Shutting Teachers UpMarch 11, 2016
Sometimes ministers (and their advisors) read blogs written by teachers. We know this. My chapter in Changing Schools presented a lot of evidence for this.
Some people really don’t like that.
Francis Gilbert, currently an education lecturer at Goldsmiths, wrote the following in a blogpost interview with Tom Sherrington:
Sherrington enjoys blogging and tweeting in his spare time; he doesn’t see it as work. He’s aware though that in recent years that a “tweetocracy” amongst teachers has emerged; a number of tweeting and blogging teachers like him, many of him [sic] are listed on the homepage of his blog, have assumed dominance power over the educational debate. This Tweetocracy get invited to all the prestigious educational events – conferences, launches, policy discussions etc – while others are left out. My worry here is that educational academics have become so marginalized.
An editorial in the Journal Of Philosophy of Education by Robert Davis, who I believe is a professor of education in Glasgow, complained of:
Loose associations of teachers, parents, activists, lobbyists etc, communicating ideas and discoveries fashioned and formulated often beyond the academy (or at least beyond its orthodox educational wings) and shaped from out of the interactions of cyberspace itself. This new style of knowledge production is commonly (and sometimes intemperately) at odds with established educational opinion––exasperated by what it sees as habits of elite exclusion, protectionism and detachment from the ‘real world’ of chalkface educational concerns and challenges. It routinely berates the supposedly special interests controlling education faculties, peer-reviewed journals and learned societies, accusing them of obstructing change and stifling or invalidating popular and ‘evidence-based’ folk-wisdom insights into what actually works in the teaching of children, young people and adults…
…Several of the leading commentators and critics who have emerged through these new media now command significant and energetic followings numerically much larger than the memberships of many learned societies or the subscribers to academic journals. Their timelines and followers, moreover, routinely include the officers of influential think tanks, spokesmen for ambitious publishers and policy-makers by no means passive in their association with the informing concepts and objectives….
Andrew Davis, who is a research fellow in education at Durham and writer of the phonics denialist pamphlet “To Read Or Not To Read”, wrote in the newsletter of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain wrote the following about me (he didn’t actually think to contact me to say he had done so):
A well-known education blogger (who, I believe is a former secondary physics teacher) styled ‘OldAndrew’ (OA) developed a series of attacks on To Read or Not to Read. Many read his postings and some responded. I would never have given OA more than a moment’s attention, had I not learnt that he actually might be influencing education policy and was sometimes mentioned in Parliament….
Anyhow, if people such as OA are actually influencing policy and media, then ‘real’ philosophers need to be out there even more than they are already, or so I believe, attempting to engage with intelligence, humour and restraint. It is far from easy, partly because what Bob Davis called ‘blogocrats’ have spent some years sharpening their skills in the kinds of interactions to which I am drawing attention.
The consistent theme here is one of educationalists, who consider themselves to be the experts, bemoaning that anyone would listen to teachers on social media rather than them.
But, of course, there are many reasons why teachers on social media might be worth listening to. Teachers work in actual schools, not theoretical ones. Some educationalists have not tried to teach a child in decades (sometimes never) and their ideas about how it should be done are pure fantasy. Teachers don’t have to follow an ideological line. Educationalists, by contrast, have a habit of signing up to doctrinal statements like this one. Teachers on social media are often actually trying to communicate a clear message. Educationalists are often just trying to prove how clever they are, even if it means saying things that are not understood. But most of all, teachers on social media have little reason to lie about educational issues. They are speaking to other teachers about things both they, and their audiences, encounter. By contrast, educationalists don’t even unanimously agree that telling the truth is a good thing even in principle. And don’t get me started on educationalists who claim to speak for teachers, claim that criticism of them is criticism of teachers, or who insist that they should have a place in a professional body for teachers.
Now I am sure I have offended loads of perfectly decent people in university education departments with all that, despite all the times I’ve added the words “some” or “often” or other qualifiers to suggest that what I have described above doesn’t apply to everyone. I do appreciate people in education departments who talk sense, listen to teachers and do good work. I am not actually suggesting that we ignore every educationalist. Everyone should be welcome to the debate. Everyone should be able to put forward arguments. Everyone should be able to put forward evidence. Everyone should be listened to. But it should always be the content of the argument, the quality of the evidence and the willingness to answer criticisms that counts. If Andrew Davis really wants to know why my arguments often persuade people, it’s because I’ll happily answer anyone who disagrees. I’ll happily listen to their argument and consider it and, if necessary, answer it. I’ll have the debate. Often I continue having the debate long after any sensible person would have called it a day. Perhaps if Andrew Davis tried answering his critics, rather than slagging them off behind their backs in a newsletter, he might manage to persuade people too. The real lesson here is not that educationalists are being sidelined by “blogocrats”, but that too many educationalists gave up listening to teachers a long time ago and are appalled to learn that we might still have a voice.