Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph posted a particularly scathing article about school education in Australia, quoting Australian curriculum reviewers, Professor Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly, both of whom apparently are ‘dismayed’ by the “progressive new age” fads that are invading our classrooms.
Wiltshire is quoted saying,
It’s a good idea to have self-discovery but kids need to have knowledge…The teacher should be up the front, not up the side. This is the problem”
And Donnelly apparently said,
‘our schools suffered due to the fact that many teachers and administrators got their tertiary education during the “flower power” era. “Kumbaya hits it on the head”
I call it ‘edutainment’ … teachers instead of teaching become guides by the side.
“You don’t need to go back to the 1950s but the pendulum has moved too far towards ‘care, share, grow’.”
There were problems with the article. The fact that 86 teachers in NSW public schools were put on ‘improvement programs’ in 2014 is used as evidence of the poor quality of the profession. What they fail to point out is that this number represents only 0.18% of the 49 000 permanent teachers who were employed by the NSW government in 2014.
Neither Donnelly’s nor Wiltshire’s criticism of modern teaching methods were backed by evidence. Wiltshire provided one decontextualised anecdote, and Donnelly resorted to cheap name calling. Hardly grounds for any reasoned discussion on education.
But what irritates me more than any of that is the way Donnelly and Wiltshire are held up as experts on education, and therefore what they say carries weight.
From what I can see, neither Wiltshire nor Donnelly could be considered authorities in classroom pedagogy. As a former English teacher, Donnelly is more qualified and experienced than Wiltshire in that area, but are either of them expert or knowledgeable enough to be making such damning pronouncements about current teaching practice?
They are expressing opinions, as we all do, but their position lends them a weight and authority that I think is being misused.
So who are the experts in education? Who are the people we should be listening to?