The Knowledge Gatekeepers

Why is is that some people with an awful lot of knowledge thinks it’s okay to devalue same?  We are all familiar with Sir Ken Robinson and his cry for ‘soft skills’ like creativity to be as valued as highly as knowledge. If we skip over the argument that the more knowledge you have the more creative you can be, I think there is something a bit amiss here.

What would be the motive of educators with vast stores of knowledge telling kids they don’t really need it as much, that in the 21c employers are looking for creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, entrepreneurship etc? I guess the simple answer is that they see the world changing and they want our students to fit into it. They want students to be fitted with the skills that 21c employers are looking for. Let’s skip over another argument here, shaping students for work is very much like the never tiresome ‘Industrial Model’ of schooling.

This seems like great news for disadvantaged kids. Here are a new set of skills that they can work on with their peers, ( in a student -directed model usually), and their lack of some very basic knowledge won’t hold them back. Except it rarely works like that. In a classroom that values the soft skills highly and tries to teach them, while taking time away from explicit knowledge instruction, the advantaged kids will still learn. I’m not sure if they will learn to be more creative or entrepreneurial, but they can get by on reduced knowledge instruction. They will still have the background foundations behind them, still have perhaps more support at home.

Unfortunately the disadvantaged souls will fall further behind, denied the opportunities that others take for granted. They will desperately miss some of the explicit instruction that has to make way for those 21c skills. (As a personal example, I once had a trainee teacher with me who let kids run their own 30 minute vocabulary lesson. She praised their collaboration and creativity in exploring a new word. She was stunned when I told her to save 25 minutes and explicitly teach the word and how to use it.) I think those calling for less knowledge because we can ‘Google it’ , or we need to build skills for jobs that haven’t been invented yet, or the general notion that knowing something just isn’t as important in the 21c, are becoming the ‘Knowledge Gatekeepers’. They are making knowledge acquisition harder, and perhaps entrenching the status quo.

I have yet to be convinced that those students who are lagging in basic literacy and numeracy foundations, including a much reduced vocabulary, and haven’t been exposed to a broad range of knowledge, are not going to suffer from less explicit knowledge instruction. (I’m skipping the argument about which knowledge).  Educators make all sorts of value judgements about teaching. What’s best for whom and when. One judgment I’m happy to make is that those educators with knowledge should value it highly, for themselves and their students.


One Afternoon at the Pool

“Morning Jay, I’m Lisa the swimming instructor”.

“Hi Lisa. My son Tom hasn’t had lessons before but I’m sure he can pick it up. He discovers lots of things by himself.”

Lisa half smiled, half frowned. “That’s great, but he will be getting explicit instructions for the next 30 minutes”.

Wait, what!  Jay protested. “Don’t you know how kids learn these days”?

Lisa let out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve been teaching in the pool for 20 years, I think I’ll be okay”.

“Oh I see”, said Jay, “The old it’s always been done like this rubbish, It’s the 21st century you know”!

After the lesson Jay approached Lisa. “You completely dominated the lesson. You even had a go at him for not listening. It was all teacher instruction at first. He had a go and then you kept correcting him the whole lesson. He had no ownership of the learning whatsoever”!

“I hear you,” replied Lisa, “ But in one or two more lessons he will be able to get himself to the side of the pool if he falls in. That’s the first goal. That will give him ownership of his life. Water safety is so important, you can’t just leave it to discovery driven, child-centred learning”.

“That’s an outdated attitude I’m afraid”. Jay was becoming increasingly frustrated with this instructor who clearly was lost in the past.

“Have you taught your 5 year old about road safety”? said Lisa.

Jay rolled his eyes. “Of course”.

“With discovery learning?” Lisa’s tone was calm but forceful.

Jay snapped, “Oh don’t be so bloody ridiculous, he could get killed!  Oh wait, I see what you mean. Well look if its really important life changing stuff where safety is involved, sure explicit teacher instruction might be the way to go. But if it’s not that important, you must understand that the students should drive the learning”!


Where Discovery Learning Might Fail

Road Safety
Water Safety (Stillwater)
Water Safety (Surf)
Stranger Danger
Cyber Safety
Fire Safety
Sharp Objects
Hot Objects
Dental Hygiene
Working with Cattle
Working with Cattle Dogs
Power Tools (Especially ChainSaws)
Safety at Heights
Wipper Snippers
Horse Riding

Etc Etc…

Beware the One with Honeyed Words

This post had been at least partly inspired by a post by David Price entitled Wilful Ignorance And The Contempt Of Expertise. The title is fairly self-explanatory. In the post David talks about the rise of politicians like Donald Trump and the misinformation in the Brexit campaign. He points to comments from Michael Gove like ‘the people of Britain have had enough of experts’. David further despairs,How can blatant lie-telling and a contempt for facts appear to not only go unpunished, but in Trump’s case actually improve ratings?” Indeed so, it is troubling and speaks to the disconnect and outright rejection that many voters feel.

David’s next point is where I come in. “For people who work in education, or with knowledge, it’s hard to know how to counter the anti-expertise virus that is being intentionally spread by Trump, Gove, and the others. President Obama and John Oliver have recently placed their faith in satire.” While I’m a fan of John Oliver, I want to argue that for people who work in education and have a desire for our students and leaders of tomorrow to be globally aware citizens, we need to be aware of something far more sinister than the Trumps of this world. I’m talking about the ‘respectable’ face of anti-expertise, the mostly hidden but decidedly post-democratic, opaque face of anti–intellectualism. President Obama is their champion. Lets bounce.

Yes Donald Trump is an outrageous, boorish, mobile fact free zone. He touts himself as anti-elite and anti-politician, but of course he is one of the elite and shows himself to be consummate at the political game. But at least you know what he stands for, what he is about. What you see is what you get. He is easy to challenge. Far more dangerous is the rampant hypocrisy and lies of the charismatic, calm, reasoned leader of the free world.

This article from Consortium News is an excellent place to get an overview. Some questions that should be asked of the Obama administration:

Who calls into question the designation of Russia as the number 1 security threat to the United States and our military moves in its vicinity?

–Who queries when U.S. generals acquired the right to verbally declare war on foreign powers as has been done repeatedly by former NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove and his successor General Curtis Scaparrotti?

–Who points out that we have been aiding and abetting al-Qaeda in Syria for years – and asks ‘why?’

–How have we placed ourselves in the absurd position of the CIA facilitating the transfer of anti-aircraft ‘man-pads,’ and TOWs to al-Qaeda/al-Nusra while the U.S. Army is training and advising their Kurdish enemies in Northwestern Syria?

–Who asks why we have allowed the Islamic State to carry on a lucrative oil commerce to finance their operations without taking military action against it?

–Who examines in detail why we give Saudi Arabia and Turkey a free pass to succor both terrorist organizations?

–Who asks why have we participated tangibly in the destruction of Yemen while our enemies there – al-Qaeda and ISIL – exploit what we are doing to gain strength?

 –Who demands that President Obama explain how he could declare the Afghan war over in a White House ceremony in December 2014 and now commit us to an open-ended fight on the ground?

–Who bothers to correct the record on our leaving Iraq in December 2011 to explain that we were told to leave by the duly constituted government of Mr. al-Maliki and had no choice?

–Who indicts the President for personally approving the CIA’s hacking into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee?

–Who has undertaken an investigation of the plotting that went into the secret drafting of the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty whose terms contravene principles of the Constitution?

–Who condemns the American orchestration of the coup in Ukraine?

–Who asks as to the American role in the Brazilian coup now revealed in published documents?

–Who strives to uncover why the Obama administration has committed us to spend $1 trillion on a massive upgrade of our nuclear arsenal when there is no stated or evident enemy and the logical implication is that “modernization” will produce a greater readiness to use the “bomb”?

This is for starters. The list of neglected domestic matters would be even longer. Engaging these issues ultimately is what free speech is all about.


I get angry when I see Obama rightly condemning the latest gun atrocity in his country and asking us to pray for the American lives lost. Call me cynical, but what about the civilians dying overseas from his weapons as he speaks. What about the people who, including Australians,  lost loved ones in the MH17 atrocity? The US has long finished their report but won’t release it. Apparently it doesn’t fit the narrative that Russia did it, so too bad for families seeking some answers.   Yes this list is just for starters, this would be a 100 page post if we attempted to document the utter contempt that the President has for transparent democratic government.

David Price pointed out that “One might hope, with Trump’s ratings plummeting, and both Gove and Johnson facing the end of their political ambitions, that such ridicule is working, and that, eventually, the truth will out”. But it will be a sliver of the truth; it will be the tip of the iceberg. The real enemy of a sense of belonging and connection and thus has implications for education itself, wears a mask of respectability and a cloak of peace.

“When one with honeyed words but evil mind
Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.”


If you have read this far thank you and well done.







I know a bad teacher

I want to tell you about a teacher I know that is stuck in the past and I think is doing a disservice to her students. I recently spent a day teaching in an adjacent open room, and it was frightening how out of touch her teaching was. Lets just say this teacher is definitely not giving her students the 21c skills they will need in a rapidly changing world. These kids are going to have multiple jobs in their lifetime and she is not helping at all with her pedagogy. Lets bounce!

I don’t want to be too critical about this teacher, it’s just that she doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the latest movements in education. If you want to see the old ‘factory teaching model’, this teacher has the lot. Creativity and innovation might be foreign concepts to her.

First up the classroom layout. It’d basically a big u shape. All the desks pushed together so that she can “Reach students quickly and efficiently”. Say what? Where’s the student input? It sounds like its practical for her to help students, but please, what about the students and their desires. She even has some students at the front because they seem to be requiring refocusing apparently. How embarrassing for these kids. Yes she is keeping them on track, but what about student autonomy?

The classroom walls I would describe as boring. There are no posters, nothing to motivate the children to be the best they can, to aim for the stars. There is some student artwork, but mainly just words written all over the place. Apparently she believes that children are going to have use of words like, malevolent, disassociate and poignant. What’s worse she drums these words into the children. She stands in front of her teacher dominated class (endlessly talking) and explicitly pouring this knowledge into these poor empty vessels. It’s heartbreaking to watch other students unable to sometimes hold a conversation with her students because they are using words other students don’t know and have no use for.

There is no discovery learning. Full stop. These children are constantly being told what the teacher is looking for. Yes the students are collaborating, but it’s only what she tells them to collaborate on. If some student tries to show some initiative and work on something else she stops them. Hardly motivating or engaging I would have thought.

This ultra traditional teaching is a big and very sad part of the day. And at the end of the day she then makes these students sit in silence for 20 minutes and read. It is a situation where the students must comply. No room for compromise. She is definitely the boss, in a very teacher-centered classroom. At one stage she even had them discussing a dead white male philosopher, like that’s going to be relevant or have any real world connection for these kids.

I just feel like shaking this woman and saying, “Get on twitter, follow some inspirational educational thinkers, and find out how wrong you are”. Her students are going to need to be ultra- entrepreneurial in their work life. 75% of today’s jobs wont even exist in 10 years time.  He is.. sorry, she, is teaching them for a time that has past. Sadly this teacher seems blissfully unaware of this fact.

If you have read this far, thank you and well done.

MJ @seminyaksunset


Reasons Why Teachers Must be Entrepreneurs

None, they shouldn’t be, it’s  bullshit.

If you are a follower of Australian Edutwitter, you would be aware you can’t go 5 minutes without someone tweeting about students needing 21st century skills such as innovation, collaboration and creativity etc. There will of course be the ubiquitous edu/intra/teachpreneur or one of the dozens of different type of preneurs we apparently need teachers and students to be. There is just one small problem with this type of talk, it’s bullshit. Let’s bounce.

The edupreneur 21c crowd love to drag out the tired phrase ‘Factory modeling of school’ which for the most part is an invented history , nonetheless the idea is that we can’t run schools just to churn out workers like we used to. Often in the same breath, subsequent to prattling on about industrial era education, we are then told what employers are looking for and we must give students the aforementioned 21c skills. Same model different factories apparently.

I won’t get in to the argument about whether creativity and innovation are especially important in the 21st century, other than to say the ancient Romans were my favourite innovative and creative society.  So next time you see a tweet about teachers needing to be some kind of made up word ending in ‘preneur’, politely ask them “Why do they think this?”  Then grab a shit proof virtual umbrella, because the crap is about to fly!

If you have read this far, thank you and well done.

MJ @seminyaksunset

Creativity and Innovation in a Real World Context.

The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. Vince Lombardi

As of yesterday my family is feeling a sense of absolute exhilaration, more than a little exhaustion, and a massive dose of relief. My wife and I have been battling for the past two years to achieve an equitable outcome for a family member of ours who has a disability. I won’t provide too many details, as I haven’t have sought permission from our loved one and don’t intend to. Nonetheless the journey to the triumph may be a useful tale for others about fostering creativity and innovation whether in or out of the classroom. Let’s bounce!

To be reasonably brief, our story revolves around constantly battling a bureaucracy staffed by people who’s job description seems to be based around saying ‘No’ or ‘Computer says no’ in as many ways as possible. To be fair, the majority of these folk work in departments that are hopelessly underfunded and understaffed. If you are case number 322 and they are dealing with case 7, the best they can do is placate you. Unless you have explicit inside knowledge of the system you are going backwards if I’m honest.

The journey to our success depended entirely on having a profound understanding of the bureaucracies we were dealing with and then breaking this down to manageable challenges. We then broke that down further to include the people who could or couldn’t/wouldn’t help us. Further to this we then mapped out how each individual should be spoken to either directly or through email. We had to get creative about the vocabulary we used in certain emails depending on whom it was going to. This was not a makeshift process where we cobbled something together at the last minute. It was based entirely on our previous experience with those involved. We drafted many emails and matched the level of sophistication of language to the recipient. While this sounds over the top, the more knowledge you have about something the more creative you can be.

Phone calls to relevant parties were planned and rarely impromptu. The important documentation was always out our fingertips so that we could be precise about what we were addressing. Some people responded to empty praise, others liked to delve into the jargon, and still others responded only to aggression. Throughout the ordeal it became increasingly apparent that if we gave those involved an innovative way to move forward, they were appreciative.

Throughout the marathon we often heard comments like, “Well, we had never thought of that before!” or “The A .6.002 form is not for that specific purpose but I can see a way to use it with a B.8.993 form to achieve that just like you said.” Most of the people my wife spoke to were surprised and eventually worried about her explicit knowledge in the disability arena. Having worked in this field for the past 12 years fighting for equity for those with a disability, she was able to preempt the standard excuses and point out the creative solutions we were seeking.

I was very aware the privilege this knowledge afforded us. I would describe my wife as the most driven, passionate, innovative and creative person I know. Unless it’s an area where she has little or no knowledge. Then like everyone else her creativity and innovation is effectively stifled until she learns as much as she can. For some odd reason she just isn’t able to transfer this creativity and innovation seamlessly across domains.

I know it’s very popular to have a classroom atmosphere that ‘fosters creativity and innovation’. In my opinion if you value knowledge in your classroom you are going a long way to achieving that aim. You don’t need to teach creativity or innovation as though they are discreet skills. (Hopefully few do.) If there is someone in history that you believe was a creative and innovative influence on our society today, I’d wager it’s a fair bet that person had mountains of knowledge and years of toil behind them.

If you have read this far thank you and well done.

M J @seminyaksunset