IATEFL 2016 Ten great educators and their legacy (Alan Maley)

This one intrigued me! Who will be the ten chosen ‘great educators’ and what IS their legacy?

Alan says he only has 30 minutes but has two days’ worth to say. Perhaps won’t be able to say all of it…

He kicks off with a poem by that well-known poet Anon. It may not matter. Very nice.

Why bother with the past? It gives us some perspective on the present, it brings humility and recognition, it is a reminder of what we may have forgotten, it gives courage and comfort, it gives inspiration for the future.

Alan thinks there are two major views of education.

Education as instruction, characterised by its being directive, using controlled prescribed input, this leads to predicted intake (what we teach is what is learnt), places emphasis on language system (i.e. here, English), teaches the subject matter, focus is on technique and assessment is heavy.

Education as ecology: it is responsive, the input is flexible, the emphasis is on language use, it teaches the person rather than the subject.

Dewey: education is about people, helping them fulfil their potential

Rudolph Steiner: the child is the centre of education, there should be a balance of artistic, practical and intellectual activity.

Montessori: each child born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than a ‘blank slate’ waiting to be written on. Adapt the environment to suit the children not the other way around. Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed (i.e. don’t get in the way).

A S Neil: happiness is the goal of education. Hate breeds hate and love breeds love.

Ashton-Warner: Start from where the child is. No need to plan, trust in the organic process with the kids.

Paulo Freire: Marxist revolutionary in Brazil mainly involved in literacy programmes, believed in the link between literacy and freedom. Very against the banking system of education. (You bank knowledge and pay it back in tests) You can’t tell people what they need to know, you need a dialogic process.

David Horsburgh: Vertical classrooms. Taught practical things. Boys were taught embroidery, girls were taught motor mechanics. His teachers were not ‘trained’ because he didn’t want to have to retrain them. Competition, rewards and tests are all negative factors. A wide curriculum is important.

John Holt: School is a very negative influence on children. Teaching gets in the way of desire to learn and creativity. Against institutionalised education. Schools are full of fear, confusion and boredom. The true test of intelligence is not how much you know how to do but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.

Dorothy Heathcote: Drama should be at the heart of education. The curriculum should be evolved as you go along, with what the children bring to it.

Ken Robinson: Education should foster diversity but instead it’s getting narrower and narrower.

So what are schools for then? Custodial care (keeping them off the streets), social conformity (making sure they don’t rock the boat), sorting kids into categories (who passed, who failed), education (teaching them? helping them learn?). Education is only a minor part of school life!

Summary of the great educators’ beliefs:


These are the common features of these educators’ beliefs and what they are advocating. How do they match up with the current ethos?


No match at all. So you have a complete mismatch between the educators that everybody bows down to and the actual practice taking place. If we go on in this way, we are going to have problems because we are condemning future generations of kids to failure and there’s too much failure around at the moment as it is. We need to create a groundswell of opinion which will favour change – not just more of the same. Not necessarily revolutionary change, you can make small changes too.



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