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This is a reply to Matthew Arend’s post – Unbridled Foolishness

What I see when I read your tweets and blog post are some valid insights, but also missed chances to see value in what someone else has said.

Contrary to the opposition you set up, regulation and innovation are not opposites nor does regulation confine us to ‘a way’. If you want to press the analogy with medicine, which I think we should, then we need to recognise that it is both regulated and innovative, with multiple ways of doing things.

It takes a long time for new medical technologies and practices to make it into everyday practice precisely because those technologies are tested and evaluated in a way the educational technologies are not. And when you decide to have a surgery, the point is to go to a hospital that does lots of them as a routine practice, much like a good literacy teacher has routine practices that work well.

Erickson’s analogy with medicine and pilots is faulty: teachers do not have a shelf of technologies that we know are new and better to pull from. In fact, we have been subject to various kinds of ‘unbridled foolishness’ and are getting tired of it. We are often pushed to use untested technology, find it to not be better, and then are castigated when we get fed up and don’t try the next new thing. So rather than paint those you disagree with as those who don’t “get it” and in need of being educated (point 2), it’s worth thinking that maybe you are missing part of the picture.

Instead of going back to Couros, I would highly recommend reading some good histories of technology. Many innovations that seemed new and better at the time have proved disastrous (chlorofluorocarbon and the use of fertilisers in industrial agriculture come to mind).

It’s also worth noting that his definition of ‘innovation’ is idiosyncratic. Following Schumpeter, ‘innovation’ primarily means bringing products to market and improving business models. So yes, unbridled innovations can certainly be bad (see the financial innovations called CDOs). In most discourse, ‘innovation’ has a technical meaning, just like ‘evolution’ does in science.

These two senses of ‘innovation’ set up misunderstanding: while many technologies are innovative (they make edtech companies money) they are not innovative (they are not ‘better’, however we measure that). So while Couros’ sense of innovation may by definition seem to be not dangerous (it’s better), we face two problems: 1) as with CFCs, we need a long-view on what’s ‘better’ which we simply lack with most tech ; and 2) pursuing ‘better’ with ‘unbridled foolishness’ can distract us from doing what’s good.

Dylan Smith has a serious point he argues we need to be careful working with vulnerable sectors, which you do not address in your post. It would be nice to see you address this issue and take it on board instead of moving away from it and into your comfort zone.

We as teachers know that we have good practices that work and we have finite energy. It wouldn’t be responsible to pursue ‘unbridled foolishness’ when teaching kids to read when I already know lots of good ways of doing it (and there are other experts out there I still learn from). That doesn’t mean that I don’t look for chances to be innovative, but we need reliable good practices as foundation for education, just like in medicine.

I’d love to hear your feedback on some of my work too:

All the best,

photo by antti


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