The Dangers of Feelgoodism in Education

Recently, on Twitter, I came across this image:

If you’ve been around edutwitter for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen this exact image or something quite similar. Quite catchy. Seems harmless…but is it really? Think about the message it’s potentially sending to those who see it. Attitude is more important that knowledge and hard work? I don’t know about that…maybe in some scenarios, but certainly not in all.

And then, in the top right corner, it asks, “coincidence or not???” Well, actually it’s just a coincidence. That’s it. When arbitrary numerical values are assigned to the 26 letters of the alphabet, the letters in attitude add up to 100. As @IBchemJedi pointed out on twitter, ‘toilets’ also adds up to 100. Coincidence or not??? What does this indicate about the value of toilet when compared to attitude? Nothing. Exactly nothing. Just like knowledge, hard work, and attitude should not be compared for their relative values against one another.

Now, I know some of you are saying that I am taking extreme liberty with my perceptions of this tweet, and that I’ve read into this way too much. Maybe I am. To be honest, I don’t believe the image above is that bad. But it does bring to mind other common phrases and images we see in education that are, potentially, more dangerous:

From a very popular Ted Talk (over 5 million views):

“You know, kids don’t learn from from people they don’t like.” – Dr. Rita Pierson

Well…actually they can and do. I’ve written more about this here. If I’m a teacher and I take this sentiment to heart, I may spend an inflated amount of time in class attempting to make my students like me because they have to if they’re going to learn, right? No. And can you imagine if students believed this to be true? “Well, I can’t learn from Mr. Harvard because I don’t like him.” Time to get a schedule change, I guess? Or a message from administration telling teachers to be more likeable?

Am I saying to purposely be unlikeable in class? No, not at all. But teachers also shouldn’t strive for students liking them.

“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” – Dr. James Comer

Sort of a similar vibe to the above quote. Learning can occur without a significant personal relationship between student and teacher. In fact, Dr. Comer wasn’t even referencing that sort of relationship with this quote. By relationship, he actually meant a relationship with the material (prior knowledge, etc.)…which highlights another important aspect of these catchy/motivational quotes – often times they are taken out of context.

Again, am I saying to not invest time in getting to know your students? No. But that relationship isn’t necessarily as important for learning as some would have you to believe.

I’ve discussed the misuse of this quote in further detail here.

The Learning Pyramid

You’ve probably seen this learning pyramid/triangle in some form or fashion. It assigns specific percentages of memory retention to differing modalities of either receiving information or relaying information. Spoiler alert: there are no studies that back up these percentages. They are completely made up. And if you really take a close look at the different activities and their percentages, it doesn’t make any logical sense at all. And is it possible to participate in multiple activities at once and remember over 100%?

It’s all shenanigans. Yet, this information could be viewed by some teachers and they, in turn, tailor their instruction. It can be damaging to learning.

I’ve written in more depth about the myth of the learning pyramid here.

And don’t get me started on teaching to prefered learning styles.

I do understand the lure of a really catchy phrase, sentence, or image; especially when they confirm our already established beliefs about learning and teaching. But we need to be more critical consumers of information and statistics. The feelgoodism of education can serve as a threat to quality instruction and learning. We need to be ready to recognize this and stick to what really means something and serves our students.

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

3 thoughts on “The Dangers of Feelgoodism in Education

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  1. Picking up what you’re putting down, but kids you haven’t even taught love you. Our job is to teach, but building relationships and trust is still pretty great. Do you feel successful when a kid passes an AP exam? Sure! But you also feel successful when they have some crisis and know they can talk to you, too. I guess that’s not the point of the blog, though

  2. What’s worse than feel good ism? Oppressive dichotomies like the act of teaching is somehow separate from the relationship. The quality of the relationship always determines the quality of the learning. Try to integrate that truth in your analysis.

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