Monthly Archives: March 2015

Do we know what we’re talking about?

One of the biggest problems we face in teaching is a almost total incomprehension of what learning actually is. This this worrying. We have a ‘grab bag’ approach to teacher training on this topic. Give ’em a dozen different learning theories (behaviourism, constructivism, situated learning, cognitive apprenticeship, connectivism, andragogy, etc.), get ’em to talk about them, but don’t ask which is correct (even when they seem to contradict one another). I mean, if we lean towards the idea of being a profession with a good evidence base for our praxis, you’d think we’d have a core learning theory that largely stood up to test, and which most of us could nail our colours to as practitioners? Not so. There is no such approach in current professional practice. Which, I would suggest, undermines our credibility as people who know what we are doing, and makes our battle with the powers-that-be weak in the extreme. We have no solid ground from which to make demands about resourcing, and are at the mercy of whatever fad may go through the minds of politicians. Amazing!

I think we need to start getting our act together with regard to learning theory. I DO NOT mean establish an enforced orthodoxy… my goodness, ‘there be ye monsters’! But I do think we need a better ‘grand-unified’ approach to a learning narrative that melds together worthwhile concepts and stands up well to an ongoing dialectic. This way we can (at least) know  where we are starting from, and can build a momentum of critical theory that can be both useful in practice and progressive in intent.

We don’t have this yet. I see it as a key project for the future, and worth pursuing by all those involved in teaching and learning.


“In Marxist philosophy, the term cultural hegemony describes the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of that society — the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores — so that their ruling-class world-view becomes the world-view that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm; as the universally valid dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.

In philosophy and in sociology, the term cultural hegemony has denotations and connotations that derive from the Ancient Greek word ἡγεμονία hegemonia “leadership”, “rule”. Hegemony is the geopolitical method of indirect imperial dominance, with which the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states, by the threat of intervention, an implied means of power, rather than by direct military force — that is, invasion, occupation, and annexation.” (Wikipedia)

Hegemonic imperialism. The world view of one culture as the ONLY acceptable view. Or perhaps the view that only one economic approach is acceptable, and validated by the lack of any contrary thought. Also hegemonic imperialism can exist in any culture, society or organisation where one view (and one view only) is seen as acceptable. What is notable here is the lack of contrary discourse, which distinguishes hegemony from pure dictatorship. Incidentally, hegemonic imperialism is a component of neo-totalitarian society.


People are more able to give love when they are secure in themselves. When the fear, conflict, envy and pain have gone, then there is a generosity of spirit that remains that can give freely to others without wanting anything in return. That is love. Joy is the play of love across the world (or universe if you prefer). Like in the Sanskrit word ‘turangalila’ meaning ‘time’ and ‘love’ but also ‘play’ (as to play a game or to play in a carefree way as with children). From a Maslowian perspective, people who are self-actualised have this quality of the ‘play of joy’.


One thing I find reassuring about my Facebook encounters is, there is (by and large) little in the way of transgender snobbery. Just about everyone I know is very supportive of one another, especially the Facebook Transgender Alliance, which is well moderated and tends to work pretty well. I guess this is because Facebook is not trans specific; hence there is little traction to be gained in carving out personal empires when the main raison d’etre of the platform is the diversity of friendship networks.

The tragedy is, many of us (and I’m no exception to this) have suffered from internal bigotry of one sort or another in the outside world. The snobbery usually comes in the form of either ‘I’m more trans’ than you’ (e.g. you’re non-op and therefore a ‘fake’), or ‘my needs are more important than yours’ (e.g. my persecution is much more intolerable than your minor problems are).

Clearly, all human need is equally important, no matter how trivial other’s may seem at first sight. But because of all this messiness, I’ve taken up a resolution to:

a) Eschew organised trans groups (other than on-line communities).
b) Religiously only comment for myself: I represent no other trans’ opinion other than my own (though I do speak from a professional point of view with regard to the work and interest bodies I represent, and the subject areas I teach)

One of the main sources of all this mental aggression seem to be that most of us (me included) go through one helluva psychological ‘battering’ when both coming out, and in negotiating the exigencies of the NHS gender dysphoria treatment pathway. The rigidity of the latter, the hit-and-miss nature of local treatment standards, and enormously long waiting lists, mean that many of us end up half-do-lally ( 😉  )… even if we didn’t start out that way. And I do include myself in this category, by the way.  In addition, I seriously think we don’t get enough psychological support during the entire process. Not surprising then that expressed needs can cause problematic friction within a culture of perceived shortages.

So, I keep my head down. Until I occasionally forget, or am asked to be involved in projects, and then suddenly remember why I had my head down in the first place 🙂

But, never let it be said that I’m not entirely supportive of trans’ peoples ventures (whatever they may be). We need to stabilise life and limb, and provide a better outlook on social equality. Indeed, I’m usually the first to be a cheerleader on most initiatives. Nevertheless, I find I’m most effective in the current work I do within non-trans-specific organisations (JCLLC, Healthwatch NT, UCU, Tutor’s Voices, the WEA, and my places of work).

Horses for courses. And I’m quite happy with the horse I’m riding.


I rarely cogitate much when I have negative experiences about my gender. I guess I’m used to that sort of thing… like water off a ducks back really. But the funny thing is I do cogitate (usually in the car) when good things happen. I suppose I’m not expecting these, and it always comes as something of a surprise.

For instance I called in for petrol locally today, and the woman behind the check-out remembered who I was from a previous visit, asked after my day, and chatted away to me about the weather (very bright, but bloody cold!). I never (never!) used to get this sort of thing as ‘good ol’ Bob’, but it seems that when I came out I got a special ‘entrance to female chit-chat’ card as part of the deal. It’s something I value very much. Not so much because of the ego-boost it gives, but just for once it confirms a genuine recognition that I actually exist and am worth talking to (when I’m ‘out of mufti’ that is — teachers get talked to all the time at work). It’s the little things that make all the difference.

The good thing is it gives positive reinforcement spiral. Someone chats to me spontaneously. I chat back. They remember me next time and do the same again. And it relaxes my tensions about the world and makes me happier in myself. Then the same technique applies to other experiences. It’s a ‘trans-ferrable skill’ (sic!), and I think a very good example of Lave/Wenger LPP in action (look it up!).

I think being transgender is very much about learning, just as many things are. Learning about the world, and about how the relationships forged by the social expression of gender operate. Finding your way in a contingent environment with little or no coping skills arising from upbringing. Improvising as you go. Looking for supportive feedback.

But there is a peculiar thing about learning: the harder you ‘try’ the more difficult it is to learn something. The idea is to relax and not try too hard; the more you let things happen in an unforced manner, the less defensive ‘System 1’ is, and hence the more likely it is that learning will take place (see Kahneman and the ‘Dual Systems’ model). Or to quote Yoda: “No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Same goes for social transitioning: just let things be, take your time, be open, relaxed, pleasant, polite… and (usually) things work themselves out of their own accord. Or so I have found.


Got ‘InTuition’ magazine from the ETF this morning. It is a very peculiar experience seeing ‘the old rag’ under ETF’s banner, and with none of the familiar editorial faces. More interesting was Geoff Petty’s article “Help! They forget faster than I can teach”, which is all about memory and how to sustain student’s remembering of what is taught. I usually rate the ubiquitous Geoff very highly; he comes up with solid, well-argued material. But I’m afraid his conception of memory and its role in learning is a little simplistic, and misses a variety of points:

1) Memory is not a ‘recording’ (like video tape, for instance) but is constructed and re-constructed over time. What we remember is not consistent, nor entirely as accurate as we think. Indeed we can invent fictional events to fill in areas where memory is scant or vague. The only manner in which we can be ‘sure’ of what we remember is through the verificational experience of sharing our memories in social groupings (see the work of Elizabeth Loftus).

2) Memory is a ‘selective’ construction, based on experiences at the time. People tend to remember things experienced in emotionally heightened circumstances, and then emphasise the most *recent* aspects of the experience (e.g. they remember the last part of a scary, shocking, painful or joyous event — see the work of Daniel Kahneman)

3) The things we ‘remember’ best are not consciously accessible. Have you noticed that you don’t have to ‘remember’ how to write or read (assuming you know how to do these things!), or how to change gear in the car? If you did have to remember these, then the process would be too slow to be useful. I would suggest that this is an indicator that what teaching aspires to do: the lodging of experience (what I would term the ‘Epirico-Rational Process’) in the unconscious aspects of the mind, allowing learned material to be natural, organic and retrieved on-demand. (again, see Kahneman, and especially the Dual Systems Model)

4) Teaching is, in essence, a communicational process, in which the tutor-and-student group (as an organic whole!) share information, practice (i.e ‘praxis’) and cultural values. When this is formed (i.e a community of practice) then the above become natural. (see Lave, Wenger, Wittgenstein, etc.)

Here endeth the lesson for today. And if the above has annoyed you, provoked you, or given you pleasure, then you’re likely to remember it.

FE and the Skills Agenda

“Sustaining the ideological monoculture was the ‘truism’ that there was a clear relationship between national educational attainment and economic success. The examples seemed very clear, especially within the East Asian economies where rapid growth came hand-in-hand with educational investment in skills. But the truism has lesser credibility when closely examined. Lant Pritchett famously stated in 2000 that “Cross national data show no association between the increases in human capital attributable to rising educational attainment of the labor force and the rate of growth of output per worker. This implies the association of educational capital growth with conventional measures of TFP (where TFP is Total Factor Productivity) is large, strongly statistically significant, and negative” (Pritchett, 2000). Echoing this, Ha-Joon Chang reiterated the same message when he wrote “Education is valuable, but its main value is not in raising productivity. It lies in the ability to help us develop our potentials and live a more fulfilling and independent life. If we expanded education in the belief that it will make out economies richer, we will be sorely disappointed, for the link between education and national productivity is rather tenuous and complicated.” (Chang, 2010). But did any government initiative take cognisance of this? If they did, it was drowned out by the ideological need to prove that free-market systems as applied to education were the sole road to a utopian future.”

(Groves 2015)

Professionalism: FE’s Rolling Stone Proverbially, a rolling stone gathers no moss.

Hot off the presses:

Debates about FE professionalism have been rolling along since 2002 and before, and the stone may not be mossy but it is certainly cracked, denuded, and eroded; if not shattered completely. The consequences of the Professionalism War which terminally injured the last attempt at a professional body are still with us, with a number of bodies, including the Education and Training Foundation and the College of Teachers, now jockeying for a new role in FE professionalism. What follows is a proposed alternative take on professionalism. To paraphrase The Rolling Stones: you can’t always get what you want from professionalism; but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need: a collective democratic voice… Tutors’ Voices: Further, Adult, Community Education and Skills (FACES) Attempts to professionalise the Further, Adult, Community Education and Skills (FACES) sector have too often adopted a deficit analysis, with an assumption that tutors are not professional, and with the lack of a fully participatory, democratic, ethos. However, in a forthcoming chapter to mark the centenary of Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916), Frank Coffield argues that teacher professionalism has been undermined with the abolition of the General Teaching Council (GTC) and the collapse of the Institute for Learning (IfL). “Right from the start the IfL failed to establish itself as an independent organisation, free from government influence. It could not even get its own name right. Its core function was to further the development of tutors in FE, so it should have been called the Institute for Tutors or Teaching. That said, it did much good work… It needs to be replaced, preferably by a body, established by FE tutors themselves, run on democratic lines and with the professional knowledge and expertise to stand up to both government and management. I offer as a working title: Tutors’ Voices…” We are seeking the views of FE colleagues about a new democratic professional association. We are adopting Frank’s Tutors’ Voices as a name in the short term; but members should decide on this in due course. The association is categorically not intended to replace any former FE professional bodies, or to encroach on the vital work around pay and conditions of sector trade unions, or to replicate the service functions of government funded sector bodies. Neither do we have any appetite for a role around issues such as professional regulation. It is intended that the association should become, in time, the collective voice of powerful, democratic professionalism for the FACES sector. Should there be any attempt in the future to compel lecturers into a fee-paying, mandatory professional body, our members should be well placed to resist such a move. Why is a professional association important? Voice of democratic professionalism: To enable FACES practitioners to have a strong, democratic, collective and autonomous professional voice on issues of practice and policy. Research and pedagogy: To encourage a network of practitioners and researchers committed to a culture of discussion, sharing, reflective inquiry and joint practice development informed by research and linked to policy. Influence policy: To defend and promote well-resourced vocational, academic and community-based education and comprehensive lifelong learning and education for democratic citizenship. To champion different types of knowledge (propositional, procedural, craft knowledge) and the three dimensions of professionalism (knowledge of subject; knowing how to teach it well and how students learn it; and involvement in local and national politics as they affect education as a whole). Proposed founding principles

1. Democratic (both as its fundamental operating ethos, and as an ethic of professional service to students: our professionalism should both promote expertise in TLA and foster independent, critical thinkers who are also active citizens in our democracy)

2. Inclusive (open to all FACES practitioners, and interested HE researchers, HE FE teacher trainers etc.)

3. Representative (decision making / elected posts in due course solely open to chalk face FE teachers)

4. Participatory (encourage engaged associates, and principally organised by lay activists)

5. Egalitarian (actively promote equality, and with no grades of membership, or “patrons”)

6. Transparent (establish electronic archives of all key association documents)

7. Independent (no government funding, and no formal links with any sector body, trade union etc.)

8. Collaborative (committed to a culture of discussion, sharing, reflective inquiry and development informed by research and linked to policy)

9. Campaigning (with the professional knowledge and expertise to challenge college managements, sector bodies, and government)

10. Non-mandatory (now or ever, as a non-negotiable founding principle; initially free, no cost to join, but in the long run the association may need to have a subscription basis to be sustainable) Projected opening campaigns There are two obvious initial campaigns we could consider, should membership numbers make this viable:

1. The powerful professional bodies in law and medicine have control over standards and practice. We need to assert our right to control teaching and learning, by demanding full statutory representation on all proposed sector educational reforms. This should be pressed after the forthcoming General Election.

2. The association should mobilise and lead the call for an end to all grading of teaching observations, instead promoting participatory and empowering forms of teacher development. Establishing a new democratic professional association To express an interest in joining Tutors’ Voices please email Assuming there is sufficient interest the association will be launched on 1st May 2015, and we will communicate with you further after this date. A consultation document will be circulated after 1st May in order to democratically establish revised founding principles, and the association’s name, etc. (between the start of May and the end of June 2015). The precise nature of the organisation’s democratic structures will be a matter for its members, but in the first instance we propose that the membership (as of 1st May) will elect an honorary national secretary to serve for an initial term from September 2015 – August 2016. To join us please email: 

For those who are interested, I’m strongly supporting this, along with the rest of my ‘Dancing Princess’ colleagues. If you’re teaching in Further, Adult, Community Education and Skills (including the prison education sector), or are studying to teach in the sector, or have worked in the sector in the past: please take part and make this as mass national movement!! Any questions? Ask me or email the above!

Any Answers…

I really should NOT listen to ‘Any Answers’ on BBC Radio 4. I mean it’s bad for my blood pressure, and just makes me want to take to drink. If anything tells me that the state of political sophistication in the UK is at an all-time nadir, then it’s this programme. Folk ring in with comment. And today there was this complete bozo saying that being gay was a lifestyle choice, that it originated from abuse in childhood, and that gay people were (of course!) going to burn in Hell. I’m not gay (or at least, I don’t adhere to the term), but have a very strong sense that if I don’t defend the right of gay people to accepted as equals in society, then the next on the list of the ‘unacceptable’ will be transfolk. OK, I’m probably more tolerant than most, but the very idea that some people think this way is extraordinarily depressing. Worse still, it does nothing for my religious tolerance. Firstly we had Frankie-the-Papa saying trans’ people have the social impact of nuclear weapons (what is this guy on??), and then we have the openly voiced idea that it’s ‘OK’ to discriminate against minorities because of firmly held religious (i.e. Christian) views.

Christians belong to very rich and powerful churches. The Catholic Church in particular is very wealthy. And did not this organisation dominate Europe for centuries, and could be said to have done everything in its power to prevent the growth of independent thought? Should we trust such a church to have any real sense of ethics, pontificating as it does on what passes for right and wrong from a position ‘corrupted by mammon’? I doubt it. One of the chief issues it fails to recognise is it’s own sin of omission: «Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.» (St Mark, story of the rich young man). Let it divest itself of its temporal power, give to the poor, and then maybe it will be a trustworthy moral guide.