Don’t Believe The Hype


There is a lot of hype out there that is not my type. Marketing that passes for “research” and sound pedagogy. I read a lot about the “new paradigm” that is occurring in education. There is a lot for us teachers and particularly those in leadership positions to think about.

I really do hear some regular refrains, things repeated over and over again – that I just won’t buy into. I don’t believe the hype. These ideas seem so obvious and so clear that to me, they must be a lie. Reality is crooked and operates on her own principles – not the nice, clean kitchen cupboards we like to stack away our beliefs in.

So in brief and to maybe get others thinking a little “outside the box” – here are 5 things that are being hyped in the educational world that I disagree with completely. (and a joke for each that I hope will support my argument or if not, at least give you a chuckle)

1. The world is changing so fast.

Wooo there! It may appear that things are changing but as the old saying goes, “la plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme chose”. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Education still is about people, communication, knowing, doing.

We get too carried away in all the hype: how the world is changing at a stunning pace, we are educating for new jobs we don’t know about, technological tools arrive anew every day, the sky is falling etc….

I don’t buy into it. We still will need pen and paper, we still will have to talk with students and acquire knowledge that goes between our two ears. The hype only distracts us from the objective of education – to create a happy, caring and thoughtful person. I don’t care the decade or the hype. That will always remain THE goal.

— Two Russian jews talking:

  • Abram, why are you saving money ? Don’t you know that we are going to full on communism and when we get there no one will need any money at all?
  • I am saving for my way back.

2. Testing, particularly standardized testing, is evil.

Testing will always be with us. We need it and it is particularly useful to students, teachers, administrators alike. Tests have their place. They aren’t evil.

The problem is not the test but teachers being told or directed to “teach to the test”. This should be the evil – not the test itself. In my years in education, contrary to the hype, most students benefit and like the tests – just not the classroom time spent teaching to a test.

Tests should measure the knowledge or performance of the student (as much as that is possible) but not be held up as some hurdle to jump over or some “place” to reach. They should provide information to both teachers and students about the process of learning. They are temporary and disposable – not something that we should record ad infinitium. That said, they aren’t evil – only how they are used.

— Abram and his friend Saul are out for a walk. They pass a Catholic church with a sign out front, “$1,000 to Anyone who Converts.” Saul decides to go in and see what it is all about.

Hours go by. Finally he comes out and meets Abram. “So” says Abram, “What happened?”

“I converted”, said Saul.

“No kidding” says Abram. “Did you get the $1,000 bucks?”

Saul replied, “Is that all you people think about?”

3. Content is dead, information is everywhere. We don’t need to “know stuff”.

This one really gets my goat! Memorization, knowing will always be a vital part of intelligence. No matter how quick you can google something or how perfect the retrieval of information. Students still need stuff in their head to mix and churn and access in the quiet of their mind. Content will always be important.

We should still be thinking of what students need to know. There is a center that should hold. Around this, let the student learn skills and ways of processing this information. But let’s not abandon land to swim in water where we’ll never find our feet a place to stand….

— A man is driving down the highway.   A woman is driving up the same road. When they meet, the woman screams out the window, “Pig!” The man screams back, “Bitch!”

The man rounds the next corner, hits a huge pig in the middle of the road and dies.

4.  Qualifications are a must. We need more diplomas, more certificates, tighter controls.

The world of education (and particularly ELT – English Language Teaching ) is going down a road that leads into a desert.  There is a drive away from merit in our world and into “programs” and “credentials”.
I’m totally against this direction, for many sane reasons.  The onus should always be on what a person can do, not what they did in a course. Credentials by default create barriers to real learning and to real discourse. They divide and create cliques. They restrict access based on financial ability and how things look on paper. They hinder by making knowledge about the cosmetic and not attuned to any reality (think of how many students you know with high TOEIC scores who can’t even order pizza over the phone in English).

— A man walks into a pet store and asks to see the parrots.  The store owner shows him two beautiful parrots. One for $5,000 and one for $10,000. The man asks, why the difference in price.

The store owner answers, “The first one sings every aria Mozart wrote. But the second sings all of Mozart and Wagner too. ”  “However, there is one out back for $30,000.”

“Holy cow!” the man says. “What can that parrot do?”

The man answers, “We don’t know, he’s totally quiet.” “But the other two call him Maestro.”

5. Science and evidence are all that we need and are the primus facie when making educational decisions and teacher decisions.

Scientism is a pervasive mindset and belief system that so, so many have bought into unknowingly. It is the belief that the only way to make decisions is to do some tests, get some data and follow that data. Everything else is wrong. It’s what takes science into a belief system, a religion – and that’s squirrely territory.

It’s wrong on my accounts, especially epistemologically and takes science way out of its realm of inquiry, doubt, questioning, and into dogma. More about that, in a forthcoming blog post. But when it comes to the classroom, evidence that is experiential, logically inferred is important. A teacher’s gut too. Descriptive measures too.

I just pull out my hair when I see how loony we get, making educational decisions from quantitative studies that are half-baked, poorly controlled, situational, temporary, badly validated and just don’t pass any stink test. But hey! We proved our thesis! Like this piece of research that had everyone mandating that students wear socks in class (no shoes!) – it was shown to improve outcomes. Malarkey!

And don’t get me started on the cognitive this, brain-based that, neuro-linguistic those … just a lot of hype. We know so little about the brain, yet people will ride that gravy train straight into the river Hades.

— An efficiency expert working for GM in Detroit is driving out in the countryside, going to his cottage. He’s on a side highway and he sees a curious thing.

A farmer is with his pigs in a field and is holding each one up under an apple tree – so they can get an apple to eat.

The man is aghast. OMG! That’s so inefficient. He turns around, parks and walks up to the farmer. He asks, “What are you doing here! This is so inefficient. I’m an expert in this and what you need to do is just shake the tree, let all the apples fall and then sit back while your pigs eat.”

The farmer looks at him puzzled. He says, “True. But the pigs can’t tell time.”.

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