According to the source of all knowledge, “to attack a straw man is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the straw man), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”
With this in mind, consider the following arguments made recently on twitter and blogs against “defunct educationalists”, lesson observations, SLT and the knowledge vs skills debate (though why it has to be versus scapes me), just to name a few:
Vygotsky’s findings have been put into context and, in some cases challenged, by more up-to-date research (cue quote by Hirsch and/or Willingham), therefore all of Vygotsky’s findings must be disregarded.
A number of inspectors employed by Ofsted are bad/misguided/wrong and wield disproportionate influence on the fate of schools. Therefore Ofsted should be abolished.
Lesson observations can be stressful and, if the process is managed incorrectly, as it’s sadly often the case, it can lead to low self-esteem and, counterintuitively, a worsening of teaching performance. We should, for this reason, abolish lesson observations.
Some teachers and inspectors rate the transferring and acquisition of skills above the transmission of knowledge, therefore a knowledge-based curriculum is required.
A vociferous minority of teachers has had numerous bad experiences in their dealings with SLT. This proves that all members of SLT are ill-intentioned and incompetent and, presumably, should be purged.
From my perspective, these are all attacks on straw men, constructed carefully by those who generally cherry-pick evidence and quotes from not-yet-defunct educationalists to suit their particular politics, beliefs or principles. Mock me if you like, but, in my view, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development continues to be as relevant as ever. If anything, advances in computer mediated communication are lending the concept renewed significance.
It is also clear to me that to assume that Ofsted, SLT or lesson observations need to be abolished is similarly fallacious. As is the proposition that we must continue to debate ad nauseam over whether knowledge trumps skills, as if having one discounts the other. The word debate itself comes from the Latin dis- (expressing reversal) and battere (to fight) and thus implies that one must vanquish the other. As if proof were needed that the language we use limits the extent of our thinking. It needs not be like this.
Now, I’m not saying the people making these attacks (straw man or not – you decide) don’t have a point, as that in itself would be a fallacy. Of course not. The people making these statements are clearly committed, principled professionals who want to improve the education children receive.
What I suppose I am saying is that, as teachers, we should be the first to model humility, consideration and thoughtfulness. We should be modest when presenting our views and aware that our beliefs and principles can change, indeed ought to change, with new evidence. Above all, we should all realise that what our principles impel us to write today, may cause us to look silly tomorrow. Just ask Vygotsky.
We should all be more aware of the limits of our own understanding and be more modest and careful to challenge other people’s views and experience in a way that is not arrogant, pedantic or condescending, especially if those we are challenging have also read Hirsch and Willingham and are much more experienced.
Cue straw man attack.