The Dean of All That He Sees

We don’t pay a lot of attention to ITE and education faculties. Our working assumption is that it’s all nonsense. So, unless something specifically Maths Ed-ish arises, or it looks like someone is about to start a promising war, we just leave them in peace to do their silly stuff. Sometimes, however, their stuff is so silly, a response is called for.

Viv Ellis is the Dean of Education at Monash University, semi-newly arrived from England. Last week, Ellis wrote a post on the AARE blog, It’s Anarchy in England. Australia’s ITE must steer clear. Given Australia’s ITE is currently a farce, Ellis’s almost-clever title suggests that his post might be taking the wrong side in some culture war. That, however, is not our concern; Greg Ashman has written a detailed critique of the post. What caught our attention were a couple sideswipe passages in Ellis’s post, together with a related comment(s?) submitted to the AARE blog.

The first such passage concerns Ofsted, the organisation behind Hannah Stoten and Stephen Wren’s excellent paper on the makings of a high-quality mathematics curriculum, which we wrote about, here. Ellis, however, appears to have a different view:

“Ofsted has also been empowered to conduct ‘research’ that becomes an integral part of justifying policy. Concerns over the quality of Ofsted’s ‘research’ reached a peak recently concerning its review of Mathematics teaching when authors of several studies cited asked for the review to be withdrawn over misappropriations of their research.”

Note the scare quotes. Which are kinda weird, since Ofsted never claimed their paper was research: the paper is, and is titled, in 48pt font, a review of research. And, yeah, after the scare quotes, Ellis refers to the paper as a review, while mischaracterising the Review. Ellis, it seems, doesn’t overly concern himself with factual accuracy.

As for the substantive complaint from AMET, well, there isn’t much in the way of substance, it consisting mostly of bad-faith nitpicking. Ashman has written on the complaint here, and, exhibiting Job-like patience, Ofsted have replied to AMET here. Ellis’s link also indicates that Ellis has confused or conflated AMET with the single academic quoted as objecting to the Review’s characterisation – not misappropriation – of their research, and who is not quoted as calling for the Review to be withdrawn. Again, with that factual accuracy thing.

Ellis’s second passage is even weirder:

“Distinctively, too, English education ministers have relied on a very small number of individuals (a few teachers, current and former, often with very limited classroom time, usually active on Twitter, and one with unsuccessful experience as a nightclub bouncer …

Ellis really seems to struggle with the singular-plural distinction: he links to one guy with apparently “limited classroom time”. And, as if that disqualifies him from being a worthy consultant.

What about Ellis’s second guy? It seems Ellis’s losing struggle with facts continues, since Ellis’s link suggests the guy had been a nightclub manager who, as near as anyone can tell, may have occasionally manned the door.

Ashman submitted a comment to the blog, querying the accuracy and the propriety of Ellis’s “bouncer” remark. Ashman’s comment did not appear. Ashman eventually received an email, seemingly from the blog editor, noting on the bouncer line that “Being a bouncer was not his full time job but he did indeed fulfil those duties”. Reading the blog and of this exchange, we contacted the (we presume) editor of the blog; to our great non-surprise, we received no reply.

Greg Ashman has strong opinions, and he can write in a strong manner, but, to our knowledge, he always writes clearly, without bad language, and on the issue. We find it impossible to believe that there was anything in Ashman’s submitted comment that warranted the blog editor declining to publish it. So, let’s summarise the point in decidedly non-Ashmanlike language:

Who gives a flying fuck whether the guy was a bouncer, failed or otherwise?

Seriously, what kind of overlording, down-punching Yertle writes that line, accurate or otherwise, and imagines it is rhetorically clever or has any probative value? What kind of Dean writes such a line? And, what kind of over-precious editor, of a purportedly academic blog, declines to publish the reasonable and required criticism of such a line?

Welcome to Australian Education, Viv. You’re gonna fit right in.

8 Replies to “The Dean of All That He Sees”

  1. Ugh. Disgusting behaviour. I remember reading Greg’s post about this.

    Greg, if you’re reading: Maybe you could post your comment on his blog here, or, as a comment on your blog? I know, you’ve said what it contains, but the suspicious reader may think that you corrected him with an offensive tone. Or something.

    1. I asked Greg, but he indicated that he hadn’t kept a copy of his comment. But it’s pretty obvious that the comment contained nothing inappropriate. First of all, that is simply not the way Greg engages in these battles. Secondly, if someone from AAER, and seemingly the blog editor, contacted Greg to defend Ellis’s line, but while doing so failed to mention any problem with Greg’s comment, it’s a very safe bet that there was nothing wrong with Greg’s comment.

  2. This is the pillock (keeping it British) that is over-seeing teacher training at Monash University. I wonder if he’s had tea and cucumber sandwiches with the Initial Teacher Education Review ‘Expert’ Panel.

  3. As a pre-service maths teacher at Monash University, this does not surprise me at all. Every unit so far has lacked academic integrity or any degree of sense. It’s like being forced to worship at a social constructivist cult. Fortunately, I came into the degree expecting this and knowing I would be educating myself. Thank-you for creating this blog- I’m always recommending it to others who are considering maths teaching.

    1. Hi, P-SMT, and thanks for your kind comments.

      Of course I’m not the slightest bit surprised to hear of your Monash experiences. If you have any nonsense you think might be a suitable basis for a blog post, feel free to email me. It’s very tricky to attack individual subjects/materials/lecturers, but I’m always interested. (For the same reasons, I haven’t posted on specific SACs and university maths subjects, although there is plenty of awfulness there.)

      To be clear, my criticisms of Dean Ellis’s nonsense above does not necessarily relate to the nonsense inflicted upon you. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    2. Dear P-SMT, It’s a pity that you had this experience. I had a different experience at Deakin. However, there is an issue that people embarking on a Master of Teaching should be aware of, especially if they come from a mathematics/science background. Academics in education have a tradition that is quite different from what we find in mathematics and science. Their language is different. There is less agreement on the best approach. (And, of course, if you look back far enough, so it was in scientific disciplines. Ask Galileo.) For centuries, scholars have tried to investigate problems in society in the same way that scholars investigate problems in mathematics or science. The problems associated with teaching and learning are important – and this is what maintains my focus.

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