Shut up, bloggers.

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Over at the blog of the British Educational Research Association, Dr Pam Jarvis has been blogging on the topic of, “In pursuit of a secure base? Education commentary in times of socio-political uncertainty.” I agree that it doesn’t sound promising but bear with me.

Jarvis’s thesis is that:

“…when nations experience socio-political uncertainty, the population becomes collectively anxious and the state responds by ‘behav[ing] like the parent of an avoidant child… and tries with increasing state power to quell expressions of discontent’.” [Reference omitted]

She then identifies Trump and Brexit as responses to the 2008 global financial crisis, alongside those in education who ‘seek monolithic control’ and who embrace a ‘quest for certainty’. That doesn’t sound good! Boo! Hiss!

Jarvis then lists three isolated quotes from the journalist Toby Young, and from education bloggers David Didau and Old Andrew. She suggests that these commentators do not understand education like what she does because they ‘lack… discursive engagement with theoretical and empirical evidence.’ Finally, and rather ominously, she refers to the British Educational Research Association’s ethical guidelines on how to interact with peers, the implication being that the three who she has mentioned have fallen short in some way.

This is obvious gate-keeping. It draws from a bag of rhetorical tricks that we see increasingly used by those with traditional power in education when they engage with the burgeoning social media debate. There is no obvious connection between a disparate group of people Jarvis happens to disagree with and Trump or Brexit and so she manufactures one. To utilise a neologism, it is an attempt to smear-out the ‘toxicity’ of one group so as to corrupt our view of another.

The second tactic is what we might describe as the ‘but you haven’t read Milligan (1971)’ fallacy. It is easy and lazy to accuse your opponents of not having read things. It is easy because nobody has read everything and nobody is likely to spend their time reading lots of hogwash they disagree with. If a lack of reading leads people into error then it is a far more devastating blow to patiently explain exactly what that error is. But that is harder that just saying they haven’t read enough.

The Didau piece from which the quote is drawn is actually an extended and nuanced discussion of a live issue. The quote that Jarvis has selected (or cherry-picked) really does not do this justice. Didau is challenging the concept of dyslexia and whether it is a real condition. I know a lot of reading researchers and I would guess the consensus position is that dyslexia is a helpful label because it directs resources to children with reading difficulties. Nonetheless, it is notoriously difficult to define, interacts strongly with teaching practices and comes with the attendant issue of labeling and inappropriate responses to that labeling. In essence, the post involves Didau exploring and responding to an issue of great uncertainty, just as he did in his seminal book, What if everything you knew about teaching was wrong? It is therefore eccentric to associate Didau, as Jarvis does, with a ‘quest for certainty’.

The ‘certainty’ part is clearly a straw man. Nobody involved in education trades in certainties and yet it has become common to attack critics of the orthodoxy for holding such a position.

I would find it annoying to be quoted in such a piece, but at least we are starting to see organisations like the British Educational Research Association mounting (fallacious) arguments and showing their true colours. It is best to have this all out in the open so we can see clearly the different positions and engage critically with them. In this case, the position seems to be ‘shut up, bloggers.’ The response should be ‘this is only the beginning.’

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9 thoughts on “Shut up, bloggers.

  1. Nick Rushby and I and a number of editorial board members left BJET years ago in protest against BERA’s authoritarian decision to reject our – the editorial board’s – tweaking of the scope. We had sharpened the scope to “The papers are expected to provide substantive evidence of the outputs, outcomes and impacts of the interventions trialed, applied, or adopted. Papers that simply evidence learners,’ teachers’ and other users’ opinions on methods, materials or technologies in instances where objective data is required are no longer acceptable owing to the lack of substantive contribution” which the governors interpreted as excluding “all research carried out in schools, theoretical papers, studies showing no impact or negative impact of technology use and certain types of qualitative research regardless of quality.” Our (my) letter to THES is, unfortunately, on a defunct old blog site of my university, but…THES published “BERA accused of taking ‘editorial control’ over journal” https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/british-educational-research-association-bera-accused-of-taking-editorial-control-over-journal

  2. Michael Pye says:

    Just read the guidelines. They are really hard to read. Poorly organized, inefficiently written with no set of central principles help you organize your understanding. I would be surprised if most had read it thoroughly. I suspect people simply assume it is telling them what they already believe.

  3. Stan says:

    Do you think she thinks she is not also blogging on social media here? That because of her status she is somehow doing something wholly different?

    I loved the line “over-simplistic parsimonious commentary upon complex, longstanding issues”. If someone was doing a Sokal here I don’t think it could be improved much.

  4. Tom Burkard says:

    In reference to Dr Jarvis’s attack on David Didau on dyslexia, she certainly isn’t doing ‘dyslexic’ children any favours. When Warwickshire educational psychologists published new guidance announcing that they were no longer screening pupils for dyslexia on the grounds that they needed the same kind of teaching as any other child who is struggling with basic decoding skills, Lord Watson–a Labour peer–thundered out in the House of Lords that dyslexia denial was the next thing to global warming denial.

    Having taught remedial literacy skills since 1990 and researched the subject extensively, I’ve long since concluded that that the aetiology of ‘dyslexia’ is infinitely variable, yet at the same time instruction should focus exclusively on the skills that need to be mastered. The notion that we should ‘differentiate’ teaching for dyslexics has no more support than differentiating instruction to suit children’s ‘learning styles’. Lord Watson and Dr Jarvis fail to appreciate how much time and money is wasted by the dyslexia industry. Needless to say, a Twitter storm forced Warwickshire to withdraw their guidance.

  5. I found,find,the dismissal of Dyslexia harmful.I think we can serve them early before the label but the symptoms we see over and over again can lead to great gains for the kids with early reading intervention(not RR)-I`m on their side and the parent`s side-not on the side of teachers who dismiss a Tsunami of research.Shame on Didau and great for Pam Jarvis,rather delighted with her chastisement.
    Sally Shaywitz is also looking at symptoms to serve them earlier before waiting till grade 3-4 and putting them through the unnecessary school psych machinations to label them.
    If they do the IQ discrepancy model,they don`t find the little angels anyway.
    I told Didau how much the kids suffer,he didn`t like that.
    Well,they suffer terribly with humiliation and shame.

    • Tom Burkard says:

      I know all about the humiliation and shame–I never had anything to do with education before I discovered my son couldn’t read after a year and a half of school. It was a life-changing experience.

      I think you simply don’t understand the debate about dyslexia–nobody is denying that some children have great difficulty learning to decode, and that these problems are have little to do with general intelligence. Most children with low ability have little trouble learning to decode. The problem is that the evidence points very strongly against the notion of there being a specific ‘dyslexic’ type who requires a different kind of teaching than other struggling readers. Attempts to differentiate result in nothing but a waste of resources that could be much better put to use giving ALL slow readers the additional teaching they need.

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