An immersive art

May 23, 2013

One can only support the broad thrust of John Furlong’s piece on the dangers facing educational academia (“In pursuit of the truth”, 2 May). Probably the main difficulty facing this field is that many onlookers in politics and the media assume that its problems are fairly shallow. They regard good teaching as a practical knack, and organising it as a piece of cake.

Such views are mistaken. If education is to be effective in the 21st century, it needs to take into account profound changes in human cognition produced by digital technology, the disintegration of previous norms of culture (the work ethic, the virtue of patience) and a level of linguistic, social and attitudinal diversity among school cohorts unlike anything known in the past.

But first, educational academia needs to get its act together and recognise the size of the task it faces. A change of gear is required, up to the level of intellectual rigour needed. There has been far too much pussyfooting about managerialism in education, a howler of equivalent proportions to Lysenkoism in biology.

Too much credibility has been given to the simplistic nonsense that so- called evidence-based education is the answer. The underlying assumption here is that good teaching is a technique that anyone can acquire if they learn from the “right evidence”.

The trouble is that in its main essentials teaching is not a technique. It is much more a whole-psyche art form (as mime is a whole-body art form). Factors of the greatest potency are involved here - the clarity of society’s values, the clarity of an institution’s values, the clarity of a teacher’s values, the implied inclusivity needed to win over today’s diverse student groups.

Chris Ormell


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