the next steps for the evidence-informed education movement. At other times I might ironically chuckle when I read of yet another attempt to impose 21st century skills on us. I might even take heart that a major newspaper has given voice to critics of this move. But right now, it just feels bleak. I can’t help having this nagging feeling that the people involved don’t even really know or understand the counterarguments: that they think we are just luddites who see it as a matter of taste rather than us having fundamental criticisms of whether these skills can actually be taught at all.

And I feel I must take some responsibility for that. It’s partly my fault that the message isn’t out there.

Have we stalled, Australia? Where to next? What’s the plan?

I could use some ideas here.


14 thoughts on “When I’ve lost my sense of humour

  1. I get what you are saying. Change is a very slow process and will require a number of 70/80s academics to die, not really die but become so ancient they have no influence. The decision makers and influences also need to be promoting evidence-based ideas and not the stuff, I have other words I could use, that they have taken to heart rather than taken to “head”. I fear there are many more morning s you have to wake up grumpy.

    Think about Twitter. I am seeing more “conversions” that I did in the early days. The evidence-based movement is better organised and the “others” struggle to put together coherent arguments.

    Keep at it.

  2. Tom Burkard says:

    For a start, close your twitter account. Concentrate on teachers, rather than educators. Even if the dominant mind-set in education is against us, once teachers have discovered how much easier it is to keep your pupils onside when you’re actually teaching them something, they’ll never go back to ‘minimally-guided instruction’.

    Think positively. Your blog is one of the most influential education reform blogs, and your research has had a remarkable impact. You’re in an ideal position to write some teaching materials–if they make teachers’ lives easier, you won’t find it that hard to get schools to trial them. Teachers who don’t have the time and energy to read your books and even those who simply ignore the war of ideas will respond. And there’s nothing like happy teachers, happy kids and high standards to impress the media and the political class. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing quite like getting feedback from schools and teachers, and to see the results of independent trials. It really can have an enormous impact on the uncommitted.

    Right now, I’m thinking of putting together a Maths package specifically designed for English secondary schools. Under the Bold Beginnings initiative, it is very likely that Ofsted will ask for proof that pupils are fluent in KS1 and KS2 maths before launching them into KS3 maths. There are plenty of good materials out there, but they’re too babyish for secondary schools and not necessarily suited to the needs of the bottom sets.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Haley says:

    It is great minds and wits such as yours Greg that will pave the yellow brick road to an Oz where our education system is built on solid evidence-based strategies to leave no student behind when it comes to fundamental literacy, numeracy and the capabilities to continue life-long learning.
    It requires a cultural change driven by teachers and parents who know the current system is failing far too many of our kids and particularly the increasing number of those already at risk due to conditions that disadvantage them before setting foot in a classroom and often beyond the means of even the highest quality of differentiation to overcome.
    As occurs in the field of medicine, the quackery needs to be exposed and the consumers need to demand the service they expect.
    Have heart, keep the courage and bask in the knowledge that you are a driving force in the change that lies ahead. The Wicked Witch and her ugly munchkins will surely melt away.

  4. You know when you have a really annoying label in your shirt that’s got a tiny bit of plastic or something that’s digging into the back of your neck, and you can’t see it to take it out, and in the end it’s all you can think about?
    That’s you that is. The more we share your stuff around staff rooms, principals will get so niggled that they can’t stop thinking about it. That’s how it gets up the line. Keep going!

  5. Tara Houle says:

    The worst thing you could do is to stop writing. And keep your twitter account. Please. Unless it becomes too much of a distraction. You just never know who is watching, or listening. I don’t know if change will evolve in the way you think it ought to evolve, all we can do is try our best.

    I feel our society has become dominated by “experts”. Psychiatrist and child experts have taken over the role of parents, dictating how we should parent our children. More government oversight has determined how we should act, and think about others, and now we have the edu gurus telling teachers how they ought to teach.

    I don’t know what the answer is. All we can do is try, and say we’ve done our best at that.

  6. Ryan says:

    Generally a useful strategy here would probably be not to aim at changing the minds of the opposition (impossible) but the audience. The corollary of this would be targeting that audience carefully beyond teachers eg: parent groups, selected politicians with a particular interest in edu etc. I’m sure your quilette connection will be the way in there. Set the big goal then break it into concrete sub goals, see what happens

  7. Tunya Audain says:

    Yes, Greg, you have good reason to feel disheartened. It’s not just in Australia that people don’t understand what’s at stake in education when research is either disdained or ignored. It is so in most Western nations as Canada, US, UK, Australia and New Zealand. It is rather clear that other agendas take precedence above evidence-informed practice. And students and society are the losers!

    It may be worse off in Australia because you have had rather prominent controversies about literacy and reading for a long time. It does help, however, when we have confessions that actually admit these agendas.

    You mentioned in an earlier post in 2015 the name Allan Luke and linked an article of his. Just a quick scan through that article finds he has been involved for over 30 years in helping to “develop critical literacy as an educational project”. He says “critical literacy agendas . . . begin from the assumption that reading and writing are about social power and that a ‘critical’ literacy education would have to go beyond individual skill acquisition to engage students in the analysis and reconstruction of social fields.”

    Through his professorial work, teacher training and policy development Luke and his fellow crusaders completely outflank upstarts who champion “research”. The intent of critical literacy agenda is “to query and disrupt . . . economies, and to mobilise larger social movements towards progressive, if not revolutionary social transformation”. I’ll have to read it after a good sleep. It’s mind-boggling to read this confession and what’s being done to Australia!

    Click to access 0deec53bf084eec722000000.pdf

  8. Tempe Laver says:

    Could we not agitate for some charter schools and back Jennifer Buckingham or start a peition? My heart sunk when I saw that headline.

  9. Stan says:

    Hey Greg,
    I think if you didn’t lose your sense of humour at times over the state of play on this you would not be normal.

    One suggestion is to look at Ben Goldacre’s history. He published Bad Science in 2008 based on the blog started in 2003 and it is only now we see tweets where he is highlighting success in changing the way organizations see the need for open trials in medicine.

    You are up against people with something to sell and people who already bought said something. Some of these people need to retire before change happens and more people who didn’t make the choice need to get in positions to make decisions before change is really visible. You are sowing the seeds for the change to come but it will move at the pace of organizational turnover.


  10. Don’t be disheartened, Greg. For one thing, in the past couple of years, sometimes I’ve mentioned your name to some of the usual power-dressing proggish inservice blatherers. They have heard of you, and they clearly know you and those like you represent a genuine threat to their dominance of the Ed discourse.

    I’m sure efforts like your blog can sometimes feel futile when set against the smug monolith that Ed academia and “expert” opinion has become, but things are changing, gradually. The phonics debate was a straw in the wind – everyone I know who watched it could see that the anti-phonics side were intellectually completely out of their depth and reliant on platitudes in the guise of serious argument.

    Best of all, there is still a cricital mass of experienced teachers who will be ready to call out all the prog nonsense loudly and repeatedly as soon as there is even a small shift in the discourse.

  11. Hi Greg, There’s an old Hindu saying that I picked up from somewhere: you have the right to your labour, not the fruits of your labour. I use this in my classroom – we just plant the seeds by teaching really well. Put in the graft without thought of any gain – the rest will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t, you just did your job really, really well.

    Also, why don’t you become a head? I’m planning to do that once my youngest child has completed her VCEs (8 years to go!). There are some great schools using explicit instruction, and you’d be able to influence a lot of teachers. I know a head doing this and his latest NAPLAN results have really improved and this has given him credibility and support from the community, too.

    We may not be like the UK movers and shakers, but we can certainly do our bit by working within our means.

    Also, if you want your humour back, have a look at today’s AEU mag: STEM through play; an Aussie teacher lamenting the UK system and believing that the Oz system is much more balanced.

    Vive la education revolution!

  12. Tunya Audain says:

    By reading the comments we see that Greg is not the only one disheartened by the urgency to impose 21st Century Learning skills. I don’t know what “The Australian” (firewall) is saying but this is what I get in British Columbia, Canada, when I get into the car with radio on the Weather/Traffic/News station:

    “Students aren’t going back to school to learn the basics. If it’s knowledge they need, they can look it up on the Internet. What they’ll be learning are 21st Century skills: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Be careful on the roads. It’s back to school time!” How did we get here? Parents and public are having this drummed into them!

    I mentioned earlier that this is happening in many schools in the English-speaking world. It’s as if some edict has come from on high. But, NO, it’s strongly defended as “locally developed”.

    Here is our experience with the “New Curriculum”. We have the favor of having GELP be our behind-the-scenes consultants. Unknown to the public, and as if by stealth, visitors from Global Education Leaders’ Partnership have visited, starting with Valerie Hannon, UK Innovation Unit founder, a decade ago. Three years ago David Albury, a director of the Unit, spoke to invited guests, saying: “This is a pivotal moment for BC . . . if we can continue to work together in this way we can build on how far we’ve got and really accelerate and sustain this — we’ll achieve what nobody else has yet achieved and that is to transform the system across the whole province… to enable all young people to have the skills and knowledge to be successful in the 21st Century . . . I wish you all the very best.” Two months ago, in a popular education blog we get this pep talk about our new curriculum. It’s Marc Tucker, President of National Center on Education and the Economy (Washington, DC), reviewing why BC’s curriculum had to “modernize”, to stop “preparing students for a world that no longer exists”, praising the sweeping cultural change and “transformation” going on. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/top_performers/2018/06/british_columbias_curriculum_a_glimpse_of_the_future.html

    Tucker’s piece is interesting as it clearly identifies two groups, “the planners” and the teacher union as co-developers of the new curriculum. Timing-wise, his article follows by a few months a rather blunt report by the teacher union about a survey of teacher opinions of the new curriculum. It showed a deeply divided membership and one teacher’s quote is enlightening: “I am not convinced that inquiry is appropriate for all students. I feel this approach is being forced on us, and the result may be devastating.”

    WHY am I going on about this? Is it off-topic to Greg’s post? I contend that I have illustrated how outsiders, in haste and stealth, can bring in 21st Century “skills”. How media is engaged to advance the agenda. How many of these 21st Century “skills” projects are not based on research or in response to needs of the community. How many other places in the world are experiencing such commitments, which are not reflective of research or need from local communities, but are socially engineered on basis of beliefs and promoted and enforced by networks of well-funded, organized outsiders?

    I do think there should be a movement to expose this kind of interference, which flies in the face of evidence-informed education and the needs of today’s students.

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