The Rise of the Stupid Teacher and Blogger

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In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels describe Capitalism as being a state in which “All that is solid melts into air…” Where new products replace old and new ideas ride on these products backs, a system in which all is replaceable man by machine and machine by man…

Fredric Jameson refers to the post-modern period that we may still be living through as being born from ‘late-capitalism’ where the grand narratives of the past melt into air to be replaced by a ‘universal logic of the market’. Instead of relating to the means of production through a job for life, late capitalist humanity is shaped by how and what it consumes.

Jean Baudrillard wrote about how “commodity and signs merge in the implosion of the real and everything becomes part of the hyper-reality of the media age.” This dystopian place where all that might be true is undermined by its impermanent throw-away nature.

From ‘I think therefore I am’ through ‘I work (in a factory) therefore I am (working class)’ to ‘I buy, therefore I am…’ life is now a dressing up basket in the present tense. All that was once solid, has melted into air. In all walks of life the breaking of boundaries, fluidity, means at first sight freedom, freedom away from the grand narratives but it also means a loss. Grayson Perry said that: “…all the art I love is quite traditional, and so even though I can intellectually engage and even appreciate some of the more expanding field of art, I still am more emotionally attached to the old thing.” This desire for something to mean something, to be recognisable, categorisable is something unbridled capitalism takes away from us, especially when allied to technology that accesses it all. Perry, again: “After a lecture once, I had a student come up to me and she said… “How do you decide what to do your art about?” And I was like “Oh …” I said, “Well” – and I was sort of struggling to say something – and I looked at her hand and she had her iPhone, and I said, “Well I didn’t have one of those.” Because she has every image, access to all information in her hand. When I started, I had none of that and I think it’s a challenge for young people today.” This is akin to what Stuart Hall called the: “Maximisation of individual choice through personal consumption.” Or what, in the Rocky Horror Show, is idealised as: “Don’t dream it, be it…”

This accessibility to everything, allied with choice to be anything, allied to a philosophy where all narrative is oppressive, leaves us without values, without ideology, without the means to understand anything about humanity and our world, beyond that of a supermarket checkout, or worse, the Amazon ‘one-click’ button.

The logic of a marketised system attempts to turn teachers into consumers and sellers. Anything goes. Just as in an art world in which all can be art the most important thing to say is ‘well, that isn’t art,’ so in the education world we need to be able to deny education can be about anything and done in any way ‘as long as it works’. Just as the art world needs boundaries, so does education.

John Dewey wrote that: “New inventions, new machines, new methods of transportation and intercourse are making over the whole scene of action year by year. It is an absolute impossibility to educate the child for any fixed station in life.” Education, therefore, should be for its own sake.

Instead of being at the start of the ‘knowledge age’ we are at the precipice of the ‘ignorant age’. And some of us have already fallen. Imagine if the teacher of the future were to be stupid, having no idea what they are doing in the long term scheme of things, they have taken for granted the ‘marketised’ idea that teaching is a collection of techniques. They love short term resources more than the long term unfolding of the subject. They think all they need to do is go online and download lessons. They’d buy kindle books about 100 techniques and 100 ways. They have bought into the short-termism market. They’d think creativity equals iPads or whatever was the thing, and that critical thinking is vital, though they won’t think their way critically out of a shopping trolley, and teachers will become resource consultants and teaching, a business and no need for training.

Education is in danger of melting into air, this is the logic of Jameson’s late capitalism where the teacher no longer has an interest in anything to do with passing on knowledge. If we all succumb education will dissolve into entrepreneurship and the market we deliver to will be one full of salivating teacherpreuners who think the quick fix, bought off the shelf, here today, gone tomorrow, is a perfectly reasonable way to educate children for the future.

Buy our resources! Save time! Scream the online ads directed at teachers. Overworked, under duress teachers grab them with one hand whilst caffeinating with what ever drink they have in the other. “I’m not prog or trad,” the teacher says, “I just do whatever works on the day, whatever my children need I give to them… I just get on with delivering my lesson and waiting for the data…” And the consultants and companies latch onto this  desire, or help create it. Tap onto resources marketplaces and consume.

I agree with Grayson Perry where he says: “I still am more emotionally attached to the old thing.” where teachers care about long term thought, cared about constructed and very grand narratives. The old progressives understood this. Freire wrote that: “Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system to the degree that this happens, we are also becoming submerged in a new “Culture of Silence”…” At least Freire, Dewey, et al had vision. Now we are faced with the possibility of educators losing their central mission, teachers as consumers, and pupils as objects to count in and out of the gates. It goes on silently, just the occasional mutter that something might be wrong…

…as education bows to the marketplace.

19 thoughts on “The Rise of the Stupid Teacher and Blogger

  1. teachwell

    Given that I think Progressives are to blame for the current state of affairs I am not sure I sympathise with those who follow these philosophies. What I would concede to both Dewey and Freire is that, like Maslow who I have focused on recently, it is not their fault that people have accepted their theories and ideas as the word of god. Not critiqued, evaluated, reviewed or revised. Think about all the neo-Marxists, where are the neo-progressives? There aren’t any because they were never trained to do anything other than belief there is only one right way which can not be questioned. Hilarious when one thinks of all the talk of critical thinking and the like.

    What enables the stupid teacher is the lack of thinking. The brainwashed teachers from ITT go into teaching with their hearts in the right places but little else. Unthinkingly they have ripped the intellectual heart out of teaching and so the stupid teacher produces stupid pupils who become stupid teachers – the cycle can only be halted by taking pride in ones intelligence, understanding that all can have access to it up to a point but that not all need or are required to be able to think creatively or originally in all fields. Polymaths are wonderful but rare for a reason.

    I am happy being able to channel my creative impulses into argument and ideas, into history and politics, while others do so in other fields and in other ways. But should I have been given the opportunity at all – yes but with the proviso that one may fail but what is learnt is still better than to be in an ignorant state in general.

    Interestingly a Hindu belief is that one of the paths to spiritual enlightenment is through education and understanding of the world. It is this that the intellectual life gives. It’s not the only path to be sure but to cut off one, is to cut off those people who follow it. The spiritual connection to education can not be replicated by machines but it seems that in a battle to not lose to the traditionalists or accept the limitations of their approach the progressives are in fact selling out to technology as a substitute saviour instead – hence all the flipped classrooms, etc.

    If there were any benefit to children teaching themselves then we would have evolved that way. We haven’t, we have an extended childhood compared to most animals precisely so that we can learn from adults. This simple point seems to have evaded teachers for the best part of 40 years and no matter how many times it is shown to be to the detriment of children, it is pursued.

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  2. 5 minute planner

    Oh dear

    “If there were any benefit to children teaching themselves then we would have evolved that way. We haven’t, we have an extended childhood compared to most animals precisely so that we can learn from adults.”

    Oh dear, oh dear

    “Witness the teacher who has no idea what they are doing in the long term scheme of things, they take for granted that teaching is a collection of techniques. These teachers love resources, technology, and will pilfer each other’s plans. They are more enamoured with mindset than they are with the intricacies of their own subject, something about which they might even know little. They think all they need to do is go online and download lessons. They buy kindle books about 100 techniques and 100 ways, and they follow a branded teacher or two on twitter, where toolkits are all the rage.”

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear

    I firmly believe that there is no god, and this post has reinforced that view. If there was a god, he/she would have made all teachers in the image of Martin and Teachwell surely.

    Please note that I take 6 hours over every lesson plan so I am not all bad.

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  3. jfin107

    Thank you Martin. Such a pleasure to read.
    And then there is Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity to add to the mix of contemporary culture critics to help explain the lust for groundless action seen in your stupid teachers.
    Old progressivism died in the late 1980s. What has followed is a different thing althogether and bound to the insatiable consumption of what the market throws up.
    There are alas a good many stupid music teachers calling for music lessons to be fun and where ‘all will be musicians’.
    The new progressives have much to learn from the old ones and of course those ‘old humanists’ too.

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  4. Miss P

    So true. Intellectual rigour is becoming less and less valued or necessary – much to the detriment of our students. It’s incredibly frustrating when your HoD seems to revel in their own ignorance!

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  5. debrakidd

    Modern thinking didn’t end in the mid 20th century with post structuralism – Denzin and Lincoln in their overview of the development of the philosophies underpinning qualitative research point to what they call the “eighth phase” which is based around complexity and less about deconstruction – look at the work of Delete, Masny, Semetsky etc to see a much more nuanced view of the world. I think it’s disingenuous to equate survival with stupidity. You and I, Martin, are fortunate enough to have time to pontificate because we are no longer in the classroom full time. Trying to find ways of saving time, being efficient and so on are not stupid, they are essential to anyone trying to function in the current system. And many do so exactly so that they can free up time to think more carefully about how to successfully impart the subject knowledge you accuse them of lacking. I’m really sad to see such a personal and vitriolic attack on someone who, whatever you think about their plans and resources, is still at the chalkface, still making a difference to the lives of children. I’m far more concerned about the rise of the supercilious teacher (or ex teacher) who claims intellectual superiority partly by virtue of not having to teach any more than a so-called “stupid” teacher walking the walk. I may well be counted in that first group. But I’d rather be stupid.

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  6. julietgreen

    I usually love reading your blog posts, Martin, though I don’t share your mistrust of technology. I sympathise with your frustration here and I agree with your ideas on transference of knowledge (and, dare I say, expertise). But… is this not a straw man, though? ” ‘I hate questioning, thinking, I want five minutes of planning and then just get on with delivering my lesson and waiting for the data…’ ” Is that an actual quote?

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  7. musotim

    I love this Martin. Your post reminded me of my favourite poem:

    As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
    I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
    Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

    All power to you sir.

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  8. chemistrypoet

    I think this post lacks something. The premise appears to be that unthinking teachers are sleep-walking their charges into civilisation’s oblivion of superficiality and materialism. They are designated, therefore, as stupid. Stupid teachers, following faux tweeter celebrity teachers, unthinkingly purchasing the tools that will save them time, but destroy their souls. Dystopian indeed. The presented image is unrelentingly negative.

    Is this really how you feel? Is this really what you think?

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  9. PStone

    “…as education bows to the marketplace.”
    I agree with most of this blog. But you don’t say why all this is happening? Who is doing the stupefying? I won’t have it that teachers enjoy their stupidity. I take stupid here to mean in a stupor, rather than lacking intrinsic wit.
    (Wiki definition of stupor: ‘The lack of critical mental function… wherein a sufferer… only responds to base stimuli such as pain.’ This is teaching 2016, folks.)
    I am reminded more and more, not just in reading this, but in observing what goes on around me in a real life actual school, and yes, on Twitter and in Blogville, of Wild Swans by Jung Chang, in which she describes how Mao hardly needed an army – he got neighbours to do it to each other. Don’t bow low enough? You’ll be hit with a stick on the back of the neck. And hard. Reading the wrong books? You’ll be sent for ‘re-education.’
    Or of Paul Newman’s character in Cool Hand Luke, who has to be locked in a sweat box until he either dies or gets his mind right. I make no apology for referring to popular culture.
    Some teachers manage to crawl out from under the iniquity, and end up wielding the stick and the sweat box padlock, all with a smile and a polite turn of phrase. I wouldn’t, but I can see why others do.
    Let’s stop having a go at teachers and think long and hard about who we really need to be having a go at.

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  10. Tanya Utton

    A provocative piece. Technological advances mean that educating students ” to get a good job” or providing extrinsic motivations and rewards are completely redundant. Teach students to love learning for its own sake, to appreciate culture and engage in a bit of physical activity; literate, numerate, articulate and capable of spirituality or humanism if you will.

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  11. José Picardo

    Hi Martin,

    You always make a good point. I’m not quite sure I understand you, though. This may well be down an innate failing of mine.

    You are, of course, right that one risks the unquestioning adoption of ill-defined best practice, dogma, new technologies or the belief that you can distil teaching into a collection of techniques one can follow like a champion.

    But you are wrong in suggesting that this is something peculiar to this age. You are also wrong in suggesting that busy teachers who are trying to do the best they can in their own set of circumstances are stupid or twits. Then you are wrong again, as you always are, in insisting that technology equates to low-brow (I read your book on Kindle – my students learn about the best that has been said and thought with the help of their tablets). And you are wrong in suggesting that those who are refuse to take part in prog/trad shenanigans must therefore hate thinking (unless by thinking you really mean agreeing with you).

    Finally, you are not wrong in suggesting that Ross Morrison McGill is hoping to make some money from the books he publishes. Tell us, Martin, are you donating the proceeds of Trivium 21C to charity?

    No? I didn’t think so.

    Marx, Engels, Jameson, Perry, Dewey…. Robinson. Christ. If Ross’s approach reminds you of premature ejaculation, yours brings flaccidity to mind.

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  12. Howard Scott

    Enjotable post and some strong points. I think Dewey’s is an interesting selection for a quote here. He was writing a long time ago and things have changed moreso. It certainly is, more than ever, “an absolute impossibility to educate the child for any fixed station in life” and this is probably why we need so much range in theory, in method and innovation – to improve options and capabilities. A lot of this debate on social media about education rages and forces around the rights/wrongs of this approach or that one. Schools are exploratory places – springboards to further learning: colleges, universities and – ideally – autodidactic curiosity. Not factories to create models in, as I’m sure you agree Martin.
    Dabble and experiment, create and innovate – I’d want teachers to be adventurous in this regard and to be empowered to discover in tandem with students, or to trial methods. I don’t see any issue with that. Are we afraid of them doing so because it reduces time on a curriciulum? Wow, where to start with that…
    Please let’s not sentimentalise the past and pretend teaching and learning were glorious in the past. ‘Things is what they is, so get with the era’, as Heidegger said to Dewey.

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