Educational Snake Oil

Originally published: Sunday, 6 May 2012 on Dusty World

I’ve recently cut most of the ‘educational consultants’ from my twitter feed.  I found the tweets, blogs and emails I was getting from them had a funny, self interested smell.  If I have to pay for entry into their private realm of secret ideas about how to become a super teacher, then what am I really paying for?  It reminds me of other groups that want to get me on a pyramid and get themselves another believer (with cash).

Can I not do this with any PLN?  Ask a colleague, it’s cheaper, and more honest

I realize that Educational Consultants have to make a living, but the constant up-sell I’ve been getting on work email, and the secretive approach to building closed groups who will ‘show you the way’ that can only be entered through joining the club to learn insider information gives me the willies.

I don’t even feel comfortable when public educational computing leans heavily on private companies to run their computers.  Our own board has a strange affiliation with MDG, Microsoft and Wordperfect that defies logical description (as well as expensive, foreign, consultant/keynotes when we have locally relevant talent available).  When open source, free, democratically (and transparently) developed not-for-profit operating systems and software are available for educational use, why would we be in tightly worded, long term contracts with for profit companies like these?  There might be a situation where a private option is the only one, but it appears to operate the other way around; the private option is the only option.  Ed-consultants seem to work under the same logic.

Given a choice, I think I like my professional development on an open source model; freely shared with people who, you know, actually teach, instead of just talking about it (from a country that has gutted its own public education system).  I know it’s exciting to get some big money, charismatic cult-sultant up from the States (because evidently they like to export their poorly performing educational system world wide), and many senior educational administrators feel that this is real value, but after tasting the freedom of unconferences, ed-camps and keynotes from professors who are working to understand the complexities of change in 21st Century education, I’m wondering why we keep going back to the (expensive) snake oil.

It worries me to think that even educators would rather be told what to think than try and work it out for themselves.  It doesn’t bode well for a 21st Century classroom when we ourselves aren’t willing to be the experimental, freely collaborative learners we expect our students to be.