In honour of Hallowe’en, I’d like to spend a moment talking about zombies.
What I’m referring to here are horrible, shambling, disjointed things that, though they were put in the ground years ago and really ought to be dead, keep popping back up to eat people’s brains.
Yes, the Zombie Idea is hard to get rid of. We in the field of education see more than our share of them, probably because our realm of expertise is so heavily controlled by people who have little or no background in it. A Zombie Idea is usually one which is ideologically based; these are particularly tough to eradicate. Though studies are done to find out the reality behind certain ideas people seem to want to have about education, and the results are often as decisive as a shotgun blast to a decaying head, you can bet that within months or even days, the Zombie Idea will lurch back to life and pester you, forcing you to have to deal with it all over again.
In the field of Law, there’s such thing as precedent. Once something is accepted as being true, it takes something really extraordinary to rehash the debate from zero. The Nuremberg Trials, for example, once and for all put into the ground the defence of “Following Orders” and committing atrocities. Nobody can get away with that crap anymore. Any lawyer trying to shough off his clients’ guilt by claiming that they were following orders today won’t get his case heard seriously in court. We know it’s not a reasonable defence. We’ve been through that, already.
I started this blog because I didn’t feel like there was enough of a conversation going on about education. I definitely am strongly against the curtailing of free speech. But there comes a time when ideology trumps evidence, and old ideas are brought out, dusted off, and set to work gnawing at our brains for the umpteenth time since whenever. Merit pay for teachers will separate the wheat from the chaff! More homework for students will increase their academic success! Teaching kids about sex will just increase their chances of STDs and pregnancy! We need to grade students in order to motivate them to do work at school! And on and on.
All of these ideas sound plausible. “Someone should check to see if that’s true!” is a good response to something that has an air of plausibility. You would think that we’d hear that response more often. But there’s news: we checked. They don’t work. They never did work and they never will work, for reasons that are complex, interesting, and fundamental to the process of learning. They are just, plainly put, wrong. Smart people, using good testing equipment and procedures, have examined the evidence and found that although they sound good, they are just not true.
And that should be that. From there, we ought to be able to move on and find out why things that sound like they make sense turn out not to be the case. We might learn something about reality, for instance. Instead, we have to slog through the same mud over and over again, every time some ideologically-driven wingnut decides to use our profession as a hobby horse. Education may be a political football, but even footballs eventually make their way down the field. I’m stunned by how the debate went during the last Provincial and Federal elections. Facts seem to matter little. Ideology forces many people to ignore them even if they are reported.
I’d like to call here for a much stronger system of parameters for the education debates. I’d like for the ideas discussed to be based on evidence. I want policy to be evidence-based, above all. And I would like a process of precedent to be set up in the public conversation, where we don’t have to explain absolutely everything from scratch, every time.
Sadly, as long as the field of education remains in political hands, and as long as the antiquated hierarchical system within schools is not replaced with a more democratic system wherein educational leaders are elected from among teachers and researchers, this won’t happen. It’ll just be my ideology versus the zombies’ ideology, swinging back and forth every election.
Braaaiiiiinnnnnnsss! Whhyyyy don’t we uuuuuuuusssse theeemmmmm???