How not to be wrong. Become an educational revolutionary

It is the good fortune of revolutionaries to never be wrong.

When the utopia they held out to entice people to the barricades fails to materialise, they can always blame those same people for not implementing their program with sufficient fidelity. And when the people begin to tire of being blamed for the program’s failures, the revolutionaries can find, or invent if necessary, counter-revolutionaries to blame for the people tiring.

As it is for political revolutionaries, so it is for educational revolutionaries. Consider this Twitter exchange between Kath Murdoch and me:

For international readers, Ms Murdoch is the über-guru of inquiry learning in Australia. You will find at least one of her books on the reference shelves of most primary school teachers.

The revolution she fomented led Australia primary schools, with few exceptions, to replace subject disciplines other than English and Mathematics with inquiry learning.

Out went History, Geography and Science, and in came “Inquiry Units” based on abstract terms like change or community that students, through their “wonderings” (a.k.a. first thoughts after viewing a related picture or video) would turn into a question to inquire into.

Many years in, the casualties of this revolution are clear. First, the subject disciplines themselves, forced to yield their coherence and wisdom to serve as fodder for students developing “inquiry skills”.

Second, millions of young Australians, denied an entrée into these rich stores of human knowledge that are, by right, their common inheritance.

Moreover, given that background knowledge and vocabulary predict later academic success, inquiry learning is also contributing to the widening achievement gap in Australia.

Ms Murdoch’s response to the paucity of favourable evidence? “… true -if ‘inquiry’ is misinterpreted or studies are not of contemporary approaches”.

Like a true revolutionary she blames the people, that is teachers, for not getting with the program, the contemporary program, and counter-revolutionaries for misinterpreting that program.

Of course, even the proverbial wall of evidence will not see Ms Murdoch recant. It is to the reason and good sense of teachers who labour under her failing program that we should address ourselves.







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