We have unprecedented access to information and ideas. In education there seems to be no end to philosophies, ideas and prescriptions. Indeed, it is difficult to tune into any form of media without running into someone’s idea of what everyone in education ought to be doing.
In the time that it takes to read this blog post, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, more blog posts, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, Tweets, etc., etc., telling us how we should go about our craft. There is no dearth of ‘new’ educational paradigms, each professing the way forward as in the focus on ‘data-driven instruction,’ which many consider a new spin on old idea.
This post does not argue the merits of the plethora of pedagogies, philosophies and prescriptions, many of which are not new, but rather a repackaging of old ideas.
I am guilty more than I like to admit of contributing to education’s white noise. With so much white noise out there, how do we know if we should spend our energy sifting through the seemingly endless static?
I offer the following tips to filter out educations’ white noise.
1. Trust Your Intuition - If something seems off or not quite right, pay attention to that
feeling. Human beings, in general, are intuitive and can tell if something is amiss. You have probably had the experience while reading a piece or listening to a speaker of that ‘uneasy feeling,’ even if you can’t explain why. Your intuition is throwing up a caution flag often for a variety of reasons. Trusting your intuition in these instances at the very least will afford you more time; you can always reconsider the ideas put forth by the author or speaker at a later date.
2. Consider The Source - Are the ideas put forth by a single author, multiple authors or a particular group? Groups or individuals with a particular agenda or political affiliation often spend their time defending or singing the praises of their position. While offering a particular point of view can add to our collective knowledge, when these views promote a limited way of thinking, they can become problematic.
I also like to consider whether I feel the author is authentic. This is partly about trusting our intuition and ability to sniff out a fraud. Moreover, it’s about considering whether the author is credible. Have they spent time in the situation? Have they effected any actual change or implemented their ideas? Is their own brand of white noise theory-based with little real application?
Of course, if you somehow know the source, perhaps you have met the author(s) in person or know them through other means, this can help you determine whether there is authenticity.
We all suffer from our own brand of hypocrisy and have our do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do moments. The type of inauthenticity I am referring to here is not a temporary lapse but rather a true disconnect between idea and practice. An example would be promoting democratic education principles in theory but shutting down any kind of democratic discourse behind closed doors.
3. Room for Dialogue - Does the author present the information in such a way that if anyone should dare to disagree with them, they are ridiculed or accused of ‘not getting it’? Do they use jargon and ‘cited sources’ to paint any counterargument into the corner of bad practice? Do they respond to questions and critique with real discourse or cling desperately to their view?
I sometimes find that if the author is unwilling to have a dialogue about the ideas put forth, the ideas themselves may be flawed, the author isn’t that knowledgeable, s/he wants to come off as the expert or it’s a sham to sell something based on faulty research. Clearly, these are not the only reasons an author does not engage in dialogue; sometimes it’s more a reflection of time than of unwillingness.
4. Beware of the Self-Promoters - If you buy my book for $49.95, you’ll get to be part of the enlightened club, so the sales pitch goes. There is nothing at all wrong with having resources for sale; I do myself. There is a big difference between creating resources that are
designed to add to our collective knowledge and creating products of little value designed to sell quickly using multi-tiered marketing schemes.
We have all encountered the self-promoters. They have seemingly become ubiquitous in our society and the field of education is not immune. Again, I point out the difference between bringing attention to resources one has created, experiences and personal musings and using the same platforms to inject an egocentric, narcissistic focus on the same. The self-promoters interact very little with others in field and are mostly interested in what they have to say.
I remain wary of the come-see-what-I-am-doing idea rather than a focus on the issue or resource. An example would be an author who solely focuses on taking pictures of themselves at an event and/or their role in the event or issue, so the focus becomes about them not the big picture. This can also be a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to brand themselves as the expert on a particular topic.
5. Beware of the ‘Experts’ - We all have our particular expertise. Many of us have spent a good deal of time and energy, usually at great sacrifice, building our knowledge base and honing what we have to offer. We live in such a wonderful time where we can easily share our collective experiences. We also live in a time where just about anyone can brand themselves as an ‘expert’.
The time spent in the attempt to position themselves as the expert takes away from time that might be spent listening, understanding and realizing there is always more to learn. Sharing our experiences is important, sharing knowledge is important, reflecting on our experiences is important. Doing all this adds to our field. What takes away from our field are the self-proclaimed experts who are only interested in their position. I have always believed that once we think we have mastered something, that’s when it’s time to start worrying.
6. Tune Out - It may be that sometimes we just need to tune out and put the white noise on the side for even a short while. Tuning out from education’s white noise can open up time to focus on reflection and practice. The freed-up time also presents an opportunity to look inward and reengage with other learners. Knowing ourselves well and taking time to notice what is happening in our particular niche may be exactly what we need to find and hone our capacity as guides.
7. Take Your Time - It seems to be human nature to want to get to the latest information as soon as possible. In our attempt to stay current, we can get sucked into education’s white noise because we want to be informed and don’t want to miss an opportunity to learn something new or to consider a new perspective. If the ‘newest’ idea has merit and is well-grounded, it will be around for a while and there will be time to engage with it.
As is often the case, it will make its rounds on social and print media, as well as a variety of education circles. It’s okay not to take everything in and okay not to have heard of the latest trend. By slowing things down a bit and not worrying about taking in every possible bit of information, the result often has a self-filtering effect, as the gimmicks and unsound ideas fall away.
There seems to be no end in sight to the bombardment of white noise. While we are fortunate to have such easy access to a wealth of ideas and information in education filtering, its white noise may become a necessity rather than a luxury.