“The plural of anecdote is not data” has become a ubiquitous catch-cry whenever a particular social, political or educational trend is being posited by means of I-just-heard or my-mate-told-me parables. Of course, the principle behind the phrase is a sound one. And yet I have profound doubts about its use in matters where proper data, for various reasons, is hard to gather. It can easily become simply a more scientific-sounding version of “nothing to see here, move along”.
Take, for instance, the issue of what is taught in initial teacher education courses.
There is a view, to which I largely subscribe, that most ITE courses do not train prospective teachers properly in the fundamentals of reading instruction. That they give them unhelpful and indeed absurd advice on classroom management and behaviour. And furthermore, that these courses offer prospective teachers a great deal of tendentious ideology instead of practical advice on effective teaching.
When such a view is expressed, on social media or elsewhere, it inevitably receives a backlash of the “anecdote is not data” variety. In some recent Twitter exchanges, the first point in particular has been denounced as “shaming” of academics (makes a change from certain academics shaming teachers and schools, I suppose).
And yet, as should be obvious on reflection, it is hard to establish just what is taught in ITE courses without questioning the students themselves. This is certainly the method that I have used over the last twenty years, ever since my own Dip.Ed., which largely formed my view as expressed above.
And every single prac student and first-year-out teacher that I have met since then has confirmed this view. Every single one.
Here is the latest, particularly damning, “anecdote” from among the hundreds if not thousands that I have accumulated over the years.
Yesterday, I caught up with a recent ex-student who, to my great delight, has decided to undertake a B.Ed. with a view to becoming a language teacher. After we exchanged various bits of news, I asked her how the education course was going. She is in her first semester, and so it is the plenary, introductory course that we were talking about. I will not name the tertiary institution involved.
“It all pretty much seems to be Henry Giroux,” she said.
Since most readers of this blog will probably be teachers or those with an interest in education, I will assume that this name needs no introduction.
A figure with, let us be honest, extreme and eccentric views is apparently the central figure in an introductory course for undergraduates who are training to be teachers, not revolutionaries (well, not necessarily, anyway).
The plural of anecdote may not be data. But how many such anecdotes are needed before we are able to draw the obvious conclusion that ideology trumps practicality every time in so many tertiary education faculties?