No junk culture, become 'bullshit detectors'

4th April 2008 at 01:00
In an era of information overload and "junk culture", teachers need to turn their pupils into "bullshit detectors", according to Robert Fisher, an education expert. He suggested teachers could do so by engaging their pupils in "quality dialogue".

Dr Fisher, recently retired professor of education at Brunel University and the author of more than 30 books on education, wants pupils to practise "purposeful talk" and "mind-expanding talk" which keep learning objectives in mind.

"My message is a simple one," he continued. "If you want to build on the successes that you are achieving here in Scotland, in terms of literacy and numeracy and learning across the curriculum, then the way to do that is to improve the quality of the dialogue."

We are suffering from "affluenza" and information overload, according to Dr Fisher, who was speaking in Edinburgh at a Learning and Teaching Scotland conference on literacy. Our knowledge doubles every two-and-a-half years, but too much of it is "unconsidered" and "unverified".

"We need our students to become what one of my secondary students called 'bullshit detectors', so they can find a way through the competing and tempting voices. We need to build their critical faculties to enable them to interrogate what they read in the newspapers and what their mates say behind the bike sheds."

Teachers who want children to be obedient and who teach in a "defensive" and "routine" fashion - "turn to page whatever" - will hold Scottish education back, he warned.

"Many hours of their day are spent trapped in that commercialised, technological world where, in the average year, 40,000 ads flash quick-fire messages at them. We live in a soundbite, not a dialogic society, so where do students go to seek meaning and have their thinking challenged? They go to thinking schools and dialogic teachers."

Dr Fisher drew on one of his own experiences to illustrate what he meant: in a classroom, he placed himself between the blackboard, where the learning objectives were written, and a little girl, and asked her to tell him the purpose of the lesson. She could not tell him because, Dr Fisher said, she had clearly not "internalised" the aims.

"A dialogic teacher," he concluded, "would engage with the students about the learning objectives, discuss them and try and get the students to put them in their own words. Why? Not just because they want a more successful lesson but because that's the students we're after.

"We are working towards students who are autonomous, who think for themselves, who expect to put things in their own words, who make meaning and who share with others."

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