Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Five Diseases of Educational Development

You probably think that educational development is just some kind of theoretical idea, don’t you? 

Let me assure you it has life as it goes about its work of improving the quality of education. It experiences bouts of robust good health but also debilitating diseases like other living organisms. 

My first encounter with the idea of diseases in education was from an illuminating paper in 1996 by Stephen Abrahamson in a pioneering article titled Diseases of the Curriculum. Despite voluminous educational research since then, most diseases remain today.

What follows is a light-hearted discussion – with serious intent – of diseases in the field of educational development.

1. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Those afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are self-centred, exaggerate their talents, set unrealistic goals and take advantage of others to achieve their goals. There is an inability to recognize or identify with the viewpoints of others – particularly those with specialist training and experience in the field of education such as teachers. Parents of the ‘amazing’, ‘deserving’ and ‘beautiful’ children found in most schools are chronic sufferers of a variation of NPD - Narcissistic Parent Disorder!

Almost everyone knows exactly how to manage education and how to teach. After all, they have attended school and know these things. Opinion pieces in the press illustrate Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the startling confidence journalists have in their own expertise in complex educational issues.

Ministers of Education suffer from this disease. It is transmitted instantly when a prime minster or premier allocates ministerial portfolios following an election. 

Astonishing, isn’t it, that no one has thought to do research into this instant acquisition of expertise? Think of the time and money to be saved on education if we could exploit the transmission of this disease. Instead of going to school and university, students could be inoculated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder to become instant experts. It adds a new dimension to the idea of the ‘inoculation theory of education’ described by Postman and Weingartner in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity

2. Pragmatic Language Impairment 

This is a disorder where people face special challenges with the appropriate use of language. It is most commonly seen in the convoluted writing in academic journals.

Academics are often not clear in what they are communicating in their professional writing. Many are consumed by the need to use technical jargon. As my high school English teacher was fond of saying in sarcastic overtones, the word ‘jargon’ derives from late-middle English where it meant a twittering of birds or gibberish. 

Why do professional educators write such convoluted material that renders their work completely inaccessible to so many? At a time when attention is given to the idea of inclusion in education, far too much written English excludes potential audiences.

3. Blurred Vision

Sadly, Pragmatic Language Impairment coexists with Blurred Vision. This results in individuals and organisations not knowing where they are, where they are going, and completely incapable of asking for directions. 

Fifty years ago Blurred Vision was evident in the absurd idea that if only all teachers would use the overhead projector properly, the quality of education would improve. That disease appeared to have been cured with the demise of the overhead projector. Then it reappeared with vigour when PowerPoint, then personal computers, and now the Internet became powerful technological forces in education. 

A study by a team of researchers at Stanford University came out a few years ago. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s university students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked? The answer, they discovered – and this is by no means what they expected – is that they don’t. They too suffer from Blurred Vision!

In Australia today Blurred Vision is also apparent in the belief that spending more and more money on education will lead to better outcomes – despite evidence to the contrary.

4. Development Schizophrenia

Development Schizophrenia is the breakdown between thought and behaviour and withdrawal from reality.

How often do we ring our hands when league tables of children’s scores on international tests of mathematics, reading, and science are published showing Australia’s alleged decline? But we still allow curriculum time for these core subjects to be eroded by extra-curricular activities and socially ‘important’ issues of the day.

5. Development Diarrhoea

Finally, Development Diarrhoea is another disease of educational development worthy of mention. An incredible outpouring of books, articles and reports illustrates this disease. Not content to treat Development Diarrhoea, governments and educational institutions encourage it by demanding ever more reviews and reports, pouring larger amounts of money at it, and even promoting academic staff for the discharge of their efforts.

The second Gonski review on education funding is a current Australian example of this debilitating disease.


Humankind survived millennia without understanding diseases and their effective treatment. 

In today’s knowledge society it is no longer acceptable to plough on without a sound, research-based understanding of the processes of educational development. 

We seem to favour opinion over the evidence we do have and to allow education to be subject to the demands of vocal and powerful sectional interests at the expense of the longer-term interests of society as a whole. Is this another example of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder?


  1. Your blog is coming along well Robert

  2. Try modifying your Blog Archive gadget (click on the spanner to open it) so that it uses Show Post Titles

  3. You could also think about labels. These are tags you use to categorise your blog post. Here is a hyperlink to a useful page: http://blogtimenow.com/blogging/labels-use-labels-blogger-sort-content/

    1. Thank you for your helpful comments, Kerrie :-)


Comments on this Blog are moderated