Dr Linda Graham is a professor of education and inclusion advocate. We blocked each other on Twitter a few years ago. Graham recently decided to tweet about this:
This is untrue. I have never argued that teachers should not have to follow laws they disagree with and I have certainly not argued that teachers should not have to follow Australian legislation entitling students with disabilities to adjustments. Not only is this untrue, it is a damaging comment to make about a teacher.
I have emailed Graham via a publicly available email address, asking her to delete this comment and tweet a correction. I have so far had no response.
If I had made any such a comment, I would have expected there to be a complaint lodged at my university. Why? Because I have had a complaint raised against me before. However, in that case, the investigators decided that I had done nothing wrong and that I was allowed to have opinions on education. Graham’s comment is of a different nature, but I will not be making any kind of formal complaint. I dislike taking things to the umpire and I have decided that highlighting this behaviour on my blog is sufficient. If Graham removes the comment and tweets a correction, I am happy to delete this post.
For what it’s worth, I think I know what Graham was alluding to, even if her allegation is false. Graham holds strong views on the way that children with disabilities and disorders should be included in schools. There is nothing wrong with taking this stance. However, some inclusion advocates make use of an oddly authoritarian line of argument. When I write about school exclusion or even my scepticism about the concept of differentiation and how it is enacted in schools, I tend to get told that I am wrong because laws and regulations say so.
Firstly, laws and regulations generally do not say this. It was once suggested, for instance, that my views on differentiation are at odds with the Australian Disability Standards for Education (DSE) and its requirements to make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities. My views on differentiation are not at odds with the DSE which actually strikes me as a fair and proportionate balance between the various expectations on teachers, students, parents and schools.
However, I can imagine disagreeing with some future law or regulation that could impact on the work of teachers. For instance, consider that a law or regulation were passed to make it impossible, or perhaps extremely difficult, to exclude students from public schools. In such an instance, I would argue against that law. I would definitely not suggest teachers ‘shouldn’t have to follow’ this law. In fact, I would strongly advise them to follow it. It is possible, you see, to both disagree with a law and abide by it.
That’s pretty much a cornerstone of democracy. If we cannot disagree with laws then how will laws ever change? I can think of plenty of laws I have disagreed with. There is a big debate at present in New South Wales about whether pill testing should be allowed at music festivals (I’m not sure whether this is primarily about laws or regulations, but that does not matter). Advocates for the practice are simultaneously able to argue for a change while complying with the current stance of the government.
The broader point is that anyone advocating for a particular policy or practice needs to come up with reasoning that is better than ‘you should do this because it’s the law’. This is not an argument, it is just an attempt to coerce. Instead, it is better to explain why you think this is a worthwhile policy or practice.
I suppose it is one of life’s ironies that the people who tend to declare how rebellious they were at school and how teachers shouldn’t adopt a compliance model in the classroom are the first people to run to the umpire and start invoking laws and regulations.