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.  



  1. Thank you Lisa and Lisa! You are right on!

  2. Excellent piece Lisa. I am a firm believer in what Nik and others are trying to do for themselves. I think it's quite amazing to see all that they are accomplishing. We as educators speak constantly about our students needing to create a brand for themselves and take on the world at large. I have heard many educators tell me they wish that more of their students were outspoken and were trying to be apart of society.

    We should give these students the opportunity to share their opinions fairly and openly.

  3. Yes students should have opinions. But we also need to decide how much weight we give opinions. Too many times in education, the opinions of people with zero knowledge of the system are given more credence than those of us in the field. And this seems to be unique to the field of education. When is the last time that a patient was asked about the organization of medical school and their opinion was given more weight than that of doctors? And as far as credentials in your face, don't most people call their doctor, Doctor? Looking at the reviews of the book on the website, all of them give credentials so that we will trust their opinions.
    I appreciate the work that Nikhil has done, but I question all the attention he receives because of the novelty. In many respects he says the same things that educators have been saying for years but we are ignored. I am concerned that people don't value the opinions of professional educators.

    1. @Alice Flarend,
      Nikhil is not publishing an opinion piece. He is publishing an article. An article that was critiqued by someone who never read it and also is not familiar with the organization that is the focus of the article.

      As far as students having a voice in education...they absolutely should. Teachers and parents should as well.

    2. Who cares why people are listening, as long as they are listening? If Nikhil is the one with the attention right now, I don't begrudge it one bit. He's saying the right stuff, and those who discount his opinion because of his age are wrong to do so.

      I don't imagine I'm going to continue to agree with everything Nikhil says, but I'll do what I always do when I disagree. I'll argue. With respect.

    3. I have a friend who makes a living teaching medical students communication skills. The idea that lay people have nothing to teach doctors is simply wrong. There's an awful lot about the medical community that could change for the better if ordinary people were listened to. Nobody is treating Nikhil as though he has had a twenty-five year career in education. But his opinions still have the weight of his own experience.

    4. First I never said that "lay people" have nothing to teach doctors. My point was that doctors have the most say in what doctors need to know, not people outside the profession. This is not so in education. Second, yes we should care about who is being listened to in education policy decisions. Just because we may like what this author is saying does not make his opinion anymore valid than someone else who writes a book but says things with which you do not agree because of his anecdotal experiences. If, as educators, we want to be in professional control of our profession, we need to demand credentials from spokespeople. I would not accept Mel Gibson as a spokesperson ( expert) on new nuclear power plant design just because he had visited one and did some research. I would demand to know his expertise in nuclear physics and that he understands the underlying mechanisms and systems. Again, I am not bashing Nikhil's book or his opinions, which are based on his research and experiences. I am merely trying to explain what I think is the Chalkface guy's point. Educators need to take back their profession. They need to take on the role of expert. Too often educator's opinions are dismissed in discussion of education policy. In no other area do we set policy without the input of the experts.

  4. Could you link to Goyal's writing on the teacher prep program? Thanks!

    1. We'd be happy to link to it when we see it...but Johnson critiqued an article that he never read and has yet to be published.