Critical Demagogy, or, Stabbing the Eye of the Beholder

obtaining position and/or power through the manipulation of prejudice, emotion, and fear

When given the opportunity to speak, I often discuss topics connected to the theme of a particular context–assessment, teacher quality, and the like. Regardless of the primary focus of a discussion I like infuse information and exploration from my own research interests–Expertise, (nonexistence of) talent, skill acquisition, tacit knowledge and perceptions. Not so strangely enough, the discussion of perception is one that tends to permeate all aspects of many discussions. The pre-cognitive decisions that are made in any context have major sway over our actions and reactions to stimuli. What may be equally disconcerting is our inability to intervene despite any ‘awareness’ we may have regarding these prejudices.

That is to say, a person acts and reacts a certain way based on their prejudices–once made aware, their actions and reactions are still based on their prejudices.

this is your brain on everything
Creative Commons image by Patrick Denker″


It is a strange thing to be aware. One might even think that awareness provides some measure of control. In terms of perception, consider where beauty lies and how beauty lies.

I am reminded of my favorite scene from The Fly (1989) in which Geena Davis’s character tells Brundle, “…you’re getting worse!” to which he replies “I’m getting…better!”

Unfortunately, the profession of teaching has the potential to become a demagoguery. In some cases, perhaps you have experienced it, it already has become such. A teacher may become popular, well-liked, and possibly even considered a master teacher despite having little influence on actual learning in the classroom.

A challenge, acknowledged or not, that has been ever-present in education is that those who hold the gradebook are sometimes only judged by the gradebook. It is possible that students walk out of classes with inflated grades having learned little. Of all the stakeholders in the school setting, the ones who are not fooled by this are the students. The master teacher has no clothes and the students are unlikely to ring the alarm for obvious reasons.

Whether fooled, bullied, or simply convinced, what is most critical in our current pedagogical mess is that we unveil the charlatans who have risen in ranks due to this Critical Demagogy.

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