The Twitter Edublog-O’sphere is a fabulous playground for scholars interested in the politics of language. Perhaps that is why I follow so many English, history and humanities teachers on social media. People like @debsnet, @DrNomyn, @DrSRiddle and @GFThommo…

Oops, sorry!!  #mybad


According to the rules (being rewritten daily), my colleagues Stewart Riddle and Greg Thompson* are no longer teachers. Although they were both secondary school teachers for a decade or more, now that they’ve joined “The Academy”, they are now mere “educationalists” (like me).

As I understand it, this is something akin to being a potato.

Stew Riddle was so inspired by this clever caricature that he wrote a one-act play called “On being a ‘real’ teacher or perhaps a potato“.

Personally, I’d like to crowdfund a Stew-debut at the Brisbane Powerhouse. It could be like those Rocky Horror/Sound of Music re-enactments where the audience sings along? We could dine on a feast of creatively cooked potatoes and throw the dodgy ones at the non-teacher actors.  Right now, frankly, it feels like we’re chucking them at each other…

Just another day at the Potato Olympics

Surely an Olympic standard potato-throw was this week’s charge that I am a “non-teacher” “educationalist” who doesn’t like teachers.

Non-teacher tweets

An excellent throw!  I score it a 10.00   🙂

In all seriousness, I’m grateful to @greg_ashman (a real teacher at a real school in Victoria, Australia, which is also a real place in the real world) for pointing out my non-teacher status because it gives me an opportunity to point to the double-standards that I see being mobilised in the discourse around education, particularly when it comes to research.

Should ‘non-teachers’ be banned from education debate?

Teachers are absolutely central to education and no one would ever deny that. But teachers are not the only stakeholders and theirs, therefore, is not the only perspective that counts. Students are the largest stakeholder group, even just in terms of sheer numbers, though sadly their influence is disproportionately weak.

Despite the relative lack of consultation about all things educational, students’ views matter. For the most part, it is their lives we’re dissecting. Their learning, their struggles, their achievements, their emotions, their experiences, their worries, their future. Their “excuses” that we’re not having a bar of

I think most teachers would agree that students matter. After all, many of the teachers I know (and like very much, thank you) went into teaching because they want to make a difference to young people and, through those young people, make a difference to society itself. This centrality of students to all things education is why people like me*, Pat Thomson*, John Smyth*, and many others research student experience and value student voice.

Whilst not central in the same way as teachers and students, parents are also important stakeholders. Their values, perspectives and decisions matter too. They are the ones who choose the school that their child attends, they make the decisions upon which the logic of school markets depend, they are the ones who secure tutors. That’s why education researchers like Helen Proctor*, Karen Dooley* and Cathie Doherty* involve parents in their research.

Parents also know their children best, as most parents of a child with disability will tell you. They have that child’s medical and educational history etched into their memory and their child’s future is constantly in mind. That’s why education researchers like me*, Kathy Cologon*, Katherine Runswick-Cole* and others include parents in their research.

But, if we are to take these new parameters of educational discourse as directed, research by someone like me – indeed, all of the researchers that I’ve mentioned – is somehow irrelevant because we are not (or are no longer) school teachers. Further, it seems that any educational research that does not focus on “what works” within the four walls of a classroom (even if it wasn’t tested there) is also irrelevant.

It’s a very insular view and whilst I know it isn’t shared by the majority of teachers or even researchers, I think it needs to be called out anyway. It is also strikingly inconsistent with the bulk of the research that is being drawn upon to validate claims by these self-proclaimed revolutionaries. Research from the field of cognitive science, for example.

Getting (hypo)critical about non-teaching Members of the Academy

Now I, as a non-teacher Member of The Academy (hereafter n-tMoTA), have absolutely no problem with research from cognitive science. I respect what they do and, in my experience, the feeling is mutual. Some of my closest friends and colleagues are experimental cognitive scientists, psychologists and speech pathologists 😉 and we’ve learned a lot from each other in the years that we’ve been working together.

We also have a LOT of fun because we think so differently and there are genuinely funny moments when we each try to explain what we mean or what we want to do. It isn’t easy and respect for each other’s knowledge and expertise is essential to avoid a relationship-destroying paradigm war.

But – in public discourse about education, not within The Academy itself – it seems we have now arrived at a point in time where an op-ed piece by one n-tMoTA is considered valid evidence but the peer-reviewed research of another is not, simply because the latter’s area of expertise is education.

Yep. That’s right.

The views of non-teaching Members of the Academy who have not completed up to 9 years of study in the field of education, many of whom do not conduct school-based research, are those privileged in this brave new revolutionary world.

Meanwhile, the views of the ones who have completed up to 9 years study in education and who do school-based research (often with teachers) are dismissed with the derisive name of “non-teacher”.

Hypocrisy much?

No doubt my protagonist’s response will likely be that n-tMoTA’s in education (e.g., “educationalists” like me) do crap research, but that is a massive generalisation.

Even if there are some quality issues in education – and I agree that there are some – that is no justification to junk an entire field, along with the depth of knowledge and breadth of expertise within it.

Rather, I think there’s another strategy at play. One that aims to drive a wedge between education researchers and the teaching profession.

As a sociologist of education, this raises a number of questions for me, like:

  • Why?
  • Who benefits from these new arrangements?
  • And what will happen when ex-teachers (potato educationalists like Stewart Riddle, Pat Thomson, John Smyth, Helen Proctor, Karen Dooley, Cathie Doherty and Greg Thompson and maybe, one day, even you) are excluded from research in education?
  • What types of questions will not longer be asked??
  • Whose voices will be heard then?


* Each one of these researchers has been successful in securing external research funding from the Australian Research Council or the UK’s ESRC, including prestigious fellowships that are extremely competitive. Quite frankly, crap research doesn’t get a look in. External grant success is just one indicator of research quality… Research metrics is another but I shall write on that another day.