The education systems in native English speaking countries are badly in need of updating (Functional Literacy Rates) which they probably aren’t going to get. To make this real, if my university degree was in Computer Programming I could accept that the material I learned in my first year would be out of date by the time I reached my fourth year, but my training was as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. The training I paid for was at least 30 years behind the times when it was taught to me, twenty years ago. If math is not your strong suit we are up to 50 years out of date. And that stale, ineffective, teacher-centered, grammar-based dogma is still what is being taught to ESL students today. Thanks to the internet, this unfortunate situation spells o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-t-y for many teachers – maybe you.
Here’s the Catch:
Employed teachers can’t learn better systems for their students not because they are bad people but because adult humans can’t learn new things even if they want to. The phenomenon is called conformation bias. It is just the way adult humans are wired.
Confirmation bias , also called confirmatory bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.
Look it up then let’s look at how confirmation bias shows up in a variety of different fields.
Here is a great talk Dare to Disagree by Margaret Heffernan that showcases doctors who x-rayed pregnant woman causing cancer and death in their babies for 20 years after it was proven that x-raying pregnant mothers causes cancer and death in babies. Whatever medical practitioners internalize in school (even if it was wrong) they can’t let go of in the face of irrefutable proof when it doesn’t heal their patients. 20 years is a generation; bad practices can’t stop until the people in the power positions (administration) die or retire. Doctors don’t kill babies/patients because they are mean or stupid, they kill babies/patients because they can’t perceive themselves as baby killers.
Margaret Heffernan , Management thinker The former CEO of five businesses, Margaret Heffernan explores the all-too-human thought patterns — like conflict avoidance and selective blindness — that lead organizations and managers astray.
I’m Canadian. I hate Trump, so does my country. We followed the American election in the media and were still blindsided by the results because of our confirmation bias. We chose to watch programming that confirmed our pre-existing beliefs about Trump as a sociopath and a buffoon. North Americans have no domestic real news because News programs forfeited facts for ratings a long time ago. (I watch BBC for real news). Real news sold out for rating$ and we are left with opinion programs erroneously called News that tell us what we like to hear.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a classic 19th century story that smacks of evil wherein the character of the young governess is interpreted as everything from innocent victim to ambitions, self-serving opportunist. How can there be such a wide range of hotly defended interpretations of the same character? It’s simple. Henry James understands human confirmation bias implicitly. The interpretations of the governess are reflections of the readers themselves. There are as many interpretations as there are readers. James’ story is timeless and brilliant. What did the Turn of the Screw reveal about you?
The boys in Boyzone have long since grown into men but the lyrics of their famous hit No Matter What are as true today as when they were written. Check out these selected lines:
No matter what they tell us No matter what they do No matter what they teach us What we believe is true….I can’t deny what I believe …
This is confirmation bias in a nutshell.
Really? You want me to go there? Jews have Jewish parents, Muslims have Muslim parents, Christians have Christian parents… It isn’t about religion, love, intelligence, education or informed choice, it is about putting the ideas of the previous generation into the heads of children as if they were the truth. Confirmation bias will take it from there. We take our conformation bias very seriously. Humans justify killing others in the name of whichever random belief system they happen to be born into. This isn’t what religion is about, it’s defending what we were told to believe.
What does all this have to do with education? Teachers preach all kinds of stupid things in good faith. Despite mountains of evidence some material is destructive or ineffective teachers can’t politically, intellectually, emotionally or financially abandon what they have been taught to teach. I never met a teacher who didn’t honestly believe they were a good teacher. If you are an English student and your teacher is using a Grammar Method or IPA – get out. They can’t do anything for you but take your money and waste your time.
Employed teachers are honest, compassionate, hardworking people with no tools to help learners. They fervently believe they are making a difference and they aren’t. The pension, benefits, holidays, job security, feckless administration and lack of accountability in the industry don’t help either. 40% of people in native English speaking countries are functionally illiterate yet each educator firmly believes they are a good teacher. Teachers are not bad people, they are just humans given by what they want to believe.
“If one were to attempt to identify a single problematic aspect of human reasoning that deserves attention above all others, the confirmation bias would have to be among the candidates for consideration. Many have written about this bias, and it appears to be sufficiently strong and pervasive that one is led to wonder whether the bias, by itself, might account for a significant fraction of the disputes, altercations, and misunderstandings that occur among individuals, groups, and nations.”
– Raymond S. Nickerson
Is your school or institution waiting for you to die or retire before students can have access to a 21st century education? Probably.
Unemployed teachers are honest, compassionate and hardworking too but they are something employed teachers are not – motivated.
Q:With the world demand for good English programs increasing everyday why the dramatic drop in attendance in traditional language schools?
A:Students get better information faster online.
If you are an unemployed ESL teacher the future belongs to you. Find one of these modern, effective methodologies online and throw your support behind it. You will always have a job if you have a computer, an open mind and can honestly help students with their language goals.
I’m at the Lydbury English Centre in Shropshire England for two weeks learning the Global Approach from the incomparable Rita Baker. I’ll post about it soon. Today I just want you to know you if you are an unemployed English teacher you can be 20 years ahead of the curve by doing your homework and taking the road less traveled. If you are an employed English teacher don’t worry, teaching the way we have been teaching is unsustainable and soon you’ll be unemployed and have the opportunity to chose to learn better teaching methods too.
Yours in ESL,