Fighting for Our Profession

At some point over the past 2.5 years of blogging I began writing about myths of education. I believe it started with a couple of posts about cognitive biases in the classroom, and from there it was a short leap over to myths that plague our beliefs about learning. Here are a few I’ve covered:

But…we do learn from people we don’t like

The myth of the learning pyramid  

The myth of passive learning

Significant learning can occur without a significant student-teacher relationship

Future ‘skills’ and jobs

While I do see these myths mentioned occasionally on twitter and in professional development sessions, no myth is as entrenched in education today as the learning styles myth. It is the Voldemort of myths. As I said in a recent post, it just won’t die…and I’m not sure why. Actually, that’s not true, I believe I’ve got a good idea why. It is still embedded in popular educational websites, in our university teacher training programs, in our state standards, and even at the U.S. Department of Education.

A couple of days ago, I decided to have a look at ISTE’s website to see if they had any articles on learning styles. Though there were few, they were still there. To ISTE’s credit, they amended the article I brought to their attention and they are working on an initiative now (Course of Mind) to bring the learning sciences to the classroom. I also took a quick look at Edutopia’s website and also found articles mentioning the myth. I believe they took the article down after I, and others, tweeted about it. Also, there’s this from Houghton Mifflin College, where you can learn about your thinking style, your learning style, and other bogus personality inventory nonsense.  

Ugh…

I recently took a look at the websites of the top ten graduate programs for education in the United States. After a quick keyword search for learning styles on their website, I found that 8 out of 10 had articles or faculty resumes referring to the teaching to preferred learning styles.

I also had a search of my state’s (Alabama) courses of study. I found 13 mentions of learning styles…and that was just looking at the science, social studies, math, language arts, and pre-k standards. I emailed my state superintendent with this information, but have not received a reply.

Demoralizing…

But..surely the people in D. C. have it straight, right? Wrong.

“During her 2017 confirmation hearing, DeVos thanked Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, for displaying a chart in the hearing room that she could refer to during testimony, calling herself “a visual learner…” (1)

That’s the U. S. Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, calling herself a visual learner.

Also, this:

“President Trump has declined to participate in a practice followed by the past seven of his predecessors: He rarely if ever reads the President’s Daily Brief… Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation.” (2)

The President of the United States doesn’t believe reading is his preferred style of learning.

I’m at a loss.

I’m ashamed.

And I’m a bit upset about it all.

The teaching profession is just that…a profession. We are professionals. We deserve better from educational media, from professional development sessions, from our state departments of education, from our university training programs, and certainly from the U. S. Department of Education. We put in too much effort with our students to be undermined by poor pedagogical philosophies by those ‘above’ us.

That’s why I keep fighting this myth. While chatting with my friend, Chuck Schallhorn, I mentioned that I didn’t know if my efforts were productive in this fight or if I was just annoying. He replied with,

“They might be annoying to those who perpetuate the myth, but for those of us who want to stomp it out, we applaud you.”  (3)

Yes. Thank you.

So, I will continue to ‘call out’ those who perpetuate the myth of teaching to prefered learning styles. I’ll fight the fight for my profession, for your profession, for our profession. We deserve better. Our students deserve better.

If you’d like to join in the fight, please feel free to do the following:

-comment with a link to research/articles/books that further dispel the learning styles myth.

-share/tweet/email this blog post to any and everyone who you think will care.

-call the myth out every time you see it.

1. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/01/09/learning-styles-debate-its-instructors-vs-psychologists

2. https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/president-trumps-preferred-styles-of-learning

3. https://twitter.com/MtnHousePsych/status/1137037207506522112

9 comments

  1. Thanks for this and for your efforts to move educators forward from this position. However, I wonder if we need to look at this differently. When we deconstruct something and break it down to its constituent parts, we sometimes think by focusing on a part, we can do better than utilizing the whole. Learning is obviously complex and made of different parts or styles but these seem to work best when done collectively or in groups rather than in isolation. Perhaps by focusing on understanding the parts but utilizing the collective, we can help people see how best to learn.

  2. The AP Psychology curriculum is flush with questionable science but I must teach this material to help my students achieve a passing grade on the AP exam. This troubles me greatly!

    Tom Jackson
    Alvirne HS

  3. When I talk with EDUC majors and others who are likely to come across pro-learning styles perspectives at some point, I like to remind them that we are all visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners because that’s how everyone’s brains are wired. I wrote two lengthy pieces about this early in my blogging tenure, here’s one that I think is really worth sharing again, titled “Labeling in the name of progress”: https://wp.me/p282hY-20

  4. I am reading this as this topic is a favourite of my principal. He has not taught for a long time, but brings up learning styles in every staff meeting (and school council meeting). I am looking for ways to challenge his thinking.

  5. Thank you Blake.
    I’m trying to join this cause too, as you helped me to be aware of its importance. I’m worried about my school: we are at a turning point: for the 1st time we will have 2 semesters, and only one summative assessment for each subject matter in each semester; we are looking for other ways of assessment and how to support students learning.
    As a Tutor, I must be careful to choose evidence proved learning strategies, to avoid the learning miths and share all that with my colleagues.
    Please excuse my English.
    Articles that may help:
    https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/edu-a0037478.pdf
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01908/full
    https://career.ucsf.edu/sites/career.ucsf.edu/files/Article%20UCSF%20SEJC%20January%202017.pdf
    Ines

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