Reliance and Risk

The importance of trust

Three posts will be done on this topic.

  1. Reliance and Risk. What is trust?
  2. Trust between students, parents and the school
  3. School and society, can we be trusted to do our jobs?

Reliance and Risk

The importance of trust

“The ignorant man is not free, because what confronts him is an alien world, something outside him and in the offing, on which he depends, without his having made this foreign world for himself and therefore without being at home in it by himself as in something his own. The impulse of curiosity, the pressure for knowledge, from the lowest level up to the highest rung of philosophical insight arises only from the struggle to cancel this situation of unfreedom and to make the world one’s own in one’s ideas and thought.”

Hegel

Why is this important? Because trust is what sets us free. It is a paradox, in that when we allow ourselves to be controlled (in the “right way”, stay with me on this one), it will undoubtedly lead to more trust and more freedom.

In the German idealist philosophy tradition, the concept of the upbringing (Erziehung) and Bildung (formation, cultivation, education) were separate yet conjoined at the same time.

It is my hope that I can, in a series of three posts, get deeper into a very key part in education and human interaction overall. I am of course talking about trust. Trust is our main currency, it is the glue which binds society together. It is what makes us able to invest in ourselves and others. It is faith in ourselves and humanity at large to be bound by our words and actions.

I am reminded of the quote from the film John Q, wherein Denzel Washington’s character tells his son in a very moving speech: “When you say you’re going to do something… When you say you’re going to do something, you do it. Because your word is your bond, son. It’s all you have.” And this is how most of us live life. We trust our beloved ones and our close friends. We all have to trust that a majority of us will abide the law. We all have to trust that a majority of us play a fair game.

Why then did I choose reliance and risk as the title for this post? Sure, trust is more than just a scholar term, it is something which crosses many boundaries well from the subjective and the objective realms of definition. Posting the lexical definitions of trust would perchance be something of worth, however, my focal point will be, mainly, what research defines it as. In The Handbook of Trust Research, trust is defined as having two major components: reliance and risk: “[…]trust involves two principal concepts: reliance […] and risk […]”

You have to risk stating that you are going to do something. You have to risk it that you will be able to do what you have stated. You have to risk trusting others and being betrayed. You have to rely on others and yourself to complete objectives. Words are clumsy attempts at making sense of reality and getting what is not yet, to what is. It is our planning:

  • The politician’s promise that increased tax rates will lead to the overall social good.
  • The teacher’s promise to her/his students and parents that the kid will feel safe in school and will learn.
  • The student’s promise to adhere to the school rules and consequences of bad behavior.

The reliance comes along as we get closer to the intended reality of our words. We notice that we might need help. We notice perhaps, that we might not be able to keep our word. When we miss a deadline or fall behind, or fail to live up to certain standards, we berate ourselves and perhaps others. That risk-reliance operation is a constant mix between the two, going on for the rest of our lives. As long as we live, we will have to live with risking on relying on ourselves and others.

How can we use this knowledge to our advantage? Well, luckily, there has been a lot of progress in the trust research over the years. According to one leading researcher, Paul J. Zak, being humble as a leader is of great value. He summarizes his thoughts as such in the Harvard Business Review:

Former Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree once said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.”The experiments I have run strongly support this view. Ultimately, you cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and getting out of their way. It’s not about being easy on your employees or expecting less from them. High-trust companies hold people accountable but without micromanaging them. They treat people like responsible adults.

The same article goes more into depth showing just how profound the differences are between low-trust environments compared to high-trust environments.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

Why then, am I using this from the world of business? Do not worry, I have no intention of going the New Public Management route here! When dealing with any kind of human interaction, you’d have to consider yourself being in the trust business. There has been a lot of progress in the past decade with research into trust. Even so, it is a murky area, as it turns out trust is very complex. All levels of trust are based on adjacent levels. Trust works on multiple levels depending all on one another. It is not yet fully understood just how and why it works: “Despite this progress, however,‘trust remains an undertheorized, under-researched, and, therefore, poorly understood phenomenon’ (Child, 2001: 274).” Yet, from what is understood, trust seems to be very reliant on the key parts of yes, you got it, trust. To simply feel trust, you have to feel trusted, yet not too much. The paradox thickens.

Why should we then consider trust?

Is it really something useful in the context of education? Yes it is, because we no longer seem to operate under the optimal conditions as being trusted and therefore there are a multitude of elements of control in education.

As Tom Bennett puts it:

“Understanding and consciously creating relationships of trust, dignity and support between all students and oneself. This is a wide and diffuse area and involves how to speak to parents and guardians, knowing about a student’s specific learning needs, prior attainment and other data, understanding the effects of stress on decision-making and many other factors. These areas require continuous and intelligent reinforcement through the duration of the teacher’s career. At all times, the teacher’s routines should aim towards supporting the aims and outcomes of the school routines, which in turn demands that these are robust, clear and aimed at a defined and public good.”

Trust is not that easily managed. Yet, it is so vital to everything we do.

I am not in this instant advocating for a simpleton approach which is to say “Oh, I think that if the government just trusts the teachers and schools, then all will be good.” No, I am quite the pessimist when it comes down to control instruments. We teachers, headteachers/headmasters/principals, SLT and so forth need all to be controlled in one way or another. It is just like David Didau wrote about how we perform the best: One such element specifically being that we know we are being held accountable in one way or another. Here comes the crux: we cannot be held accountable for things that we cannot be accountable. That is the problem that I see in the current systems of control in education.

Can you as a teacher be accountable and measure all of the target grades of the students? No, you cannot, not as long as the grades are indeed focused on learning. Should a school keep a certain number of percentage on student surveys as an accountability system in place? Not if the point is to increase possibilities of learning. Perhaps, if the results instead were used to build a positive school culture, then yes! But, if you spend multiple meetings going nowhere but to design meaningless activities connected to moronic measurements, then you are definitely on the wrong track.

Should the School Inspection/OFSTED look at how pleased students and parents are with their education? No, not if you use it as economic incentives to provide more or less for the school. Yes, if you want to increase the overall trust.

Trust is the glue which binds all of society together. Trust is being shaped as the individual as he/she is growing up bonds with society and all of the accumulated knowledge over a long period of time. This is the importance of trust and education.

In the next blogpost, I will go deeper into how the trust between students, parents and school.


Much thanks to Dr. Bray (https://www.drckbray.com) for having provided me with such great resources on the research of trust!

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Teachers as homo economicus? Hell no, stay the fuck out of our house!

Here I try to put forth my thoughts on how a new silly, morbidly dumbfounded article, which could only be compared to a serious A Modest Proposal, could come into place, where it claimed it would save Swedish education by way of economic incentives. I will also recommend Hannah Arendt and Harald Ofstad as must-reads for those interested in finding out more about our gruesome nature.

It is, then, a matter of sovereign necessity, before we decide on great, and momentous questions, which affect our own happiness, and the peace of the world, to make a wise, and virtuous pause, and review, with an honest severity, those peculiarities of disposition, situation, and education, which may communicate an unfair bias to the mind, and induce us to decide, not as the truth of things is, but as we are ourselves. (1801, Sermons by the Reverend Sydney Smith link) (https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/03/09/as-we-are/)

But, I wish to speak truth to power and to others who will listen. Recently in Sweden there was a completely mindboggingly dunderheaded article published from the Swedish Confederation of Enterprise. My reply to such a statement was that they were simply mucking about in the sandbox with no foundation whatsoever. I kindly prompted them to “Stay the fuck out of our hose!”

Having said so, I regret none of it. I might seem as if I’m lacking compassion. I might, but what they proposed could be compared to something like a serious A Modest Proposal. Hyperbole? Yes, maybe a little.

They used the term “förädlingsvärde” (roughly translated added value) to describe how they would wish teachers to be measured. The author of the article argued that this added value is what could be seen in the students’ performance as something which had increased because of the schools or teachers, when other factors had been “cleansed away”. This measuring of value added would then be used alongside incentives such as giving more money to schools and teachers who were doing well, all while there would be less for those fairing worse. Maybe I was not exaggerating that much with my comparison to A Modest Proposal?

Now, I am all in favor of measuring to improve practice. I am all in favor of reliable testing every now and then. What I am not however, in favor of, is some corporate stooge trying to somehow assess me. I would be, if it were possible. I would be, if there actually were good incentives out there, proven to with longevity improve the quality of learning and teaching.

Spoiler, there are no such incentives. There is no reliable way to cleanse away irrelevant data and somehow produce a fair equation of how the “unreliable and/or irrelevant and/or non-teacher and non-school-dependent data” is in a fair way exempted to then isolate teacher and school performance. There are poor indicators (which are so far the best we have got) such as standardized tests.

Someone with a grasp of economy and basic knowledge of some outdated incentives about homo economicus wrote that article. That is all fine and dandy. Just admit up front that you are exhibiting your idiocy by way of simply just nitpicking one place (North Carolina), where apparently, all of this works just fine. I get it, I get the temptation. I am guilty too. Sometimes I will advocate what I think is the best. But I try to do so as far as I can by being honest about where I come from.

I must admit that I am at times very tempted to give the world my own professed medicine from my own areas of very little expertise. I have been tempted to simply prescribe pedagogical approaches to people in general, with you know, the old argument that if we could just have good education for everyone, then there would be no more troubles in the world. I have been tempted as a linguist to find a common lingua franca of peace, with you know, the old argument that if we were to just talk to each other in the right way, then there would be no more troubles in the world. I have been tempted also as a historian, to say that if we simply just learned from history there would be no more trouble in the world.

I think you get the point. These so called “insights” are not insights. They are easy go-to solutions that satisfy our egos, if anything, but it does not do any good in the great scheme of things. It makes us the winners and the wise people of the world, while also creating crooks and second-rate citizens (although we would never admit that). It is also easy to lean back towards our own expertise in a certain area and that is where the danger of seeing knowledge as something generic very dangerous. As seeing critical thinking and intelligence as something generic. You may very well be a brilliant businessman, but you are not by default then brilliant in everything else. I call bullshit on this faux expertise and these flawed, eschewed expectations of how knowledge and expertise is always transferrable.

If you are curious about this, I will advise you to read Hannah Arendt’s The Banality of Evil, where it is clear that we are all in it. In modern-day psychology this would be seen as groupthink. If you are even more so interested in this, I also recommend Harald Ofstad’s great defining work, Our Contempt for Weakness. Here he breaks down how we all have the tyrannical side deep within us. He shows how as soon as we define something as strong, then there will be someone weak, whom we will inevitably be looking down on.

Why am I telling you this? I do not intend to get political on the left or right scale of things. I just wish to show you there is more out there. There is more, which is hard to look at but which we should look at. There is more about the unsightly truths of us human beings. We see people and ourselves through our own dirtied lenses. That is why Gadamer’s view of Bildung (or education) is so vital: To look upon things from another standpoint. That’s it.

The importance of habits

Are we all just habits?

In this post I will attempt to discuss the implications of habit research into how we look at student behavior and in general as well. I will show the implications of the research out there and how perhaps, not being strict enough is truly doing people a disservice. I also hope to, once and for all put an end to the understandable, yet stunningly ignorant and naive standpoint that all we have to do is to get the students to understand and then they will behave. I will take on the lexical definitions as well as a study’s definition of what habits really are.

Firstly, here is the study’s definition of what habits are:

“Habits are behaviours which are performed automatically because they have been performed frequently in the past. This repetition creates a mental association between the situation (cue) and action (behaviour) which means that when the cue is encountered the behaviour is performed automatically. Automaticity has a number of components, one of which is lack of thought.” (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2009/aug/how-long-does-it-take-form-habit)

Before you start attacking me for wanting to program nazi space robots, I will just let you know that it is not my intention. My intention is to take away the bullshit. I want to get rid of what prohibits us from discovering our true potential. I want to make social change by way of education. How so? Habits, such as vaguely put: caring about the individual, being respectful, listening, respect for learning and expertise, respect for oneself to critique from a point of knowledge and humility. In what ways? Contextualize the proper behavior in given situations.

For example, Student A disrupts in class and despite being told to not do so again, continues. Consequence: detention 30 minutes after school. Possible consequence of said consequence: the student will not disrupt again. Other students will follow suit and not disrupt class. The students might have never understood why they should not disrupt in class. They might even understand, but would still do it. What are we interested in? Getting them to understand because we somehow believe that a verbal confirmation parroted back to us = all things are right? No, I am afraid to say it is not.

This particular study reached the conclusion that accruing some kind of new habit would usually take something like 66 days in general – and in some cases as fast as 18 days. These habits were not advanced in themselves. So, when we ask a student to just realize something, they will not. Even more so, they actually could well know the why and the what, but because they do not have the wanted behavior as a habit, it will still not happen.

“In our study, we looked at how long it took people to reach a limit of self-reported automaticity for performing an initially new behaviour (that is, performing an action automatically), and the average time (among those for whom our model was a good fit) was 66 days.”
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2009/aug/how-long-does-it-take-form-habit

Wow, and you try to get a kid to change his/her habits by simple way of conviction? That is naive and frankly mental torture. The kid could even understand, but that makes no difference if he/she cannot change. And the stress you put on parents, kids, teachers, social services and SLT in this culture of trying to get people to change simply through “understanding” is downright contra-productive.

Yes, so here we are, wherever we are. By choice? By virtue? By habits? By luck? This is my case for that we could just please, for the last time, shut the hell up about making students understand what they are doing is wrong. Or saying that “he/she doesn’t understand, it’s impossible!” Tribalism and familiar habits will not make us grow. What we want to change is the habits. The habits are all the settled tendencies or usual manners of behavior.

I might seem reductionist, however, I hope to make a case that I am not advocating a simple policy. I am not going to alleviate your pain and suffering. I am no Messias and I have not seen the land of glory. I have seen the sham of folly and I have walked in the darkness. I have stood by silently, as a silent witness for too long, seeing the Messiah crucified. I am here to testify as an ordinary human.

I am sick and tired of the excuses for teachers, staff, parents and students that if someone does not understand, then that means that person is excluded from consequences. That somehow that person is a lost cause (even though that might actually be the case, but try consequences first, TEACH that person how to act).

Try to use the consequences first. Make students realize that every time they exhibit a certain behavior or habit, then the consequences will always be the same. The kid will not necessarily know why they should be polite and friendly towards others. To heck with that. Let them experience the positive consequences for doing so – it is usually rewarded right back.

During my nine years as a teacher, I have dealt with all sorts of kids. Kids who I knew would never eat breakfast. Kids who I knew could never do any homework other than in school. Kids who I knew were deeply depressed. All kinds of kids. Everyone had some kind of baggage.

Baggage can drag us down. In this metaphor the baggage is our habits, both good and bad. Are you hearing me? The baggage is our habits. We are dragged down by our habits, both good and bad. We are here, right? You, I and all the others are here. Somehow we all made it. We’re alive still. Whatever small incidents or major calamities which have befallen us – we still made it through, we’re still here. We are still doing relatively well. We all have baggage. And if you are a teacher, you have surely picked up on a few things students and you do which are bad and good habits.

Are we just the sum of our accumulated habits, genes and environment? And if so, is it really all that bad? And, if not, could that perspective on things, perhaps be enough? This is where my reductionist part comes into play.

Enough for what? Enough of a low-resolution of the world to be a mensch toward others. Enough to know when to use tough love and when to be kind. Enough to know when to fight tooth and nail for what we believe is just. Enough to be humbled by what privilege we and others have and have not. Enough to be grateful for whatever crumbs were thrown our way in the great lottery of life. Enough to see that we can change our lives and others too.

Habits then, what are they in the lexical sense? According to Webster, the following:

habit noun

hab·​it | \ ˈha-bət  \

Definition of habit (Entry 1 of 2)

1

: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior

her habit of taking a morning walk

2

a

: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary

got up early from force of habit

b

: ADDICTION

a drug habit

c

: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance

the daily bowel habit

3

a

: a costume characteristic of a calling, rank, or function

a nun’s habit

b

: a costume worn for horseback riding

4

archaic : CLOTHING

5

: manner of conducting oneself : BEARING

6

: bodily appearance or makeup

a man of fleshy habit

7

: the prevailing disposition or character of a person’s thoughts and feelings : mental makeup

a philosophical habit

8

of an organism : characteristic mode of growth or occurrence

a grass similar to Indian corn in habit

9

of a crystal : characteristic assemblage of forms at crystallization leading to a usual appearance : SHAPE

I am going to pick up on these definitions, albeit not from 1-9, instead I will actually start with definition number 9: “of a crystal : characteristic assemblage of forms at crystallization leading to a usual appearance : SHAPE”

Anyone else in this place reading David Didau? If you do, then surely you must also see how this is fantastic?! It is “a crystallization leading to a usual apperance.” If you don’t know, read his blogpost here . To summarize very broadly, the connection here is that there are two broader categories wherein one might find intelligence. One is the fluid intelligence, which is hard to alter in general and depend on your genes, IQ if you will. The other one, which we all in school should really take at heart is the crystallized intelligence. It is this kind of intelligence which goes on almost indefinitely through one’s life where one will build more and more knowledge, which once rooted firmly and recalled many times, will just continue to grow and further make it easier to learn within the subject-domains of that knowledge.

Now, the one who is quick thinking might get things faster. But, if someone comes up short to a new situation compared to someone who is used to it, the one with the experience and the knowledge usually trumps the other one.

How so? Well, the accumulated habits and crystallized formations of knowledge that person A (experienced, perhaps mid-IQ, roughly 110, just for the sake of argument) has over person B (inexperienced, high-IQ, roughly 140, just for the sake of argument) will make a huge difference. The more complex the systems of knowledge and different indirect knowledge, the harder it is to learn.

So, we gear up kids for success by showing them the values of acquired habits, yes? Well, duh, we already know that, and if you want to get more into that question I’ll advise you to read more from David Didau.

I am not going to go into much more detail on that part, really. Rather, what I wish to get through now is the habits. Let us imagine the following scenario:

You are always late for work. Always, no exception. You do not eat any breakfast. You sleep very little because you deal with anxiety and some kind of depression. It’s ye olde vicious cycle that could easily get to anyone of us, at any time. You rush from point A to point B and use devices to “chill out” and escape reality. You have no or low energy when you get home, where you actually have more work to do, some for your day job and some for your family. You binge watch YouTube and Netflix at night just to keep the demons away.

These types of habits have consequences, obviously. Fast-forward three years in with the same habits. You are still getting by, but just barely. Your performance has gotten worse over the years. Your boss and your loved ones are starting to notice how it is not working. They try to tell you. They try to help. You resist. You hate hearing about the way you do things is wrong, that you should think about your responsibilities. You know what you are doing is wrong. But, it is hard. There is a complicated story behind all of it (there usually is). You feel cheated of life itself.

You say to yourself and others that “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do better. Yeah, I know it’s easy and sounds easy, but it’s not, it’s just so hard!”

We have all been there, in one way or another. Or, if we have not, we know someone who has. Oh, you do not think so? What if this could be one of your students? You know, THAT student who is always tardy with everything that everyone fights for tooth and nail to get through the various thresholds in school, yeah, THAT kid. That kid who seems to be in a rut with some kind of learned helplessness. That kid who everyone tries to be supportive of, who will hear everyone be on his/her case all the time.

Is there any way out? Is there anything that could help? Well, counseling is being brought into mind now. Or, perhaps there is something wrong with this person? Perhaps this person needs to be checked to see if she/he has some kind of diagnosis, which should have been in place a long time ago? Perhaps it is time to medicate?

No, or yes, I do not know. What I do know is that habits will change us or let us be the same. Time will go on. We will die. It is what has been recognized for so long – the paradox that the more discipline and habits rule your life – the more freedom you will have.

The person who is not doing so well might have some trauma behind all of it. Perhaps getting to the bottom of it is good. That does not in any way exclude changing habits. It turns out that we can control ourselves and be controlled much easier than we all dare to admit. The sad reality is that if you do not have any good habits before you become an adult, then you will suffer. The price for naivety is suffering. The price for not seeing and not being true to yourself is suffering. The way out of suffering is to see the ability we all have to change.

The change is not that dramatic however, it is very unlikely that we just one day wake up and go full-on motivation guru/coach mode and just own everything! The change starts small. Change small habits. Get credit for the positive changes. Punishment for getting back to the old ones. Make it hard to get back to the old habits which were no good for you. The rewards and punishments must be felt in accordance with the proper level of violation or achievement.

My kids will say thank you for their meal and ask if they can leave the table. To some, that is something obvious which you should get your kids to do, whereas for others, it is a bit overkill. They did not get why when we started doing so, but for my nine-year-old, the understanding of the why is getting there. As they do this, they get compliments from grownups. If they miss it, I will tell them every time to do so. In this case, those two are all the consequences they need.

I have not talked about what we need to change because that is easy. We all know usually what to do. The thing we usually mistake ourselves and other people for is how fast we want people to change. When we ask people to change something, we are asking them to change a habit of doing things. We are asking them to get new habits. If the person is open for it and we show it properly by way of instruction and encouragement, then the person will pick up on it. We are nice like that, most of the time.

Can we get people to understand us then? Yes, we can. However, this only works if you are willing to listen and understand them right back. I will bash my younger self a bit (it is all right, he is used to it, it is a bit of a habit) to illustrate my point:

I loved debating people when I was younger. I loved telling them how wrong they were (at least in my very limited but vastly overestimated “fountain of knowledge”). That is not in and of itself a bad thing. What is bad is how I thought I could convince others. I very rarely did. I thought I would convince people, especially the times I was so sure I had repeated the exact same line of arguments, executed almost close to near-mimicry perfection in accordance with someone way smarter than me to my opponent. Nope, I did not even convince the audience.

I had a hard time understanding myself. I had a hard time getting others to understand me. Actually, that, I think, is perhaps a never-ending struggle within each and everyone of us. I wish I would have understood earlier how easy it was to win the arguments. No one ever told me I could win, not by dominating or convincing my opponent, no, I won by listening to, understanding them and then making myself understood.

I had to pick up on clues that others were telling me. The consequence of not listening was that I was never truly heard. The consequences of never understanding others were that I could never understand myself, let alone be understood by others. I had to develop new habits.

This is where I finish this time around. Getting people to understand and change using reason is all good. Getting people to understand by listening to them and articulating your own point is all good too. Then again, if you really want to see some change, aim for the habits.

Thank you, #edutwitter

“Patience is a high virtue… but virtue can hurt you. “

Ever felt like just giving up on your teaching career? I have to admit that I am at the moment going through a rough patch. I struggle with it all the time. If you have not read about it before, then check out one of my previous blogposts about it.  There is always a modicum of self-doubt, seasoned with just a little bit of self-loathing, a dollop of self-pity and a pinch of hatred of man’s ignorance when I go down that dark, chaotic part of myself.

What really grinds my gears the most about this is the fact that I can design research-informed strategies for the classroom and integrate them (hopefully successfully), but I cannot seem to actually get any other adult, let alone very few colleagues and fellow teachers to listen. It struck me that I might suffer from the curse of knowledge and, even more so, as Adam Boxer put it, I have to realize that not everyone is as nerdy as I am. Nerdrage is nigh.

What to do then? I asked people. I asked on twitter.

The response was overwhelming to me. The advice I received really got me thinking. I thought I had tried what was within my power and what was outside was beyond reach for a mere, stupid pleb teacher such as I.

I was wrong. I mean, not about the stupid pleb teacher part. That was right on the money, really. The answers though, thank you very much, all of you who gave me so much to work with!

I will have to temper my propensity to bend the world to my will with patience. Although temperance is a virtue, according to Aristotle, so is courage. Excess of courage will lead to hasty, coarse actions and judgments. Chaucer put it all really well:


Patience is virtue high, and that’s certain;
For it does vanquish, as these clerks make plain,
Things that oppression never could attain.
One must not chide for trifles nor complain.
Learn to endure, or else, so may I go,
You’ll have to learn it, whether you will or no.
For in this world, it’s certain, no one is
Who never does or says sometimes amiss.
Sickness, or woe, or what the stars have sent,
Anger, or wine, or change of temperament
Causes one oft to do amiss or speak.
For every wrong one may not vengeance wreak;
Conditions must determine temperance
In all who understand good governance.

I will let you know more once the ball is rolling, in case anyone else would be interested in trying the same thing. Until then, I will humble myself and start my new hobby with andragogy.

Bildung and Erziehung: Act on purpose, transcend resentment.

This is the story of how Bildung and Erziehung was once again reignited in me, with much thanks to David Didau, Paul Kirschner, Robert Coe, Robert Bjork, Daniel Willingham and many others.

I am proud to be a teacher, a father and husband. Not because I am good at it, no, I honestly do not think that I am. But I am not terrible, and that is at least something. I try to do my best. I have purpose, or rather, I act as if there is some kind of inherent sense of purpose in what I do. Yeah, sure, anyone can claim this to be the case. And maybe this is some kind of common human experience from which there is no escape, unless you choose darkness. Unless you choose to give in to resentment. 

The description of the nature of things need not be diminished by the fact that there are values as overriding principles in how to act and be in the world. Values can of themselves be inherently good, as long as they uphold prediction on actual facts. Solid facts and solid ground = solid values and a coherent being in and of the world. Much like the very thought of Logos, as in being part of that immanent becoming and being of the world, manifesting oneself with and alongside others, it is very much the same.

Similar sentiments were introduced to me in college but it was swiftly dealt with as a sidenote. It was then again introduced to me through a learned colleague. There were two German concepts, Bildung and Erziehung (upbringing). Bildung = literacy, cultivation, learning, formation, education (yes, the German word does cover all of those key elements of education alone) is being able to consider subjects from another’s standpoint.

Wilhelm von Humboldt puts it as such:

“Education [Bildung], truth and virtue” must be disseminated to such an extent that the “concept of mankind” takes on a great and dignified form in each individual (GS, I, p. 284). However, this shall be achieved personally by each individual, who must “absorb the great mass of material offered to him by the world around him and by his inner existence, using all the possibilities of his receptiveness; he must then reshape that material with all the energies of his own activity and appropriate it to himself so as to create an interaction between his own personality and nature in a most general, active and harmonious form”.[1]

In a school I worked in not too long ago, there were a few of us teachers who implemented a lot of this line of thinking into our own teaching. Now obviously, please get me right, I would not ever try to talk a 16-year-old into just accepting old German and Greek philosophers at face value. No, we introduced the concepts, little by little, in how we acted, what we taught and how we taught. We did not give in to simple pleasing and “fun and engaging lessons”.

For all of you who might, at this point, be thinking that we went all progressive and let all the students create their own knowledge so to speak, by some kind of constructivist simpleton simplification, you can relax. We did not do that, in fact, we did the opposite. Unfortunately, through sheer misunderstanding and unwillingness to truly understand what we were doing, this was met by a few colleagues, students, parents and one in the school leadership, as elitism.

The accusation was simply that we had students who never came to school that would never dare to come back again when they saw our knowledge-heavy curriculum (which, by the way, all who attended in fact passed and witnessed that it was hard but fulfilling, some of them saying this was their first time ever experiencing knowing that work paid off, not just in grades, but also in fulfillment). That is where the other concept of Erziehung (upbringing) is so vital.

Erziehung:

Bildung is to be distinguished from the ‘upbringing’ (Erziehung) of  a child by its parents or pedagogues. But for Hegel the essential end of both processes is the same. For the principal achievement of upbringing is to overcome immediacy, simplicity or natural crudity (Rohheit), to deepen  spirit through thought, of the universal.  Hegel emphasizes that the early stages of this process require some kind of external constraint or discipline, the frustration of immediate desires and the growth of a capacity, consequent only on this experience of conflict and frustration, to direct one’s own agency through a self-conception and rational principles. The aim of education as upbringing, Hegel says, is therefore to enable the child to be consciously or for itself, what it already is in itself or for adults: namely, a rational or spiritual being (EL · 140A).”

Some might just call this good teaching and common sense. However, if it were common sense and good teaching, and that’s that, then we’d all be doing it by now. There is no one set methodology through it all, but there are some clear patterns: children need to struggle and in that struggle see what they are capable of. This can only be done through some kind of constraint or discipline, as children do not yet grasp what it means to forego pleasures in the now in order to grow and be rational and spiritual.

Can this be done? Yes, it can. If you start out as someone who is simply acting on values, that usually is a good point! You need good school leadership who will trust you, staff that will support you and work with you and some kind of evidence-informed/based approach. The values and aim will be faulty and flawed, superficial and shallow. But, they will make you move the world. The purpose is not to just teach these kids now, it is to teach them about how they are part of something greater than themselves. Of what they already are and what they can become. It will be a continuous, messy, bloody struggle. It will never end. 

I half-lost it all when I worked at a school who focused solely on pleasing students in the surveys. If you did not know it by now, in Sweden, the parents are free to choose which schools their children go to. As such, it has created a perverse market incentive where a lot of school leadership and owners of the private schools try to simply get the results up by pressuring teachers to please the children and also to get better grades.

During the darkest hours, there was a light to be seen. I picked up a copy of David Didau’s brilliant book What if everything you knew about education was wrong? For this, I feel such massive thanks is owed to a person whom I have never met. It was like opening Pandora’s box. The findings from research and the thoughts washed over me as a massive wave. This lead me to great research and thinking. All of this which, coincidentally is really what the great thinkers of all times have been trying to tell us.

I have probably always acted as if purpose exists. This revelation has only come to me in my older days. In that extent to which I am referring to purpose, then it is not necessarily as a Canon, or a dogmatic sense if you will, no, it is much more like Thomas of Aquino: “Adoro Devote latens deltas”, you we adore, oh you hidden/unknowable God. I do not claim to be religious, nor would I decide to advocate for that. But I act with a purpose as if there is some inherent purpose in what I do.

For a long time I was afraid that this was some kind of cowardice agnosticism, but now I can clearly see it is not. It is a recognition of our faulty perception about what in our existence means to be in the world. An acknowledgement, appreciation, a state of salvation and enlightenment all at the same time, some kind of bliss: “Gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit.” Salvation/appreciation/acknowledgement does not take away from nature – it makes it perfect. In other words: the physical is only enhanced by the metaphysical – a soul, values and purpose. What is your purpose of education?

Perhaps this is why I take such immense pride in being a teacher. I feel like a complete failure a lot of the time. As someone with imposter syndrome (maybe, I might actually be right that I’m a failure). I feel like I will never get it right at times. I constantly devour so much literature and try to apply what’s good in it in my own practice. I cannot, and will not stop. 

 

 

Faulty reasoning, an extensive analysis of another analysis

I hope that by sharing this, really show that we are capable of doing a lot as teachers. We are able to take a look at the big picture and ask our school leaders and colleagues if we are on the right path to learning. I did not get any response on this analysis in my previous school. But, I am hoping that you who are out there, might be able to use what I have written below to see where you can do what I did, but hopefully much better. And I sincerely hope you will be heard.

What can I say about this? I presented the analysis below as a response to another analysis from a previous school I worked in. I felt that the latter-mentioned original analysis did not go deep into its main focus, namely answering fairly why students fail – it settled by simply saying the reason the school did not do so well was because the teachers were bad teachers. The reason? The authors based it all on a single person performing interviews with dissatisfied students and parents. I am all for that, it was just such a claim alone + some shaky hearsay and anecdotal evidence about poor teacher behavior which somehow would define everyone, was the only base of evidence for this grand conclusion.

What was even more of a travesty were the conclusions and the action plan mapped out based on that. Simply put: conclusion: bad teachers that do not have special adaptations to student needs and the action plan was conveniently as a magic pill, we would all focus on special adaptations. This resulted in a major overload in documentation on things that we were in fact already doing, with no clear direction as to what it was for, other than to show we were not those bad teachers. I made the attempt to question those practices and map out how much we were all doing the same thing with no systematic evaluations.

This, plus my analysis of the analysis, were met with silence from the school leadership. I received no feedback on it.

The analysis which is below has been stripped of names that could possibly identify the school or any individuals.

Analysis of an analysis on why students fail their classes

The big question which I shall attempt to shine the light on and analyze is the following: “Why have so many students failed their classes, the previous school year?”

A factor which has been put to the forefront as almost the single, most important one is in a previous analysis by the school leadership at [insert random school name] is the teachers’ lack of ability in their professional capacity, especially with regards to specifically adapt the teaching and that teachers, among other things do not feel any responsibility for failed students. This conclusion rests mainly on interviews done with students who did not do well during the previous school year. However, it is not clear from the analysis what has been said nor what questions have been asked to get to these conclusions. The evidence is poorly formulated. Furthermore, it is not clear if the interviews were semi-structured (which seems most likely to be part of what implicitly needed to be interpreted), structured or entirely open. Additionally, there is no account of how many students who were interviewed, how many who said this or that, what questions were asked and so on.

Why is this problematic? Well, because less structure for the interviews means subsequently less reliability. Secondly, it has been proven that if an interview is done in front of a panel instead of a single person, this would grant the interview more reliability. There could possibly have been two people present as a kind of panel during the interviews but at a closer study of those, there seems to have been only one person conducting the interviews. It is not entirely clear how this is all laid out.

The reliability for the source material is in itself therefore of a substandard, since there has been no complement of other studies nor sources whatsoever. The actions and action plans which have been proposed lack evidence and timetable. What further makes the poor standard of the analysis, is the fact that the results are hard to separate from what the students are saying and what is being interpreted by the authors of the analysis. Are they conclusions of the results? What is the foundation for these conclusions? Many questions are left unanswered. Take for example what is said right below in the results of the analysis (not the conclusions nor discussion) section:

“There is a culture on the school which is that one (meaning the teachers) is not responsible for the failed students. It has been brought to light that one almost boasts about the number of failed students one has. “The collegial shame” is lacking. We who have done this analysis finds that also surprisingly few teachers ask each other for help, despite that they obviously have a hard time reaching through to the students. This is a culture which we will have to work for getting in place.”

How can it be so solemnly clear that there is a culture on this school that “one is not responsible for the failed students”? Due to the faulty presentation of the source material and the methodology, it makes it hard to see in any way on what grounds this perception rests. Is it all completely anecdotal? Or is it because the students said so, every single one of them and/or were there many students who said this, as in more than half so at least it could be said that a majority of the students asked deems this the case? The questions remain unanswered.

Do the students even know what is good for them?

The top basis of data on which the analysis rests are the interviews with students and parents. Asking them is of course desirable and worthwhile. However, the blaming of the teachers and the conclusions that were being drawn from these conversations does not hold up for much scrutiny. Especially, as learners usually do not know what is good for them. In particular and in tandem to this, there needs to be a holistic picture to be able to draw such conclusions. There needs to be data drawn from several different sources of input which are continually collected with validity.
This could probably look something like figure 1 here below.
figure 1

cycle of inquiry and action

This is just a small part of something which is a lot more complex really; it is about collecting data on the efficiency of an education. The following four categories of data should be used within education to get a more nuanced and extensive view:
1.) Input data, which is divided into two categories of character, namely teacher and student. The student character consists of the following descriptions and subsets of data such as demographics, former academic performance, student documentation which follows the students from transferring between different schools and native language. The teacher character consists of teacher competence, academic qualifications and professional experience.
2.) Data process, which takes place in the actual teaching, learning and processes of assessment – both inside and outside of the physical classroom’s premisses – such as lesson plans, method of assessment and the management of the classroom.
3.) Context data is about the school culture, the curriculum for the different subjects (including desirable outcomes of learning) and other extra curricular educational programs, the school’s HR, infrastructure and the financial planning which consists of: the school staff, buildings, software/hardware and expenses.
4.) Outcome data consists of the students’ successes in classroom-based formative assessments, homework, standardized tests and national tests. This also includes the students’ wellbeing, social and emotional development such as safety, support, respect for diversity and special needs. It is also about data regarding studies and work after graduation.

“[L]earners often misregulate their learning, exerting control in a misguided or counterproductive fashion and not achieving the desired result. This is due to (a) not having the necessary standards upon which to judge their learning state, (b) not having the necessary knowledge to monitor their own state in comparison with the standards, and/or (c) not being able to initiate the proper processes to change their current state when their behavior falls short of the standards (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996; Taminiau et al., 2013). The second problem is that learners often choose what they prefer, but what they prefer is not always what is best for them.”

In summary as previously stated: Students/course participants/novice learners are poor at regulating their own learning. They often choose what they prefer and it is not always best for them. All this is founded in lack of knowledge and ability to be able to monitor one’s own behavior and change it.
Another myth which is being peddled around within education is unfortunately the one about learning styles. The evidence for this is weak and has been strongly opposed for many good reasons. This is summarized as: “The individually preferred way of learning is often a bad predictor of the way people learn most effectively; what people prefer is often not what is best for them.” It would be better to instead trust oneself with cognitive ability with regards to working memory + new knowledge and cognitive load instead of what way is best preferred to be learning in.

The level of the organisation and the teacher

For a long time there has been a sort of truism within the world of education: no school is better than its teachers. All of that sounds fine and vaguely enough expressed to make it seem as if actually were true. Nevertheless, this expression is problematic due to a number of different factors: 1.) It lacks evidence (2007 McKinsey) 2.) A teacher is not an all-powerful ruler who will affect her/his subjects through all means in perfect detail and omnipotence. 3.) The only way to verify this claim would be to either try several “exceptional teachers” on several different schools with different kinds of backgrounds and see if, no matter the circumstances, they will still excel and perform admirably. Especially then at schools that are struggling with poor results. The other way would be if education and mankind’s learning as well as performance could possibly be sorted in to clear, measurable and moldable factors. These factors would then in turn have to be able to be affected by the teacher.

So what then should we do together, as a school?

If we were to use a checklist to look at the reasoning behind different actions and action plans, then Daniel Willingham’s specifically designed one for teachers is superb in this manner.

  1. What problem is being solved and what is the thought that this would be able to improve?

Answer: “Many students fail their classes. We need an education of what is actually part of the teacher’s job description. There is a lack of knowledge about what special adaptations are and that they are a part of the job description. We need the teachers to be educated in grading and assessment. There is on many levels a lacking of a holistic look on knowledge, instead the knowledge requirements are simply ticked off. The teachers must trust their own assessment competence and do more of continuous assessments of the students’ knowledge, trust in it and not demand that everything needs to be put in examinations on paper. We must get a culture where one asks for help and actively seeks other pedagogues to enhance one’s own practice.” That was the answer in the analysis to this question. Now, to the urgent question at hand, what are the evidence to support all of this and can clearly show that it will lead to betterment? Could it not actually also be about a devaluing of the worth of the grades?

  1. How will we know of this will work? How will we measure this success and when will we know if we are successful? How can we be certain of that there is a meaningful way to measure whether this will lead to something better than what has been done before? Since we gladly celebrate the new and change then there must of course be a better answer than “this feels right”.

Answer: No answer to be found, so that has forced me to extrapolate the implications of the analysis into the following: “The Swedish School Ministry says so, ‘kind of’”. Well, what we have done before is also something which the Swedish School Ministry has told us to do. How can we measure any of this? And if we are going to measure, is there not a huge possibility that this will lead to an increased workload? Who will be responsible for this? What other assignments shall be taken away in order for us to be able to do this?

  1. When will it be obvious that we have done the necessary improvements? Is there any backup plan? What kind of evidence do we have that it will work? When can we say that we have failed? It feels reasonable that we may know how this progress should be evaluated beforehand.

Answer: No answer.

  1. What will happen if the goals are achieved, or not achieved? If these initiatives do not go as planned, when do we admit to them no longer doing so? Will we adjust what we are doing? Is there any kind of backup plan?

Answer: No answer.

  1. What evidence are there which support that backing up this plan is a good idea? Where does the research come from? How certain can we be about the findings behind this? Is it classroom based, from laboratories or is it simply pure theorising?

Answer: No answer, apart from the implied “The Swedish School Ministry says so, kind of.”

  1. Are the expertise and the experience of teachers being acknowledged in the decisions?

If teachers are asked to test something which sounds weird then it is not enough to simply dismiss it by saying “All research supports it.” Where is all of this research? Show the basis for it. Teachers need to be provided with convincing arguments to ignore the evidence based on their own experiences.
Answer: No answer and no recognition of any teacher competency at all, in fact the very opposite, apart from the implied “The Swedish School Ministry says so, kind of.”

The teachers’ fault?

The thing is that if you put a certain teacher into a really good context with the right circumstances, then he/she will most likely have a better chance to achieve amazing results. If it is about the entirely wrong context and circumstances, then the teacher might still perform really well but this is the highway to burnout. There needs to be the right conditions and structures, but above all, a trust to build up a professionalism.
Most teachers can be good teachers with the right conditions and most teachers can also be bad teachers with the wrong conditions.

Focus on assignments vs. focus on knowledge?

Now is that even a thing? To even get a notion of where the student is in her/his own development towards the required knowledge and level of abilities will require points of assessing that ability. You can call these assignments, tests, examinations or whatever you like, but these points of assessing the quality of student work are still necessary. If a student does not do anything and if we do not expect them to adapt and work under pressure, then we are doing them a huge disservice.

Special/extra adaptations?

Of course, as teachers we always try to get to know our students well enough so we can adapt our method of teaching and assessing. But, according to The Swedish School Ministry, we also have the obligation to meet the needs of the students who are not challenged enough by our teaching. Extra adaptations shall take place within the framework of regular teaching and should therefore, one can assume, be possible to execute under these conditions as well? The thought was not that there would have to be additional time spent on documenting special adaptations. Besides, extra adaptations take place every day in every classroom.
But, there is an enormous trap lurking within this line of thinking: To only presume that if we execute these special adaptations, then the student should be able to keep up. The problem with working from such a premise is that it will eventually lead to that the groups as a whole will risk lagging behind. Human beings have more things in common than we would perhaps at times like to think. This is also true for learning. So, we start we the class as a group. I have seating plans which place the students at random in the classroom with walloping effects on peace and quiet with one class. I do not necessarily do this every time, but I have realized that especially in the afternoons, there tends to be some turmoil with certain classes. Another class which I have in the morning, I can be less strict with, more so because they are at large less troublesome.
These are but a few examples of what we all can recognize ourselves in: Obviously, we start with the premise of how learning happens and that in general, we are all more alike than different. We then adapt our teaching, our way of interacting with the students based in part on the groups of students we face in order to accommodate everything and everyone in the best possible way, as optimal to learning as possible, to the best of our abilities. The different factors which this is all dependent on also include, but are not excluded to: time of the day, the students’ mood for the day, our mood, our curriculum and many other factors.
What is then the thought behind all of this? No statistical evidence is presented for what we can do and cannot do. So, why not start then with some kind of evidence-informed reasoning from the simple case that if you do have a population of students to look into then it will be hard or truly measure anything by any sense of validity: “This is because the data is based on children’s results, and children are complicated and individual, and the school population in any given school is statistically too small to make meaningful generalisations.. “ (Didau 2015)
It goes on a bit more saying that:

“Maybe a bit more data might be useful. Except it wouldn’t because, for most schools, the data varies with the cohort, not the quality of teaching. [my choice of bold-letter text] […] There is no pattern. Unless a school consistently records 100 per cent, there never is a pattern for any school, in any historical data. This is because the data is based on children’s results, and children are complicated and individual, and the school population in any given school is statistically too small to make meaningful generalisations. The lack of a trend may be why the data isn’t presented over a number of years, because anyone looking at the data would realise that it is random. As any financial advertisement will tell you in the small print, past performance is no guarantee of future success. Long-term trends in something as complex as educational outcomes areunless you mess with the data by, you know, making the tests easier, selecting by ability or dis-applying certain children from assessment, or simply not reporting stuff – always random.” (Didau 2015)

So what is the question we are asking? The number of failed students? The school has had these students and let them go further into their programmes, even when they failed almost all previous classes. In a sense, this is what the school had to do, as by school law we cannot deny the students the right to their education (even though it is a ludicrous statement if there ever was one) The teachers have on numerous occasions brought the attention to the school leadership and tried to accommodate the students as best as we could to make some kind of change. Alas, it has been all in vain, as the stated reason has been: we cannot deny them the education they have a right to by making them for example dropping behind one class and catch up, since how could they possibly move on from the first year being filled with mostly failed classes and then all of a sudden “just get it” the next year?

How would one then go about turning around a school, according to research? First model, building a strong organisation with strong leadership.

There is no one-way for all action plan, so there will be a few propositions based on research and sound reasoning from the world of research in the different takes below. Firstly, let’s start with the most common-sensical drastic change where there are usually four steps that are mentioned in the world of educational research when the topic at hand is how to turn around a school from failure to success:
1.) Signal the need for dramatic changes with a strong leadership.
2.) Maintain a consistent focus on improving instructions. This shall all be upheld by the school leadership within the school in order to support the teachers as well as gathering relevant data from a number of sources to make it clearer, transparent and to solidify the impression of reliability of the proposed actions.
3.) Make the changes visible early on in the process. These improvements shall be clearly formulated and verifiable. It should be very clear that we are on our way to a tangible goal.
4.) Create a dedicated and engaged staff. It has to be pointed out, that while this is one of the more evidence-strong studies which have been made, they still get very low scores in terms of reliability and validity because there being too many factors at play all at once when dealing with such a complex thing as turning around a whole school.
So this is one take, so far so good. It has one of the strongest basis of evidence in the world of research on education, but still a very poor basis. Are there perhaps other ways to look at this? If you wonder then, where is the accountability of the teachers? How high in hierarchy of influence would we place the teacher’s role in all of this? We are dealing with the success of a school after all?

The second model, working with the culture and curriculum

First step: The school culture plays a huge role in school. Is it cool to study or is it cool not to study? The goal for most children is not to be a successful adult, but a successful child in that particular social setting this child finds himself/herself in. Depending on what kind of school culture there is in the school for the children, will of course heavily influence what is seen as cool or not cool. How can this then be achieved? There are a number of different steps for this, which are recommended in the world of research. What unifies all of them is that all of this has to be initialized and governed from an organizational level. Unfortunately, in the school, there has been no such leadership during this problematic period when so many students failed their classes.
The second most important thing is not the teachers, but what the curriculum is all about and how it is being followed (which of course the teachers partake in, but it should be done by the support of the organizational level).
But, it is also said that dedicating time for general competencies such as 21st century skills (widely criticized among others professor in educational psychology, Paul A. Kirschner) should not at all be prioritized. What should be prioritized are the subjects in school and not some kind of umbrella of general competencies or skills, which by the way would still be coming along nicely if the curriculum and the subject-domain knowledge of the students develop! If schools focus on the curriculum and the subject-domain knowledge correctly, then also the “weaker” teachers will be better and the “best” teachers will be even more amazing!
In third place comes assessment. This also requires an awareness on an organisational level which makes it possible for the teachers to continuously develop their assessment. Equally important, there has to be a consensus on what assessment is supposed to do and what it is not supposed to do. This of course encroaches on to the territory of the teachers’ competence, but as the other two aforementioned pillars, the teachers are not responsible and cannot possible be responsible for this. If the school does all it can in order for it to find a meaningful assessment of achieved successes of the students, then the teaching will inevitably become more efficient. We cannot measure progress in a way which is either reliable or entirely valid, but we can say much about achieved successes.
When then all of these three factors are in place: the culture of the school, the right focus in the curriculum and correct approach towards assessment. Then, and only then, can we talk about the quality of the teaching in the school.

Why this discrepancy? Answer: Cognitive biases and lack of knowledge

There have possibly been a number of honest mistakes, partly dependant on cognitive biases that we all are subject to on a daily basis, but which nonetheless are not as forgiving when it comes to putting the blame on teachers and what direction the school should take based on this. Some examples which can be found in the analysis are the following: Availability bias. We have a tendency to put too much weight and focus into the information which is available, so much so that it blinds us for other factors. In the case of the analysis there seems to have been the case of not incorporating other sources other than of course the aforementioned dissatisfied students and occasional anecdotal evidence.

Now obviously, as I previously stated, this ground of evidence is in itself not bad, on the contrary, but it cannot be the sole basis for such grandeur conclusions. Besides the fact that it is naturally a part of something within the Swedish education system ever since 2015 – when the School inspection (like OFSTED) and the School Ministry started to create and act on directives regarding special adaptations as well as specific support. What was measured was on the big whole the number of students who passed courses and not so much how that happened. It also misses looking at the long-term consequences pertaining the student’s maturing process and independency, among other things. The terms specific support, extra adaptations, leadership and stimuli and so on are not so easy to keep track of. The Swedish specialized blog in this particular area, specialpedagogen.blog, summarizes effectively what the core of the thinking behind extra adaptations and aforementioned terms was:

Try not to focus on whether what is done is an extra adaptation or not, the most important thing is that the student gets the chance to develop her/his knowledge and that we follow this in a formative process. What we call it is less interesting than whether it has an effect on the student’s learning and the school’s development of guidance and stimuli, that is to say, successful teaching.

This is however not a part of the analysis. It is not clear what is meant by adaptations and extra adaptations. Neither is there anything which in any tangible way prompts the conclusion below.

There has been a view, which is that if the teacher delivers teaching and the student does not learn, then it is the student’s problem. Very rarely is the reasoning about the group and the teacher’s teaching. “How can I change my teaching so that the students will learn?” “When I now see that several students do not learn, I need to change my teaching in accordance with the assessments I do of the students’ learning.” (From the original analysis, my own translation)

Many questions arose when I read this the first time: How do the people behind the analysis know that this is the case? Through interviews with the students? Would the teacher perhaps be reasoning as such in front of the students about said questions? This was unknown to my colleagues and I. This is not of course expressed in any curriculum or job description. How is it clear that this reasoning which is being prompted did not happen between colleagues? Whose view is it that we are addressing? It is expressed as if it could be everyone. As can be clearly demonstrated, there are extraordinary claims which are being made, even though they are being done so with inadequate indices which are supposedly what are the basis to this.
This leads us to the next and perhaps most dangerous faulty reasoning in its consequences: Result bias, which is about that if we assess a decision dependant on what led to it and not the situation and the circumstances when we analyze a problem. There was not any kind of recognition or admonition of the objectionable and tumultuous organisational circumstances around the teachers during the particular period in the analysis. In other words, it was only seen as such that the teachers failed with x amount of students and whatever decisions or circumstances that were behind this was wrong. In this case the teachers were blamed for not having adapted the teaching enough.

But, if the situation was such that the decisions the teachers made were such that the teachers tried to do the very best possible with regards to the circumstances? Teachers worked in accordance with the competence and directives that were given, even though this was lacking from the leadership. The turmoil was understandable and explainable due to some chaos within the school leadership at the time and organisation changes, but none of that was mentioned in the analysis. It was not mentioned that the support structure around the teachers were all but made of plywood, it was essentially just set pieces.

Why then is this particular bias so dangerous? Well, because this can and will deter teachers from trying something new. If you make the wrong decisions even though you possibly could have known or made the right decision, then you will always at the end be blamed for this, you and you alone. This chokes effectively all propensity to try something new – or for that matter dare to talk about your own vocational worries with your school leadership. It is instead a manner of play which should take place in teaching. Where emotional wellbeing is the Alpha and the Omega. Motivation and comfort are poor proxies for learning, by the way. And may God have mercy on your soul if you ever say that you have made no adaptations. Then it is entirely your fault.

Next, confirmation bias, which is about how we only search for the information which confirms our own presuppositions. Other than simply being satisfied with a cold conclusion from the students’ testimony being painted in broad strokes over the landscape painting, there are such statements which had no trace of critical thinking or analysis whatsoever which the authors reached as a conclusion.
Last, but not least, we have the clarity bias, which is to say, that we focus on what is most prominent with people or situations. An example from the world of education is in a school in England that presented results for its staff. This result implied that girls were doing better on average than boys in the school. The interpretation of these results from the school leadership led of course to that this difference mattered in itself and there had to be something to do about this immediately. A teacher decided to scrutinize the results, as there were no proper statistical foundation for how these results were shown. The teacher ran through a lot of data and factors to see how well they correlated with the students’ results.
These variables were

  • Sex
  • Free school meals
  • Previous schools
  • Results from Key Stage 2 English/maths/science results
  • Results from Key Stage 3 English/maths/science results
  • Reading age
  • Student attendance
  • Teacher attendance
  • The need for special support
  • English as a foreign language (EAL)

All of these had a correlation with how well students did in school. The most prominent factors were student attendance, teacher attendance and the results from Key Stage 2 English. Some similarities with regards to the analysis can be seen: 1.) A factor is put forth independant on the other factors. Sex as the main factor in the analogy and the teacher in the analysis. 2.) No “secure” statistical grounds of evidence, or evidence that support the conclusion. One source, one interpreter, uncertain structure and so on.

What then affects a school’s results, according to meta research?

So, what affects a school’s results? Hattie’s summary is updated on a yearly basis. In it, the teacher is one of the most prominent factors of success in education. But, and this is a huge but, it is not the only one. And, this is a big and, such meta studies and summaries without the proper analysis risk being misunderstood and read as there only being the teacher who is the sole most important factor. For an untrained eye which has no scientific inquiry as a main interest, nor the tools to address this critically, it is an easy conclusion to reach and stay there in the line of reasoning.

What is important in any case is the student-teacher relationship. That is all true, furthermore, what has to be taken into account is that it is hard to get a positive relationship with a certain number of students during a limited time. A teacher needs time with his/her students. A teacher needs a solid foundation to stand on. A school needs routines. A school needs leadership. A leadership which supports and alleviates the teacher to perform his/her mission. This has not been found during the time that the analysis focuses on. Furthermore, some students have changed teachers on numerous occasions during their time in the school. How will the teachers who are left be able to supplement this on their own? How can we ask for help if there is no time or possibility of this?
It is also important to regard the following with Hattie’s meta studies: 1.) They are taken as a method directly from research within for example medicine. This area of study has variables which are easier to control and isolate when the studies are done. In the case of education it is impossible to isolate variables and do any kind of research which is reliable in the one or the other area. Of course, the case of RCT will help in case there are correlations. But, the amount of studies replicated that are published is astonishingly low (around 0.13 % or so). It will in the best case scenario provide a very unclear piece of the puzzle of the complex whole.

2.) As just mentioned, a study has shown that less than one percent of all research which is being published is replication studies. A majority of these (68 %) will successfully replicate the same results as the original study, but if there is another research team than the original one who is doing the replication studies, then only 54 % are being replicated successfully.

3.) As if that was not enough, the effect size which Hattie uses is problematic. There are of course gains to be found by having meta analyses of huge studies. However, this should not just be read uncritically and without the understanding of the limitations of Hattie’s methods. An overhaul which has been made regarding his methods, by a professor in statistics and mathematics as well as a professor in education, yields the following, very unflattering description of Hattie’s work:

“In summary, it is clear that John Hattie and his team have neither the knowledge nor the competencies required to conduct valid statistical analyses. No one should replicate this methodology because we must never accept pseudoscience. This is most unfortunate, since it is possible to do real science with data from hundreds of meta-analyses.”

There is no unit known as the unit of education. It is not clear if we read Hattie’s research without these very important caveats: critical thinking, understanding of research methodology and the problem of effect sizes. This could lead to us easily being swayed to believe two things: it is only about using formative feedback to students and class sizes do not matter at all.
Without any objective kind of measurement – or at least measurements from different data points – it is very hard to in any serious way put forth an exact analysis. It is therefore crucial to be nuanced and analytical in one’s proceedings. The research from pedagogy, psychology and medicine will help to triangulate – together with the research and knowledge about human kind and learning – there will be a possible pathway through the muddy marshes to get to probable explanations. To simply proclaim one factor as the ruling one is in itself dangerous.

What should we do then?

What can then possibly affect students’ academic results? There is a plethora of answers which naturally places how well the teachers work with the students and what makes good teaching. There is often something which is overlooked in this reasoning, a very key detail which is common sensical: The attendance of the students have a direct correlation with grades. In the previous analysis there were in no way any presentation of data regarding the attendance of the students who had been failing classes. Attendance certainly affects grades. Among other things one can read from a report on schools in Chicago:

“High schools in Chicago have shown substantial success at getting more students on-track in the ninth-grade year by monitoring students’ grades and attendance closely and reaching out right away when students fall behind.”

In substantive respects, it is this which is suggested in the original analysis, which is that we should map out students who are in need of support. This is all good thinking but it is not entirely the teachers’ fault. There was no such possibility earlier and there were no such initiatives from the leadership. Furthermore, a lot of the contact in the role as mentors were being put on the teachers, who would get in touch about issues, which were then if possible, being pursued whether the student needed something more. A lot of time had to be spent to call home, send emails and actively seeking contact with the students, which could all take up a lot of time of one’s workday. That was still not enough. There was no recipient to our concerns, nor any leadership which would put through and follow-up on initiatives regarding the students. The calls could help at times, but other times not at all. There was no plan as to any consequences on student behavior, or at least it was not implemented.
Thus, the same thing which is said above is shown in the following excerpt from an analysis with regards to the importance of attendance affecting the academic results of students:

It is easy to lose focus on supporting students’ academic behaviors, with all of the changing demands around curriculum, pedagogy, and assessments […] figuring out why students have low grades and poor attendance, and addressing those issues, is essential to establish an engaging classroom environment with challenging instruction. Otherwise, the bestplanned lesson falls flat. Getting students to be more engaged in their classes—coming every day they are not sick, turning in all assignments, and putting in their best effort—is what matters the most for their later outcomes.

So, no matter how good the implementation is in classes, it will not matter if the students are not there. Naturally, this is not the one and only considerable factor behind success in school, but it is a large, contributing factor which helps to paint a more nuanced picture as to the number of students failing classes. Some studies have shown that it is in fact possible to already at an early stage, in September, to spot which students are at risk for the rest of the year, in the case of the correlation between attendance and academic results.
The next factor which makes a difference: special adaptation and special support. There was a structural problem and not a problem which should be pinned to the teachers, where there were no coherent nor clear routines as to what to do with students in need of adaptations. Teachers and mentors warned many times of students that were and were not in school. There was a conference every term for every class. In those conferences, we talked about our worries, put forth where there were concerns and tried to implement different actions from there. However, no one seemed to be on the receiving end, as it came to be only a teacher question to do something about this.
This leads us to what really should be done to make sure that there are fewer cases of having to do special adaptations and extra adaptations and so on. Namely, provide the school and teachers with structure and routines. This structure and these routines will make the teachers and students feel safe. If there are no clear structures or routines, then there is no solid ground to stand on.

How do we move on?

The proposed changes from the at large deficit analysis rest on unsteady grounds. The teacher colleague has essentially been introduced to extra adaptations and special adaptations as a sort of magic bullet which will solve everything. There is however, no plan from the analysis as to in how these steps will be implemented. A simple analytical tool from the professor in cognitive psychology, Daniel Willingham, helps us to see if this is something constructive. Before we get to the checklist, Willing believes that if we teachers are going to change our practice, then we will need to be convinced and not ordered. So how do we move on? What steps should we take? The following is suggested:

  1. What is the problem that is going to be solved and what is it supposed to improve?
  2. How can we know if this will be successful?
  3. When is this improvement expected to be visible?
  4. What will happen if the goals are not achieved?
  5. What evidence are there which support that we should spend time and resources for this improvement?
  6. Are the teachers’ expertise and experience being acknowledged? Are the teachers part of the process?

First teachers in Sweden? Not if they are supposed to be exceptional. Using Dylan Wiliam’s summary of the Danielsson framework et al. to support this.

Another perfect example of a selective reading of science, especially from the government.

Click here to see the full PowerPoint presentation by Dylan Wiliam

So, if you have missed out following Twitter for some time then you might want to consider this one: yes, it is in fact correct. It takes 11 consecutive years of faulty, biased and flawed, eschewed data to see some kind of point.

What makes a good teacher? Well, we know a lot about that actually. But, here is the kicker: we don’t exactly know how to tell whether someone is a good teacher or not. I mean, sure we think we do. Okay, I get it, you are not convinced. That is actually good, I did not expect you to be at first. So, here, let me present to you the reasoning behind Dylan Wiliam’s ideas (Wiliam, 2015) :

In this essay, Dylan Wiliam reflects on the importance of upping the expertise of teachers. There is a lot of talk about Wiliam’s other work in Sweden, but very few have actually ever read this, nor really, I think, pondered the implications of it. Why do I dare say so? Well, because the Swedish School Agency (Skolverket) had the brilliant idea to implement a new career path for “particularly skilled teachers”, namely, first teachers (förstelärare). This has been active since 2013, so yeah, sure, Wiliam’s summary was not available at its creation, but the other findings were. Was this a problem? Yes, because, you guessed it, if there are first teachers, what are the rest then?

Second-hand teachers? Grunts? Not as good? Now, please get me right, I am not writing this because I am mad for having been turned down such a job (even though I actually have been turned down my one and only application so far for it). It just boggles my mind how this has somehow gone unnoticed. I will get back to this grudge, *coughs*, I mean, this reasoning further down, but for now, let us go some of the thus far, accumulated reasoning and evidence for Wiliam’s point.

Firstly, there is the main difficulty of really knowing you have done your job: time.

“As John Mason has noted, “Teaching takes place in time, but learning takes place over time” (Griffin, 1989). What may appear to be effective practice when observed may not lead to longer-term retention.”

Then, secondly, there is this line of reasoning where he goes into how much of a difference there is between the most effective teachers and the least:

“The best currently available observation systems, such as Charlotte Danielson’s (1996) Framework for Teaching, do predict student progress – if you are taught by a teacher rated as “distinguished” you will learn 30 percent more than if you are taught by a teacher rated as “unsatisfactory” (Sartain et al., 2011). But the best teachers are 400 percent more effective than the least effective (Hanushek and Rivkin, 2006) […]”

So, case closed? I guess… Right? Someone that the kids like will make all the difference and that’s the end of that, I suppose? Like, obviously since there is a noticeable difference, then surely we must be able to see it? It would be so, if not for the fact that there are a few aching problems, namely, because, even with that sort of gold standard of measuring the best teachers, it still falls short:

“[…]which suggests that the Danielson framework captures only around one-tenth of the variation in teacher quality. The idea that some teachers are 400 percent more productive than others may seem to be at variance with the fact that only 7 percent of the variation in student achievement is attributable to the school, but the distribution of teachers in the system is fairly random, so that all schools have a broad mix of more effective and less effective teachers. More observations would, of course, probably improve the relationship between observations and student progress, but Hill, Charalambous, and Kraft (2012) estimated that using observations of practice to produce ratings of teacher quality with a reliability of 0.9 would require seeing a teacher teaching five different classes and having each lesson observed by six independent observers, which would probably be unmanageable across the system.”

I am not sure if you just don’t grasp or don’t want to grasp this revelation. I’ll spell it out clearly what it at face value means: figuring out teacher quality is a waste of time and money.

So what’s next then? Throw all notions of quality out and replace it with a postmodern system filled with no actual values or targets? Hell no! I am not sure if you just don’t grasp or don’t want to grasp this revelation. I’ll spell it out clearly what it at face value means: figuring out teacher quality is a waste of time and money. Let me develop what this in fact means when we go further with William’s presentation: figuring out who is a good teacher and who is bad is a waste. But… Improving teacher quality is always a win! However, you won’t clearly see the impact of such improvements because of the first point.

Wow, mind blown…

We got ourselves into a big, whooping rabbit hole. I don’t know about the status of other countries’ teacher career paths and improvement plans, but, here in Sweden, that is totally causing a massive 9,9 earthquake, bottoming out and erasing all of the groundwork which the Swedish school system is currently resting on, with regards to special jobs as a “first teacher”, as it is called.

The first teachers are exceptional teachers with exceptional results who are appointed by the school leadership. There is no transparency as to how that happens or any kind of quality control. Also, as mentioned in the previous point, in case you had forgotten, it takes 11 years to see whether someone is a good teacher or not. How long would it take to see if someone is exceptional then? Oh, you are still on about the earthquake? I meant that figuratively.

Yes, I sure do, I might seem a bit too literal at times, but this time? No.

Measure or don’t measure? The critical, knowledgeable and humble teacher.

The following post below is a major oversimplification. It is narrative which is perhaps not known, nor shared by all. I will simplify a lot of points and be “a bit” reductionist. Okay, honestly, I will really reduce a lot of complexity into two fields while also missing a lot of the overall historical narratives and other complexities, etc, etc. I will bring up racebiology and postmodernism for example, with regards to some extreme opposites.

Psychology and philosophy

So, why do I insist on doing this? Well, what it looks like is that there are two camps of psyches, two different persons, two different archetypes at play here. On one hand, we have the part of us which is aware of the fact that there is something more, something intangible than just mere numbers of humanity. The hope, the feeling, pathos-based archetype, which includes that if something feels right = then it must be right! On the other hand, there is this kind which hopes to measure, to make aware the points where we need to look out, where we can improve and measure. The psyche which is inclined towards logos, towards logical thinking. It is not easily swayed by other things but facts and logical reasoning.

Where does this stem from? Well, to be honest, if we look into the whole deal of different personalities using e.g. The Big Five, then it is apparent that there seems to have always been some kind of differences there between people. Much like the ones who are leaning progressively and/or to the left and those who are conservative and/or to the right on the political spectrum.

There was an important and yet fundamental break in the way we were thinking that happened some time back: I am of course, mainly referring to the whole idea behind what can and cannot be measured, i.e. the break between psychology and philosophy. Now please get me right, I do not claim to by any means have a full grasp on all of it, this is merely an attempt to shed some light onto some of the old perspectives which seem to, at times, be at war with one another.

I am also, fully aware that pedagogy has been its own discipline in its right, ever since the first professor position was established in Halle, Germany at the end of the 18th Century. But, what I mean to shine the light on is philosophy and psychology in their relationship towards pedagogy and the consequences of them.

Roughly speaking, it could be said that Psychology is the measuring, and Philosophy what cannot be measured. Psychology attempts to persuade through logos, whereas Philosophy tries ethos. At this moment you might be thinking “Well, what the hell does that have to do with education?” And, yeah, rightly so, good question there. The reason why this is in fact something to consider is that policy makers, headmasters, teachers, parents and students seem to be divided into two different types of thinking. Perhaps it could have to do with one’s perspective of life and some kind of archetypical personality?

For quite some time philosophy seemed to be a part of pedagogy. And for some time later on, the same for pedagogy and psychology. Then, there was a break between two latter, the break being somewhat more distinctive and noticeable in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Even though philosophy and psychology took a break from pedagogy, it didn’t mean that they were left entirely to their own devices.

Racial biology, or eugenics, and the consequences

There was a clearly problematic perspective which was a very dominant force: the whole idea of hereditary factors making up human beings. Eugenics, or racial biology, which was used all over the western world, and in other parts too, but mainly in Europe and North America, clearly was a problematic perspective. This didn’t become clear enough until the rise of the Third Reich and Nazi doctrine. After World War Two there started to be a break, a self-reflection for the entire world of science, especially with regards to human beings.

Now obviously, what followed is understandable and in some ways regrettable too: many made sure to really distance themselves from any kind of hereditary factors being at play when shaping a human. Please, please get me right here, I am not in any way advocating for racial biology, nor am I in any sense saying that the hereditary factors are the number one factor. I am merely saying that when such a perspective that entirely looks at the individual and its environment as the one and only factors, there is sometimes something we miss about human beings. Yes, people have ADD, Autism, ADHD and so on for real.

There are, of course, biological factors at play which one clearly cannot just simply dismiss by saying that if the parents were only taking better care of that child, or if the kid would just shape up and be normal, then all would be good. That is clearly problematic. And please get me right, someone who does have the need for assistance should get it, the environment should be changed to accommodate the individual so that he/she can grow, be challenged and become as strong as he/she ever can! I mean in no way either that anyone who is diagnosed is a lesser human being, the value of a human being is something we should never ever take away.

After this tirade, I hope that illustrates how to this very day, even mentioning a biological perspective is problematic. I have to bombard you with a tirade of caveats and explaining myself, perhaps a bit too much, just to make sure that you don’t see me as some kind of elitist racist.

After racial biology, or eugenics, followed distancing from hereditary factors

In the post World War Two world there were two perspectives that gained a lot of ground: In North America, the focus tended to be towards the behaviorist side in how to deal with children and people, whereas in Europe the psychoanalytical perspective gained a lot of ground. The behaviorists believed that behavior is a result of how one learns through conditioning. The psychoanalysts believed that human behavior is a result of how the person has solved a number of inner conflicts regarding sexuality, especially in relation to the individual’s parents.

Both perspectives seems on the surface level to be very different, but if we go deeper into the principles which govern such thinking, there is a markedly clear similarity in them: they both assume that all are born equal and that we are affected by certain factors early in life, which will then shape us as individuals.

There was, however, another added perspective onto the European side, a work of postmodernism and anti-capitalism which gained a lot of ground in how we view human beings, namely critical psychology. The starting point for this theory is that behavior is a result of how one has been affected by living in a capitalist society.

Fast forward sixty years, into our 21st Century, where you have had these different types of approaches as the groundwork for the outlook on human beings. You will have had millions of people going through school with these different types of approaches, each with their own individual experience. You will have had hundreds of thousands of professors in pedagogy, who all went through the education system like this. You will have had politicians, parents, headmasters and teachers.

On the way, there have been many people from outside these camps who have tried to clearly show how we learn and why, without some kind of ideological standpoint behind it. Without some dogma, without some doctrine. We should of course not forget about them. Neither should we forget about those teachers who did their best, ignoring the doctrines and instead aiming at knowledge as the absolute goal, knowing fully well that they could at least impart some knowledge in the best possible ways that they could conjure up.

The problems and how to deal with them

So, what are the problems then? You see, some have adopted some type of postmodernist approach, while others think there are clear measurements to be made, some type of imagined scientific, enlightenment-type of approach towards the whole ordeal. Lean too much towards the postmodernist side, and you’re left without values and any kind of clear grounds of evidence. Lean too much towards the evidence side and you might miss to question the numbers and the evidence themselves, while also missing the whole point of that everything actually is very complex and at best you might be able to just catch a glimpse on the wonders of how to interact with your students.

Obviously, you can tell I’m an advocate for balance. So, the easy answer is that you need balance. You have to be critical, knowledgeable and humble at the same time. Critical with yourself, with research, doctrines, routines, ideas that for some reason go on even though there is no evidence nor clear logic behind them. Knowledgeable, because you will face all of these people who lean too much towards the one side or other with their own ideas. You will have to stand for your own work, your own ethos, your own meaning. You will have to answer them and yourself why you do what you do. Humble, because, at this point, if you’re even somewhat knowledgeable, you will know of the Dunning-Kruger effect and how if you know something really well, you also know that there are many unknowns, many more than you thought at first. And yes, you will find them in yourself and all people around you. But, don’t forget about yourself.

So, yes, easy answer, hard job. You have to analyze. You have to sift through all of the bullshit. Within your own grasp, contemplate for example group work. Why do you do it? Should you ever do it? What is the scientific consensus so far? Do you have solid facts or mostly just emotion backing it all up. Speaking of emotions, perhaps you were so alert as to see that I didn’t mention pathos before? Well, obviously it belongs in school too. It’s been said that we buy into a point of view through emotion, or pathos, and further dig down by rationalizing our stance through reason and logos. You don’t know how many times I have so wished that I could just sway people’s thoughts and directions through logic. Maybe you have felt the same way too?

It is hard to change people’s minds, but, there is one important thing which we should not forget: We might not change people, or their minds, but we might get them to adapt to the thought of other possibilities. It is, in fact, already something that you do, and that you have been exposed to yourself throughout school, work and your own personal relationships in life.

There is a need for solid discussions to be had

We have to talk with our colleagues, we have to dare to question our practices. This should not be seen as questioning your person, but as a way to growth and truth. To talk is to think out loud. To write is to try your thoughts outside of your head as well. You try your thoughts and if they do not work out, then you will have to change something. That sounds rather simple, right?

Unfortunately it is not. We get so personal if we are met with critique and at times so cold about how others deal with the rightful (in our minds at least) critique that we give them. This is of course a very old and not in any way unique observation:

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 7:4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 7:5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” – Jesus, in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. 

We all love to point out others’ mistakes, especially of people whose world views differ from our own. More so, we are more than happy to correct anyone who we deem unfit, and who cannot see the beam in his/her own eye. In essence, just as in Jesus’s words, we are all faulty. So, if we are all flawed then we need to talk. The very idea of the free word is what has pushed education and thinking ever onward to new heights in terms of discoveries and progress. Although, naturally, the cost is also that there are a lot of stupid, loud, popular and simplistic ideas that have also taken a hold of education and the policy makers, teachers, parents and society.

Ideas such as learning styles, multiple intelligences, digital natives and multi-tasking (all of these are complete humbug just so you know) and many more. These perpetuated myths lead to dangerous oversimplifications and misgivings which all risk to infect and push education backwards.

Believing that there are learning styles which fit your kid or your own idea of what is best for you when you learn, is simply not true. But hey, let’s play with the thought that somehow this is true, that there are learning styles: As a novice, you usually overestimate your own expertise and knowledge, which subsequently leads to you not being aware of your own shortcomings or how to learn something, because you actually do not know how to learn something which you do not know yet. Sure, you might actually be humble enough to understand that you need some kind of guidance, otherwise it will be you yourself wasting a lot of time trying to figure out the next steps entirely on your own. It turns out that learning in general works the same way for most of us.

So, there it is again, the case for some kind of conversation and quality control. This cannot occur in isolation. We need to talk to one another about what we are doing, why and what we might see as unfit. Yes, we will most likely disagree at one point or another, at least I hope, because if we do not, then we will miss our shortcomings and they will all go unchecked. We will continue to believe in dangerous myths ourselves. If we are going to start getting the trust from our students, we also have to trust ourselves to help one another out by questioning our own practice as teachers. This can only be done by actually daring to talk to one another about what we do, and do not, understand.

Somehow, almost instinctively, there are times, at least as I have gotten older, where I have realized that I should just shut up, even though I at that moment wished to speak. There are also plenty of times when I have not spoken, and lived to regret it.

So, we know that we should not always speak at all times. And we also know that we cannot always be silent. But still, thoughts need to be tried out in order to be able to sort them. They still need to be weathered by the outside world. Tried and tested. We cannot do this on our own obviously, as a lot of the time we are wrong, or we are not just that broad enough in our own scopes. First, let me lead you into all this by using a quote from F.S. Fitzgerald:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

In essence, this is just to simply challenge your points of view. You might be wrong, but the only way to find out is to try your ideas. Put them up to the test. Filter them through qualitative means, i.e. be scientific about it! This idea is not unique either. There is a similar quote from Aristotle:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I have long meditated on those thoughts of great minds and realized that I have what I think is my own (although I’m probably mistaken about this) take on this: “I have to hold at least two competing ideas in mind and entertain several other poignant thoughts, without necessarily accepting them, otherwise I would not be able to function.” And yes, before you tell me, I am aware of the double-think quote from George Orwell. But, there is a major difference here: double-think clearly means that you hold two opposite thoughts at the same time, believing both are equally true. That is not what I am doing. I am still cutting, scraping and scrutinizing those ideas, giving some more weight, when that’s more appropriate, due to the evidence and logic presented alongside those ideas.

I want to establish some common ground here:

  • I am interested in ideas about learning and what makes up the human experience. So, debate me on those ideas and not on the basis of some privileges that need to be checked.
  • I fully recognize the ambiguity of knowledge and that things are frankly complicated and very complex.
  • I will get a lot of things wrong. Please let me me know when you think that happens and base your points on facts and logic, not the feels.
  • I am not in any way original.
  • I am not an exceptional individual or teacher. I don’t mean to say this in a self-deprecating way, but rather as a plain factual statement.
  • The ideas and facts that I put forth might very well be wrong, misunderstood and all too simplified. Sometimes that’s done on purpose, and other times it’s not. Please let me know if you have any thoughts on that.

 

With all of this out of the way, let’s get into a lot of fascinating discussions on education!

The Importance of Education

Let’s get the discussion going!

Education for teh lulz?

Whenever I think on the importance of education, I cannot help myself drawing upon the titans of the past. What did for example, Socrates, say about the state of things? Well, in a sense, I think he sought to educate, to explain about the current state of the world, where things should be understood and preserved, as well as scrutinized and molded into something better for society.

Ancient Greece, yo!

In Ancient Greece, the meaning of the word idiot was to only look upon the need of oneself and not the good of the people. To favor the short-term gains over long-term stability and care. If it even was he who did so, since the reason why we know about him is because of Plato.

Connection to Logos

And in turn, if Socrates had ever indeed existed and been as wise as he was portrayed to be, it is also likely that he also stood upon the shoulders of titans past, as they are known to be pre-Socratic themselves, and chiefly Herakleitos was one such huge influence – where Logos was used to describe human knowledge and the immanent order of the universe.

This use of Logos was in turn of course (and if you for example have encountered a Jordan B. Peterson you would know this) a precursor to the Bible (through Logos, God creates the world, through speech that is) and Carl Jung’s concept on the collective unconscious.

The same goes for Nietzsche, Hegel (both of whom also referred to Herakleitos and Socrates) Thomas of Aquino, Montessori and so on and so on. Obviously, there are many more than these people. 

Their ideas were different in many aspects, but there was a unifying element: They were all standing on the shoulders of the titans of the past and they were all improving what they thought needed improvement and sought to preserve and make sense of timeless messages to a contemporary audience. There is also a German word for this phenomenon – Bildung

Bildung, huh? Shut up, Fritz! Jk, jk.

“Aber was ist eigentlich Bildung? […] ein Wort von Hegel: Bildung heisst sich die Dinge von Standpunkt eines anderen Ansehen können.” (Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Vortrag aus dem Jahr 1990: “Die Vielfalt der Sprachen und das Verstehen der Welt.”)

Loosely translated this would mean that in the words of Hegel, Hans-Georg Gadamer says that Bildung =  literacy, cultivation, learning, formation, education (yes, the German word does cover all of those key elements of education alone) is being able to consider subjects from another’s standpoint. This is what drives me when we talk about education. The Swedish word “bildning” is not so far away from the word as it is in English, which has probably made it a lot easier to assimilate this idea of education for me.

See, education is not something isolated, in fact, it has to do with every fiber of our being: your habits, your thought patterns, your ability to change, to be critical, to integrate into society, to dream, to hope, to speak and act in the world.

All of this is natural and unnatural to us all at the same time. You will learn through your entire life. You educate yourself and others, for example your children and other people in how to act; you educate others on how to do things and how to think, how to express oneself.

We spend our formative years in school and depending on your experience and recall of that time, you will have very different viewpoints on the whole matter. Furthermore, the whole idea of lifelong learning makes it matter even more so.

“[…] a few main points which are important to consider[…]”

There are many reasons as to why any individual should ever be educated. I am not going to mention them all here, but I will divulge a few main points which are important to consider:

  1. If we look way back into the times of Ancient Greece and other great civilizations, the main purpose was to raise proper subjects and rulers of the nation, that as such would represent the families’ clandestine interests and also the interests of the nation. In this era of mass education, the main goal has long been to produce such a citizen who is a subject and actor as a citizen of the nation. In these globalized times it could also very well be argued that these citizens are also representatives of the nation in the world. We could go even further in this meaning, in saying that through this collective unconscious and Logos, the subjects are all actors in one great play of mankind’s progress.
  2. The first point leads onto this second point: Education upholds, withholds and grants privilege, depending on the subject’s position. This power to be and act in the world is not to be played with.
  3. Education has its flaws, a lot of them. And there are those who fail education, individuals, states, families and the world. There is this urgent need to fix the problem of inequality in the world and the great hope of education as the savior of all mankind. This leads us all into very simply going for some high, moral ground, where all change just boils down to a few points and then all will be good. “If it only were run in my own self-professed cure for the cancer of the disease.”

So, Doctor, Doctor, gimme the news! I’ve got a bad case of the education flu.

Alas, such a thing is of course not unique. There are many actors who claim to have the cure for the disease. Some of these cures and diseases are real. Some of them are imagined. This creates a full-blown mess of course. There is a need for a synthesis of all the good from all kinds of different perspectives and I’ll let you know more about the general deal in another blogpost some other time (hint: it’s about conservative, social and liberal perspectives). 

It’s all the politicians’ fault! It’s all politics, I tell you!

Is the whole field of education so politicized that it is impossible to ever achieve any steps forward onto true achievement? Perhaps it is. I do not know. I have thought about it extensively and I cannot seem to reach any other conclusion: education is politicized and its hemorrhage bleeds through all possibility of any success in the way of making people educated.

You see, if education are in the hands of politicians then it is by default in the hands of ideologues, not the educated and professionals themselves. And so, as the institutions are politicized, then by consequence, all of those professionals (myself included) are ipso facto permeated with this politicization.

We are the problem?

Furthermore, where do you think the politicians come from? They are also of the people and of the people’s interests. So, this quagmire of knowledge, semi-knowledge and different ideologies at play, is by no means a simple task to handle.

“But, are there no means to counter this? Are there not such movements that can swing the pendulum into a perfect balance?” You might very well ask if we ponder also the counter-movements (there are plenty, not just some kind of imagined, glorified and haloed intellectual dark web of “truthsayers”), then obviously, there’s a great risk that things will turn into an imagined clandestine turf war of intellectual discourse, imagined and real.

There is plenty of research and a multitude of knowledgeable individuals who all have done a great deal of research and can clearly show their work. It is my hope that this reach could perhaps far outperform those prevailing, trailing misconceptions which on a daily basis keep on ruining education.

So, where do we go from here? I don’t know. I am a simple man and I don’t have the answers. I do however, have this wish to scrutinize and change what should be changed and to preserve what needs to be preserved. Because we all stand on the shoulders of the titans of the past, forgotten and vividly retold alike.

I hope to not be a self-serving idiot, but rather a servant of Logos, to speak and act out in so far as possible the immanent meaning of the universe and of human knowledge. Education is to cultivate what is, what has been and what could be. It is to form, to preserve, to scrutinize, scrape, cut, build anew from great materials of the past and leave behind the scrap metal.

There are many great researchers out there who do this work every day. They grind hard and look through all available material, meticulously. They are diligent, hard working, analytical and only try to seek what’s best for the sake of it and not for fame.

The contemporary titans will save the day!

Names such as Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul A. Kirschner, Casper D. Hulshof who wrote a great book, called Urban Myths about Learning and Education, where they had a critical glance at some of the common mistakes that continue to go through the educational systems of the world and what research says about these common myths.

There is David Didau, the creator of one of the most popular blogs on education, thelearningspy, who has written thorough, well-thought through books on the subject of education as well, such as What if Everything you knew about Education was wrong? And What Every Teacher needs to Know About Psychology.

There is the Center for Evaluation and Monitoring, run by professionals such as Robert Coe, who all try to improve and get together a lot of great research for teachers to use. The list could go on and on, because there are a lot of honest, truth-seeking professionals who all seek to improve modern-day education by first of all, coming to grips with some hard-swallowed truths, such as the fact that there are of course no such thing as learning styles or multiple intelligences.

Therefore, to know how to properly educate and how to be educated, will clearly make a significant change in people’s lives. Please let me know what you think in the comments below! What’s your take on education? What’s your take on my take on education? :p