Teachers should accept that they are partly to blame for the dull, target-based lessons in many schools, education academics said this week.
Dennis Hayes, of Canterbury Christ Church university college, said teachers were too willing to accept government targets and to spend lessons raising children's self-esteem rather than imparting knowledge.
"That is why you are so scared to teach," he said. "Teachers are complicit in this."
Dr Hayes, head of Canterbury's centre for professional learning, made his comments in an Institute of Ideas forum which discussed whether teachers were too frightened to teach.
His views were supported by several school staff and academics who took part in the event at London university's institute of education.
Mark Taylor, head of history at a south London secondary school, said his habit of openly criticising pupils was frowned upon by other teachers who feared it would damage the young people's self-esteem.
"I have started ripping up kids' work in front of them, telling them it's rubbish and that they can do better," he said.
"Suddenly the room comes alive - they know where they are and they can get on with learning something.
"There is an air of anti-intellectualism in schools. I think teachers are complicit in that."
Joanna Williams, a further education lecturer and former secondary school teacher, had a similar view.
"Teachers are afraid to challenge students, to confront them with their own ignorance and to push them out of their comfort zone," she said.
Dr Hayes said he had gone into teacher training because he had "a fairly low opinion of teachers" as a pupil.
Bad experiences which had created this impression included an assembly in which children had been taught how to blow their noses.
Future forums planned by the Institute of Ideas, a libertarian think-tank which believes education is an end in itself, include one entitled "What's the fuss about vocationalism?"