Tom Bennett

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The Ten Commandments of Lazy Education Journalism

I’m amazed Superman didn’t chin her.
Like Siddhartha Gautama beneath the Bodhi tree, I have sat still long enough in the festive post-prandial hibernation of the Christ’s Mass to obtain wisdom. I have seen the patterns, mine eyes have seen the glory…of education journalism. There is an enormous number of excellent edu-writers; there are also some seasonal space-fillers that crop up every week or so, clearly putting beans on the table. So, here is wisdom; here are the sacred templates. HERE are the great shibboleths of the broadsheets, tabloids and streaming online content providers. Know these rituals, and understand.
1. CHILDREN FAILED BY SCHOOLS, REPORT SAYS. 
This is my favourite. Failed. Every week we’ve failed some subset of the school population, normally because a statistician has drawn a circle around a scatter graph cluster of data points and decreed that they are somehow oppressed. The problem with this perpetual non-logic is that it rests on the knuckle-headed assumptions that everyone can succeed equally. Well, I have news for you, philosophy fans: if you build a mountain you get a valley. As Syndrome said in Pixar’s meisterstűck The Incredibles, ‘If everyone’s special then no one is.’ 
It also rests on the axiom that if someone doesn’t do very well then it must be someone else’s fault. Which is great if you believe that responsibility doesn’t exist, and we have no free will. At what point do we say, ‘No, YOU didn’t try hard enough’? I love teaching children; I want them all to do well. Despite my heart-prayer for this to be so, some won’t. You can give your heart only to find they left it on the desk next to some chewing gum. Who failed who?

2. NEW LEGISLATION SLIGHTLY ADVANTAGES ONE CATEGORY OF CHILD; OTHER CATEGORIES SLIGHTLY DISADVANTAGED
‘It’s spelled B-R-A-I-N G-Y-M…’
I learned this from a comic book: everything is connected. If you hold a hand out to pull a castaway onto the lifeboat, the boat shifts. Water your plants and you drown a mole, that kind of thing. No man- or demographic- is an island. I’m vaguely aware that the universe is finite and so are our resources. So whenever anything- and I mean anything- is decided in education, then the weight on the seesaw changes. This apparently terrifies some people.
3. MINISTER PROMISES NEW FUNDING FOR INITIATIVE
This is the feelgood version of the story. There might be some opposition grumbles in paragraph ten (‘Why didn’t they do this sooner?/ This isn’t far enough’ etc) but usually it’s trumpeted as hard as the press office can tweet and ingratiate. But just wait a bit and you get….

4. MINISTER PROMISES THAT INITIATIVES SECURE DESPITE ROUNDS OF CUTS
This is Act Two: the project starts to hit the buffers. Money is usually the Kryptonite. Eventually the lovers part, a message is lost, and we fall into the tragedy of Act Three….
5. NEW MINISTER DEFENDS DECISION TO AXE DEPARTING MINISTER’S INITIATIVE
Ministers have a shelf life of about fourteen months before they get palmed off to the Department of Silly Walks. Now, far be it from me to imply that this might not be long enough for any new initiative to bed in and take effect, but…it isn’t. And you think the new minister in town wants to run with his predecessor’s train set? Of course not. He has toys of his own, and a reputation to create. He’s there for about ten minutes before he’s like GUYS GUYS YOU SHOULD TOTALLY SEE THIS AWESOME NEW THING THAT I AM GOING TO DO TO SAVE EDUCATION. YOU SHOULD TOTALLY ALL DO THIS FROM NOW ON.
In your f*cking DREAMS, Olsen.
6. NEW STUDY BY ACADEMIC EXPERTS CLAIMS SOMETHING TOTALLY F*CKING OBVIOUS
‘Children learn better when nobody has a gun.’ ‘Kids who stay up late al night playing Skyrim are tired the next day.’ ‘Some kids are a bit bored in lessons.’ That sort of thing.
7. NEW STUDY BY ACADEMIC EXPERTS CLAIMS SOMETHING F*CKING RIDICULOUS
This is the counterpoint to (7), above, and proves George Orwell’s possibly misquoted aphorism that, ‘Some ideas are so stupid only an academic could believe them.’ Examples include..well, there are too many to do more than scratch the surface, and besides, you probably battle with them every day yourself. ‘Multiple Intelligences’ is one. Group Work as the Holy Grail of learning. Student interviewers.  Green ink for marking. Every week a fresh pile of shit steaming and gleaming, and dispensed like stone tablets from the Mountain Top. And more, always more, coming to a classroom near you.
I’m writing a book about this, so if you want to read more, wait nine months and buy a copy. Whattya think dis is, a LIBRARY?
‘Anyone here been inspected and speaks English?’
8. SURVEY CONDUCTED BY PEOPLE SELLING THINGS CLAIM CHILDREN LEARN BETTER IF YOU BUY THEIR STUFF
This is a great space filler. Whenever things get a bit quiet, out come the press releases and off goes the journalistic integrity switch. Isn’t it nice that some journalists help out people who want to flog you stuff, or who have gone to the bother of commissioning surveys that prove what they already want you to believe? God, PR research makes me want to stick my fingers down my throat. How do they sleep? (‘On a bed of money’ sayeth Don Draper)

9. THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY IS VERY IMPORTANT
Blah blah information, blah blah 21st century learners, blah blah changing economy, PISA, falling behind Madagascar, blah blah blah something about computers. Will this do?
10. SCHOOLS BLAMED FOR SOMETHING WRONG IN SOCIETY: SOMETHING TO BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOL TO FIX PROBLEM
See: the riots; poor diet; illiteracy; crime; not knowing who Henry V was; rudeness on tubes; low voter turnout; everything else. I love these kinds of stories. They imply that schools are somehow external to society, the launch pads for children entering our Brave World. Which is odd because last time I looked schools were entirely IN society, part of it and perfectly integrated. If I were to think of an institution that exists outside of the real world, I’d probably be looking at the Mir Space station. Or a Montessori school! Even then.
Of course schools have a part to play in societal progress. But only an idiot would think that the way to improve voter turnout was to design the unlovely, unloved subject Citizenship. Perhaps if politicians didn’t sicken most people’s entrails quite so much we might be more inclined to pop an X in the box from time to time…
I’m sure I’ve missed a few hundred memes here. Feel free to leave your own suggestions….