On experts and teaching

That George Bernard Shaw quote – “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” – follows teachers around like a malevolent hobgoblin. Clearly the best teachers are those who can also ‘do’. My take on it is this: “Those who can, do – but they shouldn’t dabble in education unless they can also teach”.

This sentiment arises from the recent incursions into curriculum development by the historian Niall Ferguson, who perhaps does not realise that he is exposing himself on every front, through bad judgement, lack of knowledge of education and the kind of entrenched prejudice that has no place in good historical practice.

Here is his ‘Comment is Free’ article in the Guardian, “On the teaching of history, Michael Gove is right”

Here are the highly critical letters about the new History curriculum in the Guardian the same day.

Here is an article in the Observe, detailing opposition to the new History curriculum and criticism of Ferguson for supporting it. “‘Old school and old-fashioned’: historians turn their fire on Gove.”

This reminded me that Denis Brain, the late, great horn virtuoso was renowned for being a very poor teacher – even though his father Aubrey was a great teacher (and my ‘horn granddaddy’, in that I learned from one of his pupils). Denis’s assertion that blowing a note on the horn was like trying to spit a hair off the end your tongue is clearly tosh – no brass teacher would dream of saddling a child with such a poor technique. There is also a story that two friends visited him while he was teaching a young player at home. Cascades of brilliant playing poured through the music room door. When the pupil finally left, the two friends commented on the brilliance of his playing. Denis replied, “Oh that wasn’t him, that was me showing him how to do it.”

Niall Ferguson is trying to show us how to do it. It says much about the type of minister Michael Gove is that he is supported by people who think in this way.

There is no quicker route to bad education policy and bad practice than having the curriculum and its teaching practices formed and enforced by people who, however expert they are in their own fields, know nothing about how education really works. There is no worse way to introduce new policy and practice than by dictating it from on high without consultation or preparation. There is no worse situation for a teacher than trying to work with a curriculum which they do not and cannot respect. Teachers and educationalists know this – Ferguson does not. Gove – a politician in a hurry – does not know and does not care.

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Published in: on February 19, 2013 at 12:55  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reblogged this on Simon Smith and commented:
    I have been trying to avoid posting things about general education, as a School Governor for the last decade, and current Chair of Governors, I see at first hand the fantastic work that goes on in schools, and the effect that constant legislation can have. In general I will keep my thoughts on Mr. Gove and his like to appropriate forums.
    I am, however, re-blogging this, the excuse being that we can apply the lessons purely to music.

  2. Excellent article voicing a very present concern.

  3. Hear hear, Lady Eff.

  4. This is a bold and cogent account. Why is it that English and Welsh education seems always to be run by opinionated ignoramuses (ignorami?). This “choose which expert to listen to” trend is simply confirmation bias: “you tend to come up with a hypothesis and then work to prove it right instead of working to prove it wrong. Once satisfied, you stop searching.” (http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/). Well, Gove has stopped searching and everything he is doing is based on his own personal experience, bolstered by carefully-chosen academic yes-men who are without expertise in the actual field.

    (Interestingly, I find that having just read the book of the You Are Not So Smart blog, I have developed a much more vigilant attitude to my own confirmation bias – we all have the tendency!)

    • Thanks Rosalind – I’m clicking the link right now…


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