Who makes our nation’s education policy, do you know? Who decides how schools are to be structured and run? If you think you know, how do you know? Is it because you have seen a face on the television with a name and a title below it?
The architects of many policies in many government portfolios are unelected, you won’t see their names on your television screen and you won’t hear them give interviews. They advise the elected from desks paid for by party donors and direct them to distribute departmental funds to their allies.
Their allies use these funds to lay astroturf over patches of public and professional opinion in their efforts to prepare both public and professions for their pet policies yet to pass into law, along the way recruiting useful idiots.
What kind of a teacher do you wish to be for your pupils? The kind who will only teach them what you’ve mastered, or the kind who equips them to outstrip your own achievements and make you proud? Do you want to clone yourself dozens of times each year of your career across every new cohort, or would you rather your pupils become original thinkers? Are you fundamentally conservative, fearing change, or are you prepared to live with the consequences of educating the next generation to make their own decisions and take their own directions?
I won’t tell you how to teach because different contexts require different approaches but I will say that, as teachers, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be flattered into assuming ours or others’ infallibility or heroic status in matters of the classroom or anything else.
The False Dichotomy
There is a modish crowd abroad who believe that psychology is the cloth of gold from which pedagogy is to be spun and tailored. While it is true that psychology informs good pedagogy, wanton appeal to it as a cover for self-promotion, private consultancy and pedagogical reform should not go unchallenged.
To give an opening example, decades worth of very significant research by leading psychologists into the role of memory in learning processes has been used to persuade hundreds of people teaching thousands of pupils across the country that a flashcard scaled to A4, laminated and called a “knowledge organiser” is the ultimate product of cutting edge cognitive science and every pupil’s passport to Oxbridge. Persuaded of this, you are claimed as a “traditionalist“, a champion of knowledge and all-round good sort. Sceptical and you are damned as a “progressive“, brainwashed by Marxist constructionist ITT mandarins you abjure knowledge in favour of discovery learning and “21st Century skills” (21CS). It’s a false dichotomy, obviously, but it’s central to the “traditionalist” message and evident in their writing.
This is written in response to @OldAndrewUK’s polemical apology for bad mathematics at Michaela Community School entitled “The Truth About Calculating Angle Questions“, which itself was written in response to me. You will not find the document on his blog, which he has cultivated for over a decade and to which most people would refer for his views, perhaps ashamed of its content. With good reason.
My last post, Michaela’s Knowledge Deficit, is proving very popular and has led to a lot of twitter discussion around the issues of qualifications appropriate to subject specialists and desirable standards for mathematical resources. Upon looking at the incorrect diagrams discussed in that post many people, like me, had a WTF moment while others could not quite place their brains on what it was that troubled them about what they saw. I hope in exposing the incorrect nature of one of these mind-bending, eye-twisting blots that I can help readers to understand the long-term implications of not challenging such incorrect material and thus motivate them to greater concern for the standard of maths currently being delivered by some schools and personnel, perhaps even to your own children.
I wish to make it clear that this article is not a personal attack upon anyone named or otherwise referenced. Michaela Community School say they welcome debate on their methods so I invite them to consider this a contribution to that debate and not to repeat their spectacle from December. To debate Michaela’s methods in lieu of any hard performance data we must be able to present the bones & sinews of those methods for examination, their pedagogy & their practice.
It is worth replying to the following comment in a full post, given the interest this issue has generated among teachers since I first raised it.
Couldn’t the home visits just be the salary of a part-time attendance officer of sorts? Would explain the costs staying the same as numbers increased if it’s being spent on a person!