I just posted a blog about 21st century skills over here. I got some very interesting and thought-provoking responses from people in the comments and on Twitter. All good. One person, Sam Freedman, retweeted it saying ‘This is good’. So far, so good. Then Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, responded saying ‘No it’s not. It’s the either ….or mentality again. Knowledge or skills, academic or vocational, old fashioned or progressive etc.’
Sam, very kindly, responded and said that if he thought that, he clearly hadn’t read it. I am glad he said this, because it completely and utterly baffles me how anyone could have read my post and come to that conclusion. And, without wanting to sound arrogant, did Brian Lightman really find the post so unenlightening that he could only conclude that it just wasn’t good? Did he find nothing in it of value or interest? The post presents a summary of the latest scientific thinking about knowledge and skills, and yet he can dismiss it so quickly. I suspect, as Sam said, he has perhaps not read it as thoroughly as he might. It is particularly disappointing that anyone in education would respond to a carefully thought out and nuanced argument so dismissively and casually; I find it particularly disappointing that someone in Mr Lightman’s senior position would do so.
Unfortunately, this reminds me of one of the reasons why I was so reluctant to begin blogging. The problem is essentially asymmetry: I spend a lot of time thinking about my blogs, writing them, editing them and referencing them. There are a limitless number of people out there who will skim-read them quickly and post dismissive tweets about them. This takes them about a minute. I know that Twitter as a medium encourages, and even demands, brevity of expression – however this isn’t as excuse for brevity of thought. I make no apology for holding myself to high standards of logical thinking and writing, so inevitably my responses will often require more time to compose. My time is limited, and I cannot always do this.
Of course one response is to ignore these people. This can work, but it runs the risk of people reading the criticism, and assuming from the fact you haven’t responded that you don’t have a response. This risk is particularly acute when someone as senior and well-known as Mr Lightman criticises you: reputation matters, and when people see the head of a national organisation dismiss a ‘lowly English teacher’ (as someone on Twitter recently, and fairly accurately, called me) then there is a risk that they will think that the head of the national organisation must have some good reasons for doing so.
I am sure Mr Lightman would not want to take advantage of his position of seniority. But like a teacher who grades a paper without reading it or commenting on it, this is the risk he is taking. So if you are reading this, Mr Lightman, I would appreciate it if you would reread my post carefully and, if you are still so critical of it, give some proper reasons which explain why. I will promise you I will happily reciprocate any time and effort you put in to your contributions.