Teaching isn’t about being on the right team

Don’t be too sure that your view of education is the only right one, says Phil Beadle. You will miss the usefulness of what other people have to say and “become blind to the truth of things”

In early February 2006, I wrote an article that concluded “cod” psychological inventories such as learning styles were “a set of crutches for the indolent of mind”. Coming two years after Frank Coffield had constructed a widely respected demolition of the same, it was a tad tardy, jumping aboard a non-existent bandwagon.

The month before, I’d enjoyed a respectful public debate about “multiple intelligences” with Professor John White – he was against; I was broadly for – but we both acknowledged the theory was the (flawed) product of one person’s mind. In the same year, I invented a thing called Brainless Gym, in which teachers were required to place their hands on parts of their bodies to improve laterality or whatever and simultaneously locate both their arse
and their elbow.

I think little of the articles. They were written out of self interest. I wanted the world to congratulate me on an ability to see through windows.

An interested teacher is an omnivore

I am not alone in my habit of making confident assertions; it is comforting to be certain. But certainty is often under-nuanced and can lead to intractable ideological positions: ones from which we draw conclusions based on collective beliefs.

Such ideologies can have the tenor of religion. In dismissing ideas because they are espoused by people with whom we generally disagree, we may be right, but we miss the usefulness of the other’s position and become blind to the truth of things.

For instance, in rightly dismissing learning styles as fallacy, we miss the fact that practitioners might have applied them merely as a useful totem for ensuring students did not have to subsist on a pedagogical diet possessing only one element.

In properly understanding that “multiple intelligences” was just one of a number of theories of intelligence (some of which are still fashionable, but won’t be in time), we lose it as a prism with which to alter students’ view of themselves as underachievers.

In laughing at any word that starts with the prefix “kin”, we write off the entirely innocent idea that having students engaged in some bodily activity might help to cement learning.

In short, if we focus only on that which is approved, we render our toolbox more paltry than it might otherwise have been.

We fall into this error by assuming the moral superiority of our own position to that of those who inhabit contrary (or complementary) positions.

People on either side of the debate are too ready to throw around offensive stereotypes claiming the other side does not care about the wellbeing or academic achievement of children. I do not believe this of either side, but wish we were free to take our influences from where they ring true, without there being a pogrom against unacceptable ideas that writes off the intellect and professional judgment of many teachers.

While I might, for instance, wonder whether there are kids at Michaela Community School who want to be left to eat their lunch without teachers asking them clever stuff, their policy on equipping kids with the cultural capital of having read a series of novels from the canon is enlightened and – with the proviso that those novels come from a range of sources – should be rolled out to every school.

While I might wonder aloud whether evidence-based practice is having any real positive effect on student experience, I note gleefully that the intellectual level of the curriculum is travelling upwards. An interested teacher is an omnivore and the usefulness of the ideas is key, not the ideological purity of the source.

Every generation thinks it invented sex. But “being right don’t [necessarily] make you true”, and checking first who said something before we engage with the veracity of what they have said is merely evidence of the desire to be a minor footnote in a forgotten report about the right side of history. It is rather too base and binary a position for anyone with half a mind.


Phil Beadle is a teacher and author, most recently of Rules for Mavericks, published by Crown House 

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