Teachers as resisting intellectuals

The outrage this week that has been expressed by some educators on Twitter against David Didau’s What causes behaviour? has prompted many to inspect their own thinking on race and intelligence. I am not a geneticist so I am not in the position to offer an expert view on the research in this field. More learned scholars such as Steve Watson and Benjamin Doxtdator have offered their views in their respective blog posts. Nick Dennis’s critique further points out the “lazy” research that forms the shaky ground of David’s position which has been construed as advocacy for “racial differences in IQ”, a remark he made in response to a comment to his piece through Feedback. His obstinacy to recognise pitfalls in his work when challenged adds more frustration to his critics.

The event took a more disturbing turn when Tomas White pointed out that the research that David cites to substantiate his assertion that “there are fairly clear racial differences in IQ” was actually funded by “Pioneer Fund”, a registered hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This revelation galvanised the resistance amongst the already alarmed readers to voice their disbelief and condemnation, particularly when David did not appear to respond to the growing concerns and outcry. Instead, a few of his supporters took to Twitter to defend David, curiously not the importance for educators to look beyond science to ensure that humanity underscores all our educational endeavours to promote and ensure equity and equality despite all the “differences” that can potentially engender our effort. Attention should be paid to unmask all the disguises of racism in any ostensibly plausible discourse of science or alt-right euphemisms of hate lexicon such as “human biodiversity”. To me, this kind of uncritical, blinkered and besieged mentality is disappointing.

Before Tomas drew our attention to the piece of research funded by a “neo-Nazi” hate group, I had also checked the original research that is referenced by David to make the assertion about the “genetic forces”. A crack in his argument begins to appear. The Swedish study of adultescent violent criminality and substance misuse focuses on the environmental impact and makes no direct reference to genetics or race – neighbourhoods were its focus. The study is nuanced and considers its limitations with thoughtfulness. How does David arrive at such a conclusion is never explained and it mystifies me. It inevitably gives one the impression that research is used to accessorise his own personal opinions. This unscrupulous approach leads me to consider other serious, in my view, unethical aspects of his writing. The problem is three-fold:

1. Misrepresenting research: It’s a writer’s ethical duty to make sure that she/he is not misrepresenting the research as evidence in her/his writing. Wittingly or not we can only speculate, nevertheless the lack of direct relevance between his claim of the “genetic forces” and the quoted Swedish study shows serious lack of care to his research. In a case as potentially damaging as this, the authors of the referenced study have every right to be upset about the misrepresentation of their intellectual endeavour. Disturbingly, Didau habitually relies on “research” to gain authority in his assertions, errors such as this and the utilisation of study by a group set up by “eugenicist Nazi sympathisers” (quoted from Tomas’s comment to Didau, tweeted in response to Benjamin) makes one wonder the accuracy in his other sources. Pseudoscience gives research a bad name.

2. Commercial impetus: With over 40,000 followers on Twitter alone, it is conceivable that Didau presents huge commercial values in book writing (endorsed by popular names in educational research), offering training to schools and giving talks in ResearchEd (now a global brand hosting events in the USA, Australia and Canada) and other platforms, it is deeply unsettling that he is reticent to acknowledge and rectify the flaws when identified by his critics. Wittingly or not, to advocate dangerous views based on dubious and questionable sources, never mind the lack of robustness in his own research work, damages his reputation as an educator. In this respect, it is particularly ironic from someone who is universally celebrated by his admirers who hold an uncompromising view on the importance of discipline, knowledge and accuracy.

3. Lastly, moral responsibility: One can argue that an educator is not a saint. Her/his job is to teach. Yes and no. It depends on how one identifies oneself as a teacher. To me, beyond imparting subject knowledge, there is a moral imperative for a teacher to aspire to be ethical in that she/he tries not to do harm at least and models a strong moral character at best. It is not easy. We all struggle to act ethically in every decision we make in relation to the young people in our care. We need to have the humility to reflect on our actions and are prepared to modify to ensure that we are not causing harm wittingly. Views such as “racial differences in IQ” and “behaviour gene” are dangerous and can potentially cause serious harm to education through the individual’s influence, particularly when maximised through organisational backup and promotion to push up the advocate’s commercial values.

A more pressing issue coming out from this controversy is an urgent need for teachers to be more vigilant and critical against scientism in education. It is therefore imperative that teachers have access to research to scrutinise claims that have direct or indirect impact on their daily practice. Without such agency, teachers will remain powerless in an asymmetrical structure that is vulnerable to ideological forces rather than being equitable to ensure equality in knowledge production and dissemination. An essential change that must take place is also the embedment of professional learning to equip teachers with skills necessary to critique the research evidence presented to them. Those in power remain powerful principally through the control of knowledge. A genuine grassroots movement has to be one that is free from arbitrary “gatekeeping” exercises in the name of quality control. Genuine collaboration welcomes diversity and such collaborative endeavour ensures a more democratic scrutiny.

Resistance starts with building critical skills crucial in challenging prevailing ideas and discourse dominated and promulgated by celebrity educators, self-proclaimed gurus and self-fashioned experts. Ultimately, being an ethical teacher means we fulfil our moral obligations by calling out “fake knowledge” and resisting hegemony in education system. Henry Giroux’s sociopolitical categories of three types of teacher intellectuals – resisting, critical and accommodating – sketch out their essential qualities. As educators, we need to reflect on our own identity as intellectuals – who are we and who do we want to be?

Who do you want to be?

Suggested reading: Giroux, H. (1985), “Critical pedagogy and the resisting intellectual, part 2”, Phenomenology + pedagogy (3)2: 84-97 https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/pandp/index.php/pandp/article/download/14976/11797

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About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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5 Responses to Teachers as resisting intellectuals

  1. Reblogged this on Daisy Norfolk Notes… and commented:
    This post inspires me. You have argued well, focussing on the need for all of us to be more discerning and not to follow blindly. Ideology today is sadly bound up with making money, and this is where we must be most vigilant. Thank-you. Daisy

  2. Pingback: Community care in education - Long View on Education

  3. geoffjames42 says:

    Thanks of this. When the private business of researchED claims increasing scientific literacy and it’s proponents write the kind of things we’ve been seeing recently it’s crucial that we stand up to it as you do here.

    I wrote about this today as best I could
    http://www.solution-support.co.uk/2017/08/19/dr-who-behaviour-science-and-the-sonic-screwdriver/

    Opening with a quote from Bennett;
    “Science, however, is not just a matter of making mistakes, but of making mistakes in public. Making mistakes for all to see, in the hopes of getting the others to help with the corrections.”
    ― Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

    Looking forward to reading more from you. Best wishes, Geoff

  4. geoffjames42 says:

    for this

  5. ZebaC says:

    Thank you, I found this helpful in clarifying some of my own reservations about the way fellow teachers deploy academic research.

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