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Lies, damned lies and things you hear from Australian educationalists

April 20, 2017

Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.

George Orwell, 1984

In some countries, including some of the nations of the UK, the education establishment still expects all teachers to support progressive education without debate. The most basic freedom we need in debate is to be able to stand up and say “but that’s not true” to anyone, no matter how eminent, who tells us their opinions are facts or beyond debate. Doing so should never be answered with outrage, an attempt to establish credentials, or a personal attack, but with an explanation of why those supposed facts are indeed facts.

I have reason to be thankful for the opportunities we get to debate education in England. When I stumble into arguments online involving people from some other countries I realise how lucky we are. A Twitter storm happened over the last day or two, when Australian educationalists heard that one of the things researchED do is challenge lies that teachers may have been told when training. Nobody associated with researchED accused anyone of lying, or said where the lies come from, or commented on how teacher training in Australia is conducted, or said anything that went beyond acknowledging that some of the things trainee teachers could possibly hear (not necessarily from their lecturers) while training might not be true. But some Australian educationalists got very defensive.

Now I am not making claims that every Australian teacher must have been lied to, or that if trainee teachers have encountered lies they were deliberately passed on by their lecturers, but even from England it is possible to point out that lies can be found out there in Australian teacher training that could be picked up by trainees. It would be best if nobody feigned outrage at the very idea that this could happen.

First, let’s establish that the spreading of lies can easily be found in Australian teacher training. One of the biggest lies in education is the lie that students have individual learning styles and will benefit from instruction that matches those learning styles. Greg Ashman looked into learning styles in Australian teacher training last year, and found several examples:

The University of Sydney has a Professional Practices Unit of Study outline that looks like it’s intended for student teachers. It was last revised in 2014. Block 1 includes a reading list about student diversity with the intention that, “This session will focus on multicultural, Aboriginal, gender and learning style diversity. What are the different gender, religious, cultural, linguistic, social, physical and emotional factors that today’s teachers need to have an understanding and appreciation of when planning for learning in the classroom?”

Murdoch University in Western Australia has a handbook for intern teachers. Interestingly, this looks like a variation on the traditional model of initial teacher education – perhaps giving support to some of those who have commented that new models of teacher education are no better than the old ones. In the handbook, there is a guide to lesson planning. There is a section on “Multiple Intelligences/Learning Styles” which includes the question, “Which of the intelligences or learning styles does your lesson address?”

….

Griffith University in Queensland is offering a variety of initial teacher education programmes with a focus on special education. The course description states that, “As a teacher working in the special education stream your knowledge, skills and creative talents will focus on the capabilities, interests and learning styles of individual students.”

He also found a lot of references to learning styles in Victoria University’s Faculty of Education handbook for 2016 and 2017 and concluded:

One positive development for those of us who wish to see learning styles consigned to history is that I only counted eight references in the 2017 handbook whereas there were 15 in the 2016 version. So that’s progress.

He said this was the result of a quick search, and sure enough it was easy to find other examples. The Sydney School of Education and Social Work website tells us about learning styles. Anyone looking into the education and teacher training courses at Holmesglen could be given a booklet that mentions training education support workers to “cater for the different learning styles”.

So the presence of false information available in Australian teacher training is easily established. Is it an honest mistake? Well I’ve encountered Australian educationalists on social media, and I think it’s fair to say some of them have odd ideas about how to behave when people identify untruths. Here’s how one Australian educationalist responded to the suggestion that teacher training shouldn’t include lies or bullshit:

This week began with a fast and furious introduction to the blogosphere…

I’ve enjoyed the ride and, whilst I have appreciated the thoughtful comments and feedback I have received, I have to say I’m fascinated by the tactics and behaviour of my antagonists; all of which have been men.

Pejorative terms like “snowflake” (to depict academics as weak whingers who wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it bit them on the proverbial) have been directed my way, as well as swearwords like “bullshit”. This same person referred to research in education (specifically which research, I’m not sure but I suspect anything using poststructural theory) as “lies”.

…these men … remind me of a serial pest called Alan W. Shorter who was eventually blocked from The Conversation for constantly harassing authors…

I am assured that the aggrieved are NOT all white men, and I’m sure that is true, but the ones making inappropriate comments on Twitter and my blog certainly are.

…I am married to an intelligent, well educated, secure and kind man who isn’t the boss and doesn’t feel the need to be.  I work with similar men; men who are respectful of women, who value their ideas, who would never call them a “snowflake” or refute what others say by calling it “bullshit” or “lies”.

Yep, to an Australian educationalist complaining about lies is all about gender and nothing to do with new teachers deserving the truth. I’m also surprised to learn that the word “bullshit” is far too strong for Australian tastes. (I think I mentioned it only in relation to a famous philosophy paper on the topic). But that is nothing compared to the all time classic. Here it is, from a member of the Faculty of Education at Monash University (the full rant was described by David Didau here):

Attacking learning styles isn’t about learning styles, rather promoting instruction & learning as recalling facts… the sustained attacks on learning styles are really attacks on feminist pedagogy, pedagogy of the poor and inquiry.

…The UK right wingers …there is a subtle hidden agenda in their tweets, blog posts and papers against learning styles. Their highly instructional approaches rely on every student to respond the same way [sic]…

…they attack learning styles in an attempt to “prove” all students learn the same. It is a sick game to them. By suggesting everyone responds to learning the same way, they assert their white middle class voice and ideas. If they are right that everyone responds to learning identically then they maintain their dominant position. If they are right that everyone responds to learning identically then we don’t need female voices on gender education. If they are right that everyone responds to learning identically we don’t need the voice of the poor on inequality. If they are right that everyone responds to learning identically then we don’t need the voice of teachers on schools.

I’m going to say it. There are lies spread, either deliberately or accidentally, in Australian teacher training. And there are Australian educationalists, presumably working in institutions that train teachers, who think that it is sexist (and possibly racist), for anyone to challenge those lies. If a grassroots organisation like researchED is giving teachers a chance to learn about research, and challenge it when it isn’t good, then it should be welcomed. Only researchers whose work is based on lies have anything to fear from teachers being given the opportunity to say “hang on, that’s not actually true, is it?”

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10 comments

  1. Scary stuff, these Australian comments. Substitute “landlord class” and “Capitalist Roader” for “White Male”, and they could have come straight out of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.


  2. I wonder if there isn’t a slight irony in starting this blog with an Orwell quote about a fascist dystopia to contextualise your otherwise valid arguments with Australian educationalists in that light, after advising the following in the previous post:
    “Don’t: […]
    • Treat accusations of fascism or far right sympathies as a normal part of political debate. It isn’t.”


  3. I think we may be overplaying the attack on learning styles. My take on the research on learning styles is “Do students have a preferred learning style?” Answer “Yes”
    “Does presenting material to students in their preferred leaning style make a difference to how much they learn?”
    Answer “No”
    So I don’t see the removing all reference to learning styles from teacher training is necessary.
    The more “student centered” educators can still allow some choice in how students go about their learning but they need to know that this will not necessarily help kids learn more. By all means where appropriate, present information in a style students prefer. It may make the students, happier, more engaged, more interested but not more educated. For many staff happy, engaged and interested students is seen as an educational outcome.
    Of course we would be better off spending time in our teacher training courses teaching teachers about techniques that do work. Direct instruction, retrieval practice, spacing, duel coding and especially classroom management techniques should form the core of Initial teacher training.


    • “Do students have a preferred learning style?”
      Answer “Yes”
      “Does presenting material to students in their preferred leaning style make a difference to how much they learn?”
      Answer “No”
      In that case they don’t have a preferred learning style. Duh.


      • I prefer to listen to information rather than read it.
        I have a preference.
        The research suggests that I will learn equally well if I listen to information or if I read it
        I still have a preferred learning style.
        Note the civil tone of discussion here and reflect on your own.


        • In general though, dual coding is better than any single coding, and certain forms of content naturally lend themselves better to a particular modality. Furthermore, any time spent on trying to allocate materials in a preferred way to pupils in order to please them is time you could spend on something more profitable, and it may well also mislead children about their own shortcomings.


          • I would agree Chris. I’m just concerned that many traditional educators, and I count myself as fairly traditional, use the attack on anything to do with Learning Styles as a club to beat up progressive educators over the head with.
            This does not move the debate forward.
            The fluff of Learning styles is a minor win for traditional educators but it is not the main game.


  4. […] may be preaching to the converted here, but after one of my blogposts last week declared war on Australia, I thought I’d draw your attention to something great […]


  5. […] was some criticism of this post from last week where I gave learning styles as an example of lies that trainee teachers in […]


  6. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.



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