Education Faculties Are Sliding Into Irrelevancy

Education Faculties Are Sliding Into Irrelevancy
If education professors want to avoid total irrelevancy, they had better start producing research that benefits teachers and students. (LStockStudio/Shutterstock)
Michael Zwaagstra

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Most people know the answer to this philosophical riddle. While the tree technically makes a sound, it’s irrelevant if no one hears it.

Education professors might want to consider how this applies to their teaching and research.

They can start by asking themselves a simple question: If an education professor writes about things that make no difference to teachers, does it still count as research? Like the tree that falls in the forest, that professor’s work might technically fit the definition of research, but there isn’t much point to it if no one pays attention or finds it useful.

Sadly, this is a fair description of much of what passes for education research these days.

A quick perusal of the academic journals does not inspire confidence. For example, the lead article in the most recent edition of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education is titled “It Will Startle You: Thoughts on a Pedagogical Conspiracy of Birds.”

This article makes for truly painful reading. One wonders what possible relevance an article on pedagogy, conspiracy, and bird watching could have to either teachers or university-based educators and why any journal would publish it.

The silliness doesn’t stop there. Several years ago, the same journal published “Too Many Monkeys Jumping in their Heads: Animal Lessons within Young Children’s Media.” In that article, the authors argued that children’s stories with talking animals in them promotes the “false” notion that humans are superior to animals.

To make their case, the authors described an episode of Sesame Street in which Big Bird learns the value of acceptance during a conversation with a real bird. While the authors acknowledged that the lesson about acceptance was a good one, they went on to wonder “where the actual birds’ voices went.”

At the time they wrote this article, the authors were Ph.D. students in educational studies at the University of British Columbia. Only in an education course could it be considered serious scholarship to write a paper in which you explain how uncomfortable you are with how animals are portrayed in children’s books. Sadly, they both received their Ph.D. degrees and are now teaching education courses to prospective teachers.

It’s bad enough when education professors write nonsense that no one outside their small circle will ever read. However, some are determined to impose their crazy ideas on virtually all teachers and their students.

For example, a group of education professors are on a mission to derail the Alberta government’s plan to implement a new curriculum that places a strong emphasis on knowledge acquisition. One might assume that helping students become more knowledgeable is something everyone can agree on, but sadly this does not appear to be the case.

Instead of providing constructive feedback to the government, these professors went out of their way to nitpick leaked draft documents that were nowhere close to a final version. They seized on the opportunity to discredit an opposing point of view and used a draft version of a consultant’s proposal to do it.

They did this because some education professors are hostile to a knowledge-focused curriculum. They prefer the philosophy of William Heard Kilpatrick, an early 20th-century education professor who argued that the process of learning is more important than the specific content in the curriculum. That is why these professors go to great lengths to discredit the core knowledge approach, even though there are mountains of research evidence proving its effectiveness with virtually all students.

The good news is that not all education professors are beholden to the progressive ideology. Some even recognize the important contributions of cognitive psychology to understanding how learning really works. For example, Dr. Daniel Ansari at Western University is doing important research into how young children master basic mathematical skills.

Researchers like Dr. Ansari don’t have time to waste writing articles about bird watching or how animals are portrayed in children’s books. Nor are they blasting the Alberta government for making knowledge acquisition the focus of its new curriculum.

If education professors want to avoid total irrelevancy, they had better start producing research that benefits teachers and students. Otherwise, they will be like the tree that falls in a forest with no one to hear it.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of "A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning."
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and author of "A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning."