Wednesday, November 21, 2012

3 ways to sabotage learning

Want to sabotage learning? Here are three ways:

1. Judge the learner. Whenever the learner does something, make sure to marinate the learner with judgement which includes both praise and punishment. Because grading can only ever be experienced as a reward and punishment, make sure to grade everything. You need not be worried about balancing praise and punishment -- because they are two sides of the same manipulative coin, they will both equally contribute to stifling the learner.

2. Rush the learner. On the macro level, make the purpose of learning a race to the finish. Convince people that the only reason you go to school is to get a better job than your neighbour in a globally competitive economy. Keep everyone frantically compliant by constantly reminding/threatening them that they might be falling behind. On the micro level, make classroom activities about finishing first. Time everything. In math, be sure to do Mad Minutes! and in all classes be sure to place a great deal of emphasis on due dates and late penalties.

3. Control the learner. Make sure the school schedule is designed with minimal input from the learner. Allow the learner to think they have a say in their leaning by letting them pick a couple optional courses but otherwise be sure to keep their input on what they learn and how they learn to a minimum. Learning should be fractured and compartmentalized so that subjects appear isolated, unrelated and irrelevant. Course outlines and curricula should be published by distant authorities and mailed to the schools. Lesson plans should be standardized by a PLC and laminated.

If, however, you wish to nurture and encourage learning, then consider all this as the anti-model.


  1. Excellent post! Thank you Joe!
    These three may be the most common mistakes among educators who have good intentions. Judging can easily be disguised as cognitive practice, you are giving feedback in the from of grades, right? Applying competition in the classroom may feel like a good idea to kee students engaged, but it leads to rushing, and there is not much left of cooperation if students are trying to beat others to be the first (in anything/everything). And controlling students too much doesn't leave room for them to construct their own thinking and knowledge, which of course reflects a very rigid view about knowledge - and makes critical thinking completely impossible and unnecessary.

  2. Totally agree with Nina. Excellent post. Great summary of bad teaching.
    Regards, Gary

  3. The “next step” is to do this to the teachers and schools too. Do exactly the same to them. Tie everything down with specifications. Slot every facet of the being and actions of schooling into grades. Impose. Do not discuss. Obliterate originality. Eliminate purpose. Destroy principle. Inspect. Apply schedules of labyrinthine complexity. Cement in place with absolutist judgementalism. Call this “strong leadership”. Label the alternative “weak leadership”. Don’t discuss – destroy with a grade. Grade everything. Label attempts to understand and penetrate this process as lack of “self-evaluation” or of “capacity to improve”. Ensure compliance through subjugation, humiliation and fear. Eliminate those who continue to resist. Stand by and watch as the whole education system then ‘paces’ and ‘challenges’ itself into demoralised conformity. Label this as a “journey” striving to “excellence”.

  4. I do like the post, but it is what we currently do to teachers. I find it just flows down hill from those furthest from the classrooms and those in academia or the bureaucrats and technocrats strangle good classroom teaching with restrictive rules and obstacles. When something new, innovative, and, heaven forbid, counter cultural appears we work hard to not understand it and make it fit some predetermined fit.

  5. If indeed the three were purposely done to a student his situation will be unbearable. But i know teachers are not like that.

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  6. The antidote is look to who we serve. If teachers serve students, and principals serve teachers and students, and mid level admins serve principals, teachers and students, and superintendents serve them all, then we have a recipe for success. Notice no one is serving the press or politicians.

  7. Such a beautiful point of view. If only others could see things the way you do. I will be showing this to many of my colleges. As teachers development across the globe grows, it is my hope to see others fall into this new method of thinking about the learner and the content taught in their courses. Like most new teachers, I york in the direction of those who are protected by their tenure. Thank you for your insight.


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