Sunday, June 22, 2014

The stick by which to judge rants/opinions/claims about education

These days it seems that there are always heated arguments and debates going on about things in the world of education. In particular primary and secondary education. In particular (or at least what I notice most), about mathematics education.

I spend my life studying mathematics education. I don't do it because it's a really heated conversation topic right now. I don't do it because of anything political. I don't do it to have a louder voice in education debates on facebook.

I do it because I'm passionate about teaching young people mathematics. I do it because our society's new illiteracy is quantitative reasoning, and that's not acceptable. Reading illiteracy is no longer acceptable, but somehow we (as a society) are still okay with people "just not being good at math". I'm not satisfied with that. And so, I study mathematics education.

I've been thinking a lot about people who I believe sort of get sucked into one way of thinking or another, and don't seem to do a lot of thinking for themselves when they're in the middle of peoples' rants/opinions/claims about education.

And so, I give you this:

The stick by which to judge rants/opinions/claims about education

Anybody claiming to be an expert is not. Anyone claiming to have all the answers, in reality, has very few answers. A true expert will never claim to be one… never claim to know it all or have all the answers. In fact, they will be the very first ones to admit that they don't know it all, don't have all the answers, and are always trying to become better. 

As a side thought... there are many studies that have shown that to become "expert" at something, it takes 10,000 hours of diligent study/practice. So, anybody claiming to be an expert because they've been to a few meetings and formed an opinion? Hardly.

Anybody making lots of claims claims that certain things are true or false, does not know what they are talking about. True experts will say things like "this is a really useful way to look at these kinds of situations" or "this way of thinking is a productive way to get these kinds of results". In the world of education, they will never claim that something is "truth". 

For example, if you ever hear "constructivism is true" or "their awful constructivist ways of teaching", that person does not know what they are talking about, does not understand the concept of constructivism, and should not be your source of knowledge.

I have never known a truly educated educator to attack others. Truly educated people (particularly in the field of education) are always seeking after more knowledge, more understanding, and more experience. They may critique (perhaps harshly) particular ideas or beliefs, but they do not attack people. If you ever see someone attack a particular person in an education-context (teachers, a group of educators, people from a particular institution), be very wary of the accompanying claims.

The lay-audience will be able to understand what an expert writes in a public setting. Nearly every educational expert will be able to (and will make a point to) target their intended audience, and explain things in such a way that the audience can understand. In particular, they will not feel the need to throw around weighty words to sound like an expert. 

On the other hand, people who pack their rants/opinions/claims with jargon and field-specific language when speaking to an audience of lay-people, are merely trying to sound impressive. Ironically, when their rants/opinions/claims are read by those who have actually studied that field, the words are rarely used correctly and often reveal clear misconceptions of particular topics. Whenever people start throwing around words to sound smart, like "constructivist" (or perhaps even making up words to sound smart, like "educator-centric"), steer clear. Those who know will explain things in a way to help you understand. Those who don't know have very different goals. 

A final thought: 
Anybody seeking knowledge about a particular topic should pay careful attention to what sources they are relying on to influence their opinions. If your main sources of information aren't credible (e.g., research published in top-tier journals) or made of official information and documents, then it is quite possible that you don't have adequate information to form your own opinion. If your only resources are extremely biased or opinion-based sources, you do not have access to the whole picture (no matter what these sources tell you). 

If you want to learn about a country, do not use the news as your only source of information. If you want to learn about a particular religion, do not use those who are openly against that religion as your only source. If you want to learn about a particular educational way of thinking or movement or standard, do not use the news and oppositional literature as your only source of information. 

Spelled out like this it seems obvious, but in practice people rarely act accordingly. You should learn as much as you can from official and credible documents, from experts in the field who have spent hundreds of hours researching the matter, and then think for yourself-- don't let others' loud voices dictate what you think. 

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts. I'm hardly an economist, but the econ department chair at BYU is an education economist and I attended his course; it was all about how economists view education. Here's what I remember from the class: (1) Those in charge of education tend to 'try' lots of new (and expensive) learning programs without any prior evidence of success. (2) Education should be reformed by principles, not theories (e.g. many real economic studies and clinical psychological studies show the huge benefit of a good, educated teacher; therefore we need to invest in better educated and capable teachers) (3) We don't have alot of data that proves how to improve education. However, those in charge of education reform need to pay more attention to the data that they do have.
    Extra credit: Here's a question from my final test in that course: "The cost of a college degree has risen exponentially in the past few decades. At the same time, the demand and supply for college degrees has also risen. In other words, the college degree seems to be gaining more and more value. However, experts agree that the test scores and education level of college graduates is lower now than in previous years. Furthermore, they agree that college graduates seem less prepared to perform at a professional level then in years past. Explain: (and then we somehow had to come up with an answer to the far the hardest and most interesting test question I've seen).