Sunday, February 24, 2013

An unscholarly professor comes out swinging at #StuVoice

Co-authored by Lisa Nielsen and Lisa Cooley

Shaun Johnson came out swinging this weekend, taking a jab at Nikhil Goyal the teen author of “One Size Does Not Fit All” who is getting a lot of airplay these days. 

Most recently Goyal was asked to write about a teacher prep program and that pissed Johnson off.  

From Johnson:

I found this student activist’s comments to be rather, how should I say it, naive and unsophisticated. Look, I’m not trying to sound like a killjoy here. But this person is making broad and ill-conceived pronouncements about teacher preparation and they are being asked to write thousands of words on the topic for a mainstream publication. I’m sorry, but I’m just going to have to pull rank here: I didn’t spend over a decade in this business to sit idly by.

Pull rank?

What rank?

Johnson can pull whatever he wants but no one cares or gives him authority to do so. 

Could it be that Johnson is upset that Goyal is receiving the attention he wants for himself?

Well, of course! But that is not really the problem.

Johnson is the first to throw his credentials in the face of anyone whose path he crosses, yet he doesn’t abide by proper academic practice that he covets.  For example, he shares that Goyal’s comments are naive and unsophisticated....

But Johnson admits to not being familiar with the organization Goyal is writing about.  

He admits that he never read Goyal’s piece.

He is shooting blanks at a target he’s never seen.

Johnson is frustrated that teachers don’t have more voice in the national education discussion. He is angry at the standards and tests and mandates come down to teachers from above. He’s angry that TFA creates “teachers” in five weeks. He’s mad that private interests undermine teacher credibility as they seek to profit off of children. We’re angry too.

But Johnson has taken this anger and directed it at anyone who dares to have an opinion -- and an audience if he deems them not to have the proper credentials or ideals. This of course eliminates all students, most parents, and some innovative educators (like me!).

“I won’t stand for it,” he says. And I’m sure that, in saying it, he feels he has put his foot down. Crossed the Rubicon. Thrown down the gauntlet and damn the consequences!

But people still want to listen to Goyal more than they do him.

Johnson’s problem is that he thinks Goyal will get more respectful attention than a teacher would. But it is more than likely that the people who read Goyal understand perfectly well that they are reading the perspective of a young person fresh out of public school, and they take his opinions in that context. Why is Johnson so threatened?

Johnson provides no evidence or quotes that shed light on what raised his dander. He attacks based on one very sad stipulation: that a young person’s insights about teacher preparation programs cannot have value. That is a job for teachers.

Young people can have a voice in certain approved (by him) areas, but according to Johnson only those who are certified deserve a voice in this conversation.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I agree that teachers should absolutely have a voice in the conversation about preparation programs. However, young people also have a valuable perspective -- and one voice does not negate the other.

Furthermore, Goyal is approaching this as a journalist. A concept lost on Johnson.

This should come as little surprise to anyone familiar with Johnson however.  Johnson is fond of his credentials (though his teach-by-reading-off-a-paper technique seen here is unimpressive).  

After he told home educators that, "they need to leave" an opt out of testing group he moderates, he explained his actions this way:

I happen to respect the fact that I've spent many years honing my craft and reading numerous pages of text that I should know a bit more than someone who has children.”


One hopes anyone who has done good work has developed healthy self-respect, but who crows about it? Who bases that self-respect on how many pages of text he has read on the subject of teaching? Wouldn’t you think that respect would derive from the success he’s seen in his students?

Since several group members strongly disagreed, he just censored and banned them. Just as he does on his site when he gets comments that contain information he prefers readers not be privy to.  

So, here we have a professor who critiques work he’s never read which is about an organization with which he is unfamiliar and he censors valid comments that undermine his credibility.  

Fortunately the general public is smart enough to realize that Johnson is not representative of most of us in the teaching profession. Great educators honor, respect, and listen to parents and youth. They don’t “pull rank” or try to discredit them without even bothering to do their research.