A plea for better argument

If he ever reads it, I suspect Matthew Oldridge will not particularly enjoy my critique of his recent Edutopia article. However, I hope he would at least acknowledge that I tackled his arguments and not him. I did not call him names, question his credentials or his legitimacy to hold his opinions.

I am certainly not perfect, but I try to uphold Paul Graham’s standards for disagreement that see refutation of the main idea as the highest form. Of course, you may read my critique and conclude that I have failed to convincingly achieve this aim, but you should at least acknowledge the attempt.

On Thursday, Robert Bolton of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) had a piece published where he quoted from interviews with Blaise Joseph of the Centre for Independent Studies and me. This piece received some criticism that has often veered far away from refuting the main point.

As is the usual way, Bolton was faced with distilling quite a long discussion into a few points. He did a good job and the piece broadly represents my thinking which you can read about more fully in a follow-up blog post that I wrote.

At one point, Bolton asked me why I thought school behaviour is better in the UK than in Australia. I answered that I wasn’t convinced that it is. However, the autonomy provided by Free Schools and Academies – similar to Charter Schools in the U.S. – in England has allowed some schools to experiment with different approaches to behaviour management and this provides a proof-of-principle that washes back into the whole system. This point became slightly garbled.

It seems that it was this suggestion, and my criticism of teacher education for failing to prepare new teachers to manage classrooms, that upset people. There is a public Facebook page called the Public Education Network whose most active members appear to be academics and campaigners. David Zyngier, an education academic, is the administrator.

Miriam Faine, an education lecturer, posted the AFR piece to the group. Some of the subsequent comments addressed the substance of the article, but a lot did not. For instance, Linda Graham, an education professor, had this to say about me:

This refers to the fact that I am an immigrant from England, having moved to Australia in 2010. It is not pleasant to read.

Dr Jennie Duke, another education academic who is currently coordinating a campaign against the introduction of an English-style phonics check in Australia, commented:

This is a common ad hominem argument – I cannot genuinely have an opinion about behaviour management in schools and instead I must be doing the bidding of dark conservative forces.

Surely we can do better than this. As you are probably aware, I am no advocate of teaching general critical thinking skills, but I would expect academics to be able to argue better in their domain of expertise.

If we could all focus a little more on debating ideas and a little less on personal attacks then I believe we would learn far more from each other.



2 thoughts on “A plea for better argument

  1. Neil says:

    It really is incredible that an actual professor in a real university, teaching teachers, gets to publicly make an argument ending with (to paraphrase only slightly) “If you don’t like it here, then why don’t you f**k off back to where you came from?”

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