A Petition Against Passing Off Blogposts as PetitionsMay 2, 2013
We, the undersigned, note with concern the rather disturbing practice of declaring a blogpost to be a petition and getting people to sign it. In particular, these two blogposts “Calling all teachers” and “Calling all parents” by Debra Kidd, have been passed off as petitions and been widely circulated and publicised as a result, in a way that I suspect would not have happened if they had been presented simply as blogposts.
A petition should be a simple and clear statement of a position, followed by a list of supporters of that position. It should not be an argument for that position. It should not be a collection of arguments such as one might find in a blogpost. Here are the main reasons why:
1) It is entirely possible to support a position without endorsing a particular specific argument in favour of it. If you ask people to endorse an entire blogpost you either risk losing those who cannot endorse every argument or only gaining the support of those who lacking either reason or honesty (or both) will endorse any argument for their position, no matter how flawed.
So for instance, it is hard to believe that anybody with an open mind would endorse the following claim from the “Calling All Teachers” blogpost:
Michael Gove has used, frequently, the words of cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham to support his notions that the curriculum should be based on the acquisition of facts. Gove’s interpretation of this idea is that the curriculum should consist of nothing but facts, but Willingham argues in much of his work, that critical thinking is essential in learning and that all knowledge learned should be supported by thinking. Futhermore, he warns that in the United States, a similar programme led to teachers ‘giving children lots and lots of facts at the expense of critical thinking.’ Far from attacking thinking skills, as Gove suggests, Willingham values them, when taught within context and points out that ‘we’d love to test critical thinking if we knew how to test critical thinking. But we really don’t. So what we tend to do is test factual knowledge.’ While it is clear that Willingham supports a focus on knowledge, he voices concerns about high stakes testing and the isolation of the teaching of knowledge into rote facts.
The idea that Willingham and Gove disagree about the relative merits of knowledge and thinking skills is something that simply cannot be demonstrated from anything they have ever said. Instead we have two misleading summaries of their opinions (misleading in different directions) used to create a wholly bogus disagreement. Now, this sort of distortion isn’t exactly rare in blogposts, but for thousands of people to sign it just gives away that the people signing it are either unconcerned about, or unaware of, the quality of the arguments they are endorsing thereby undermining the value of their conclusions.
2) An argument is not strengthened by the number of people endorsing it. When a blogger puts forward an argument then it should stand or fall on its own merits. The number of people who endorse it has no bearing on the strength of the argument. So, for instance, returning to the Dan Willingham example, it does not matter how many thousands of people endorse this particular interpretation of Dan Willingham’s views. There is only one authoritative voice on the matter of what Dan Willingham thinks. The interpretations contained in the two pseudo-petitions are, to say the least, dubious.
They eventually led to this exchange:
Even with the most charitable explanation of Debra Kidd’s claims, at the very least suggests truth in this matter may not belong to the person with the longest list of names.
3) Sometimes the list of names can undermine the message. “The Calling all Teachers” blogpost has been repeatedly referred to as representing the views of teachers. Apart from the fact that most teachers won’t have signed it (and plenty of us were somewhat appalled by it) this really doesn’t give the true flavour of the sort of person who signed it. I don’t have time to go through the whole list, but of the list on the original blogpost we actually see who the petition really represents. There are a lot of teacher training types, a lot of SMT, a fair few consultants, but what is most staggering is the extent to which teachers have written down more than subject or sector. A huge proportion have put down their promoted post, whether they are an AST and, in some cases, what books they written or initiatives they led.
Take your time and have a look through the list. There are plenty of teachers in there but this is not the voice of the staffroom. This is the voice of the office, sometimes a school office, quite often an office in a teacher training establishment or an education business. Very often an office with a pretentious title on it. Here are some genuine examples of some of the self-descriptions given by people who “signed” the petition:
- Teacher and author of ‘Teaching Mathematics Creatively’ – Secondary and Cultural Sector
- Creative Projects Co-ordinator, Make Believe Arts. International.
- Every Child Counts Teacher Leader, Derbyshire
- Creative Practitioner – Cultural Sector
- AST and author of ‘Oops – helping children to learn Accidentally’
- Philosophy For Children Consultant and Trainer
- AST Primary Drama and Mantle of the Expert Consultant
- E-Learning Consultant
- Teacher of Exploration (Maths / Humanities)– Secondary
- Geography and Learning to Learn, Secondary Academy
- Ex Teacher, Consultant for Excellence East, Policy Adviser for Gifted and Talented
- Teacher Trainer and Neurodiversity Consultant
This is a list for those who are playing, or have played, the game. Teachers should steer clear, just as they’d steer clear of anyone in the staffroom who, without prompting, let people know they were an AST or a consultant.
For these reasons, we the undersigned, recommend an immediate end to the madness of making blogposts into petitions and call for the immediate execution by firing squad of anybody who has the word “creative” in their job title.
If you would like to add your name to this blogpost, then you clearly haven’t read this one either. For pity’s sake.