"Generalisations are always dangerous" said my English teacher to our class when I was about 12 year's old. The joke was not wasted on me, I have often had call to remind myself of this in the past 40 years or so...
The recent reporting of comments from Sir Michael Wilshaw have sent shockwaves through the education community. You can read them here.
So let's do some amateur discourse analysis on the oft repeated soundbite from Sir Michael's pronouncements as reported by the press and tweeted:
Wilshaw 'enraged' by suggestion that inspectors 'lefty-child-centred ideologues'. Says Ofsted 'in a very different place now.' #oprah
— Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) March 21, 2014
"lefty" adj, leaning to the party political left. Overtones of insult.
"child-centred" adj., refers to an approach to teaching that prioritises the needs of the recipient.
"idealogue" n., someone who theorises.
So, he felt the need to refute the labelling of Ofsted inspectors against these stereotypical perceptions of the profession and yet:
What has someone's political choice to do with their employment? To cast someone as a "lefty" comes from the perspective of someone who does not respect that individual's party political choices.
We are learning more each day about teaching and learning thanks to the emerging work of cognitive neuroscience. What is rapidly becoming clear is that learning happens despite our best efforts, probably through a process that attaches emotional information to experiences being processed by our memory systems. As communicated recently by Dr. Terry Lamb, Professor of Languages and Pedagogy at the University of Sheffield:
#ECMLconference we must think about learning and then review what we mean by teaching (Terry Lamb) pic.twitter.com/lOMffFqi3h
— pestalozziprogramme (@pestalozziprog) March 21, 2014
If the child isn't at the centre of education, who should be? Is the individual less important than their ability to generate statistics for analysis by others? Seems to me that learner centric learning is all that exists. Should teachers not want a child to learn? Should lesson planning not prioritise the learning needs of individuals ?
Finally, does Sir Michael really believe that those tasked with inspecting the delivery of education should be incapable of engaging with theory and connecting this to their practice? An intellectual idealogue is someone who can think creatively, a quality we know is important in order to function in a rapidly changing world and imagine the raft of skills that will be necessary for a future we are as yet unable to see.
So I am at a loss to see Sir Michael's rationale for wishing to dismiss these terms in relation to his office. Surely, they are labels which could be considered badges of distinction for educators.
A "lefty" must be an individual who knows their own mind and has made political choices which best represent their experience. As professionals, these would be part of a range of personal preferences that remain private in the sphere of work.
The rest is all about an approach to the teaching profession which is to be applauded. I am proud to be involved in learner centric teaching, my students tell me it works for them. It is demanding for them and for me, pushes their boundaries and engages them in new and important experiences. I engage with educational theory in order to better understand how the anecdotal experiences I have as an educator relate to wider conclusions based upon empirical observations. In order to do this I have to use reasoning, critical and analytical skills often referred to as higher order thinking.
Labelling is a neat way of dismissing someone, it can be used as part of a polemic discourse to support a particular agenda. Sir Wilshaw's defence is worrying, I wonder if he has the metal to stand up for what matters in education?