Saturday, April 22, 2023

Martin Hanson: Evolution of the educationist

Extracts of a speech I gave on my retirement from King's College, Auckland in 2006. 

As an ageing biology teacher, I find it interesting to look at the creatures in the education business from the evolutionary point of view. The ancestral species, from which all the contemporary ones have evolved, were the schoolmaster and schoolmistress. Both occupied broad ecological niches, which in layperson’s language means they were multi-talented, taking two or three sports, producing plays, conducting orchestras and running debating — and all that on top of imparting knowledge in the classroom.

Though they have been driven to extinction in most schools, such paragons still exist in some 'elitist' schools where they are generally still held in high esteem. Elsewhere, however, they are only to be found as fossils in rest homes.

Evolving from the schoolmaster and schoolmistress was the teacher. This became the dominant species, until pupils discovered — and began to exercise — their rights. In response, many teachers relinquished their defensive armour and evolved into a new species, the slippery, soft-bodied educator. From the educator evolved an even more boneless and worm-like form, the facilitator.

Facilitators regard any form of authority with horror, and many do their best to divest themselves of it by asking their pupils — who had evolved first into students and most recently into learners — to address them by their first name.

The most jelly-like species has evolved as a slimy, mutant derivative of the facilitator, known as the educationist. Though most educationists hatch out as facilitators, they can’t get out of the classroom fast enough — some after as little as a couple of years — before bolting into a peaceful refuge such as a College of Education, NZQA, or the Ministry of Education. No sooner has an educationist escaped from the real life of the classroom that she undergoes a rapid metamorphosis and enters a world of make-believe.

Educationists are rarely seen in the open, preferring secluded habitats such as under stones, where light and fresh air rarely penetrate. They have a strong preference for each other’s company, and on those few occasions when they have been observed in their natural habitat, can sometimes be seen licking one another in unusual places. So rarely do they mix with others that inbreeding is inevitable, with all the attendant deleterious consequences.

Another distinguishing feature of educationists is that they use eduspeak. Though no one can understand it, it has one essential rule: never use plain English when pretentious, vacuous waffle will do.

It is interesting to note that the distinction between teacher and facilitator is not as clear as one might suppose. Many teachers adopt a protective device called mimicry, in which one species adopts the appearance of another. Thus, in private conversation, a teacher may refer to a particularly obnoxious pupil as “a little bastard” or, in the words of an ex-colleague of mine, “the quintessential slimeball”. However, when speaking on the record, that same teacher mysteriously transmogrifies into a facilitator, referring to the malefactor as “a student with behavioural difficulties”.

The difference between teacher and educator can best be illustrated by a certain gentleman who, before he departed some years ago, was a no-nonsense type who taught my younger son, so I’m privy to some of his unorthodox pedagogical techniques.

Not for him the wiffly-waffly, feel-good-about-yourself, College of Education garbage. One item in his toolbox was to draw a small circle at head height on the whiteboard, on to which the wretched offender had to place his nose, and keep it there for the rest of the lesson. Nowadays this teacher would be whisked off to a re-education camp in the Chatham Islands run by some humourless PPTA obergruppenf├╝hrer.

Another pre-educator approach was to use boys as living models. A geography teacher at the school where I was a boy had a novel way of illustrating folding in the earth’s crust. He would place his hands on the forehead of a boy on the front row, kneading his scalp like dough to produce deep furrows. Nowadays it would lead to a charge of assault, but in those days it was seen for what it was — an entertaining way of imparting knowledge.

It’s New Zealand’s tragedy that starry-eyed educationists are now running the show, and in this connection I can’t resist one last stab at the whole incestuous lot of them. I’d like to quote a couple of paragraphs from a two-part article in the New Zealand Science Teacher, published in 1993. The author is one of the top brains in the New Zealand education industry — she must be, because she’s an Associate Professor, and for many years was one of the biggest cheeses in science education.

In Part I we read the following literary gem:

"Planning was done by the research project teachers who took into account students' thinking in their teaching. Their planning was different to what they would normally have done, and overall it involved planning the unit of work and the teaching and learning activities to take into account students' thinking. They had a goal of the students learning some science and they planned their teaching to enable this to occur. They planned teaching, learning and assessment activities to find out what the students were thinking, to get the students thinking and to respond to and interact with students' thinking."

Hanging with bated breath on every word of this intellectual tour de force, readers had to endure an agonizing wait of several months before they could savour the delights of Part II, in which they were treated to even more profound insights:

"The teachers on the teacher development programmes, as part of the research project, were encouraged to take into account students' thinking. One aspect of this was the responding to and interacting with students' thinking. To do this, the teachers had to create the opportunities to do this and then to actually do it. Both facilitation of students thinking for themselves and telling and explaining the science were aspects of teachers responding to and interacting with students' thinking."

My first reaction as a taxpayer was that over the last 30 years or so it must have cost well over $2 million in today’s money to keep this particular educational guru in employment. What about paying teachers — who do actually earn their crust — a bit more?

But then I got to thinking. It is precisely this kind of drivel that drives parents to send their sons and daughters to private schools. With every new outburst of educationist nonsense, support for private education zooms upward. Indirectly, the professor and her fellow educationists help pay our salaries. Rather than roasting the educationists, perhaps we should be toasting them.

So, I ask you to charge your glasses and drink a toast: To educationists!

Martin Hanson is a retired King's College science teacher and author of school textbooks, who now lives in Nelson.


David Lillis said...

Unfortunately, Mr. Hanson is right on the money - especially about two of our education agencies.

Having worked in one of them and interacting extensively with the other, no surprises that education is circling the drain.

Derek Mackie said...

Full of ascerbic wit. My preferred method for imparting knowledge, laced with a good measure of sarcasm and withering scorn....I think! Or do I think that? I'll have to think about it.
Oh for an educationist when you need one, to facilitate my thinking.

Robert Arthur said...

Great stuff. But any hint of comment along those lines would end career today, and get you cancelled in retirement. Another haven for educationists would be the Teaching Council. The 1993 NZ Science Teacher article, whilst not exactly profound, is at least fathomable. Today the language would not be. I note the word pedagogy, an early precursor of education speak, and which must have befuddled more parents than any other in the language, was already well established in 2006. Assuming someone very brave and immune to cancellation, imagine what such a speech along those lines would be like today with all the mandatory te reo and other maori twaddle begging for ridicule. But with colonist humour now killed off (Tremain and Bob Jones excepted) little chance of.

Anonymous said...

Very good, thanks Martin. Of course you will be aware that the current parlance o9r eduspeak of the educationists is now vastly more sophisticated and woke with words like "akonga" and that when learning arithmetic (yes, we're talking youngsters), they should be “encouraged to interrogate dominant discourses, including that maths is benign, neutral and culture-free.”

Something of a shame the gallows are no longer socially acceptable.

Gaynor said...

In 1983,'A Nation at Risk', a US government report concluded that their state schools seemed to be designed by an unfriendly foreign power.NZ schools now should be considered in the grip of the same hostile ideology ie extreme Progressive Education. This was largely but not entirely the brainchild of John Dewey set out in his 50 books. His main idea was that schools are for socializing children through how they work and play together. Taking over the minds of education departments,teacher colleges and teachers this idea included plans to transform schools away from a cognitive, intellectual and knowledge base.
Hence the evolution of the school mistress and master of traditional education as
Martin so ably describes. All this was to fit Dewey's ideology with facilitators
being the inevitable product of constructivism . This means somehow, magically with little effort the child would naturally absorb the Knowledge they required.
Obviously quite absurd.
The biggest enemies in our state schools are those in charge of them.They are obsessed by the worst aspects of Progressive Education.