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The Incoherence of the Incoherence: How the Profession Copes with Stupid

In The Incoherence of the Incoherence Ibn Rushd’s brilliant rebuttal of Imam Ghazalis pivotal Islamic text The Incoherence of the Philosophers , the central arguments lies with orthodoxy, faith and philosophy (or science as it would probably now be known).

Employing Hellenistic logic, Ibn Rushd attempts to de-construct Ghazali’s critique of science, and defence of Islamic orthodoxy. It would be somewhat less than honest, if I pretended that I understood all the arcane arguments nor would I wish to compare the rumblings and mumblings of an organisation like OFSTED with the debates of the great Islamic scholars. Still Ibn Rushd’s conversation with Imam Ghazali’s defence of orthodoxy somewhat reminds me of the current state of education.

I suppose most of us are now aware of the problems that OFSTED has created for itself. Essentially it has been peddling gibberish masquerading as pedagogy. I will call the knowledge generated by OFSTED as “the stupid of education” or just stupid for short, in the absence of anything more aptly descriptive to describe it.  I think most, including its leader Michael Wilshaw now accept that fact.  That argument has passed. The debate needs to progress onto how OFSTED can make itself meaningful. A future BLOG in the offing methinks.

In this BLOG I want to explore how the profession manages to integrate evidence defying orthodoxy into what I would describe as the stream of meaningful practice (tip of the hat to Schutz), with, I would suggest anecdotally, a compliance rarely seen in other professions. In other words, how does the “stupid of education” exist within practice.

In a previous blog, The Others Who Just Know,  I outlined how pedagogic knowledge is generated external to teachers by: policy makers, politicians and research experts. In this blog I want to talk about how practitioners interact with that knowledge. Some may recognise the work of George Herbert Mead here; “I, me and the generalised other”.

The ” other” is the knowledge that exists external to us, through time and space as language and symbols. The “me” is how the individual interacts with that knowledge whilst the “I” engages with life as it unfolds in the everyday. The question is how does practice manage knowledge, which often,  it doesn’t believe in? I would use learning styles here as an example. Does anyone really believe that there is a causal relationship between the performance of an individual learner and a learning style? No, because teachers would have noticed fairly quickly if there was. And yet it is still taken seriously.

So here is my assertion that the social “me”, interacts with pedagogic knowledge generated by OFSTED but the individual “I” ignores it and, as such, it has no impact on practice. Of course that is not to say that teachers aren’t aware that they are dealing with stupid, they most certainly are, but rather that the education system has to find a context for stupid that makes it seem meaningful.

I describe it as the incoherence of the incoherence. In other words concepts that are incoherent find a meaningful context. They remain incoherent but the discourse that emerges can sound plausible. This is the role of educational managers but more of that later. I mentioned Vygotsky’s view in a BLOG recently that we think using abstracted  conceptual tools. This aspect of cognition is essential to cohering stupid.

So here goes. This is an example, which I hope is illustrative of my point:

The cohering of Incoherence

Teaching in the sixth form is good because teachers use a variety of resources, including multi-media clips (Ofsted Report: Bushey Academy December 2013)

In this quote we find classic incoherence. It find some measure of coherence because the phrase “multi-media” clips is itself is an abstract phrase. It represents nothing in the real world. We can impose whatever meaning we will, onto it. If I replace it with:

Teaching in the sixth form is good because teachers use a variety of resources, including YOUTUBE clips (Ofsted Report: Bushey Academy December 2013)

It doesn’t works as well. No one is going to be impressed with YOUTUBE. So the abstract nature of the construct and its lack of real world representation helps. In other words what is a multi media clip? If you think about it even the essential concept is meaningless. How can one clip be multi-media. Ok, so I guess there are arguments to suggest it can be but you get my point, it’s a pretty random statement. The meaning of the phrase multi-media clip in this case is, I would suggest, “now, modern, good and technical expertise” in no particular order. So the quote now becomes:

Teaching in the sixth form is good because teachers use a variety of resources, including (practice that is) now, modern, good and (shows) technical expertise (Ofsted Report: Bushey Academy December 2013)

The second type of incoherence is something that sounds like it makes sense but doesn’t, visual learning is a classic. I have sat through hours of professional development where a highly paid senior leader, one fingers his way through the worst power point you’ve ever seen only to land on the one interesting page, it has an image on it, and pronounce. I had to put this in “ I am a visual learner”. I mean that explains everything doesn’t it? Well no, it’s complete gibberish, but it sounds plausible, so why not?

The context of incoherence

Having established conceptually incoherent constructs a context has to be found for it. In this case, it’s the frameworks, observation protocols etc of educational orthodoxy. The symbols of pedagogic power that emerge from incoherence, gives validity to meaningless concepts.

The construct “multi-media” clips exists because there is a complex and sophisticated hierarchy actively enforcing the incoherence and giving it a meaningful context. Just imagine, we exist in a profession where legions of people are paid in excess of £50,000 for simply making stupid, plausible. No, really it’s true, think about it.

The Discourse of Incoherence

So the discourse of institutions becomes concerned with; observations, professional development, statistics and the like simultaneously engaged with and ignored by teachers. The “me” and the “I” working separately but in tandem simultaneously manage and ignore the stupid. So the causal relationship between learner and learning style exists in institutional discourse that becomes meaningful in the context of that discourse. Of course viewed through the prism of pedagogy or research its gibberish or VAKuous as one educational researcher described it.

The “me” engages with the discourse of the institution whilst the  “I” engages with the stream of meaningful practice in the classroom. The two have no purposeful relationship. Educational management squanders time, energy and precious resources in an ongoing conversation with a watchdog, in this case OFSTED, that is not fit for purpose, meanwhile practitioners exist in a schizophrenic existence managing the pointless discourse of the institution and the generalised other,  whilst their teaching practice is sidelined and ignored wherever and whenever possible.

It’s an extraordinary state of affairs but fundamental to it all is our ability to accept high level cognitive conceptualisations at face value. Or as staff room wags would say, Multi-media clips, my *rse! Equally meaningless but we get what they mean.

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