A sacred cow is an idea, custom, or institution held to be above criticism.
These are the things seen as the ‘right’ way of doing stuff, old habits in practice, considered routine and above dispute, regardless of evidence to the contrary. They represent long-held practices and deep beliefs often steeped in tradition.
To that definition we can add “person” as lots of people see themselves beyond reproach and it is often the edu-celebs that dictate the discourse and set agendas.
Education has lots of sacred cows and when we drill down we find that individual subjects are full of them as well. We also find there are lots of cow defenders who really don’t like anyone challenging or kicking up a stink.
For example, streaming in Singapore has been slain and replaced by subject-based banding. Yet in the UK, streaming is still alive and well despite the evidence telling us it is damaging.
There are of course shared spaces and similarities that we can debate, question and get rid of so it’s time to poke a few cows and slaughter some. Not all cows are necessarily in danger but plenty can be put out to pasture.
One classic sacred cow is that children should be educated in a classroom. But why? Children don’t just learn in boxes so do walls remove opportunities to collaborate with others?
Here is a list of a few more:
- Teaching takes place at a school
- Children should sit at a desk
- Children learn from teachers
- Mathematics should be compulsory for all up to 16
- Students’ needs come first
- We need a Department of Education
- The best way to measure learning is to give a test
- Homework is necessary
- Students should not be allowed mobile phones in class
- Evidence-based learning informs best practice
- Projects and activities are the best way to learn
- Teachers are underpaid
- Unions serve the best interests of teachers
- Smaller class sizes are better
- Class size does not matter
- STEM needs to be prioritised
- Coding skills are essential
- Teaching knowledge is indoctrination
- SATs should be banned
- Teachers work more effectively in a team
- Experienced teachers are better at teaching
- Growth mindset works
- Parents are always right
- Parents don’t understand
- Put the most resources toward the lowest students
- Technology is not important for learning
- Russell Group universities are best
- Tom Bennett knows everything there is to know about behaviour and he is 100% right
What Sacred Cows would you add?
Things shift according to the spirit of the times. It’s hard to imagine that once we asked whether learning styles was snake oil, sacred cow or holy grail when today some of us can appreciate that they are “udderly” out of date. Learning styles turned out to be an almighty cow pat.