Whatever happened to individuality? Why are we so scared of people not fitting into a recognisable, comforting box of our own design that we feel compelled to design quizzes, tests, skills audits and questionnaires to force people to fit into constructs of our own imagination? And why, after ‘building’ such constructs, do we merrily label ourselves according to our learning style, teaching style, form of intelligence or preferred blend of coffee?
Educators, as far as I know, are reasonably bright, therefore I would hope, reflective, critical and self-aware people. Yet I know of no other industry or sector as that of education so willing to pigeon-hole teachers and students with relentless head-down, arse-up passion. As soon as another dusty, bespectacled academic decides that teachers are either dolphin or panthers (or some other mobile phone tariff), or that we are aural, visual or kinaesthetic learners, their thinking becomes reified as the new black in education without question.
But isn’t it actually dangerous to look at our class list, see that we have a majority of supposed ‘visual learners’ in our class, then teach a curriculum to their preferred style, ignoring the fact that in the real world nobody really gives a toss how you prefer to learn? By mollycoddling, aren’t we actually un-preparing our learners for the world outside of the educational institution?
Let me step back a wee bit – this is starting to sound very black and white and a little ‘ranty’.
I do admit to thinking that we all have different forms of intelligence: some people are more practical than academic for example. In my Teacher Education days, when talking about Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (for years I’d ignorantly refer to him as Howard Marks by mistake, then wonder why my students would snigger and mumble about ‘Afghan Black’ and ‘Lebanese Red’) I could see exactly what the revered Dr Gardner was saying: Take 50 people with the same IQ and some will be better at maths, some at languages, some at music, some at construction and some at unicycling. These broader brushstrokes do serve a purpose: roughly defining who you are without the need to constrict you, put you in a box, stick a label on you then move on to the next specimen.
As humans, we seem to have an almost primal need to brand ourselves as ‘visual thinkers’, ‘left-brain thinkers’, ‘dyslexics’, ‘left-handers’, ‘dolphins’ or ‘reflectors’, so as a result, as soon as another theory of learning is published it becomes doctrine without challenge. If we, as teachers, are supposed to be so bloody clever and critical, why do reify without question anything that certain people say? (Though I am waiting with baited breath for the day that Geoff Petty suggests all Further Education lecturers should wear day glo green because the colour makes students better behaved. Education’s cry won’t be ‘but how can you prove that and doesn’t this all sound a bit mad?’ It’ll be ‘What shade of pink should we wear Geoff?’)
Steve Wheeler is, amongst other things, Associate Professor of Learning Technology at Plymouth University and a genuinely nice bloke. In his blog, Learning with ‘e’s, he posits that ‘the teacher’s worst enemy is bad theory’. Because someone with the prefix Prof or Dr attached to their name has suggested something, we should not accept it without question. Instead, maybe we should do just the opposite and question it before accepting?
Actually, that’s one of the reasons I left Teacher Education. I could no longer espouse this stuff (Wheeler refers to it as ‘folk medicine’), nor could I really continue my habit of locking the classroom door and saying ‘all that stuff you’ve been told about learning styles is crap’, as mavericks cannot remain mavericks for long (as I found out)…