The rotating cast of characters in British Columbia educational professional development workshops – Damian Cooper, Adrienne Gear, Stuart Shanker, Gordon Neufeld, Martin Brokenleg, and rising star Shelly Moore – all share one thing in common: a presentation devoid of academic underpinnings. Like the worst of popular self-help literature, our rotating cast of Keynote Speakers deliver their same message ad infinitum . They do not talk about new peer-reviewed studies showing their ideological underpinnings have an empirical basis. This is purposeful for their presentations are not designed to elicit critical thought from the audience. I want to use this post to discuss one of the above mentioned presenters, Gordon Neufeld, and then briefly to discuss why he continues to be booked when he offers teachers nothing applicable to their jobs.
Gordon Neufeld presents a pretty innocuous thesis: essentially that adults need to matter more in children’s development. He cites his own work and personal anecdotes to fill the time in his keynotes addresses. He even takes a break halfway through so that his captive audience can come up and buy one of his books or DVDs. There is also information available about the Neufeld Institute. And it is this Neufeld Institute that organizers of professional development events in British Columbia should be acutely aware of.
The Institute is not an accredited institution. The Institute does not seek to develop peer-reviewed emperical knowledge. What the institute does is offer courses to those interested in learning more about Dr. Neufeld’s attachment-based developmental paradigm. If you are really interested you can become an intern at the Institute and then move onto the “faculty”. The Guardian described Neufeld’s scheme thusly: “The Neufeld Institute says on its website that it invites people to become “faculty members” if they complete an advanced course in home-schooling and a two-year internship at its “virtual campus”, at a cost of more than £8,000″ ($13,000 CDN).
This whole thing seems to me somewhat similar to the Glasser Institute. A clique of individuals who find a single theory to answer all of life’s personal and professional problems. The theory itself is immune from criticism because it is hermetically sealed inside its own academic-esque institute, a place that is off limits to non-believers. The question needs to be asked though, why are British Columbia’s teachers expected to sit through this charlatans presentations, pro-d day after pro-d day and how is it at all beneficial to them?
I hypothesize that there is a comfort effect. Neufeld has been brought into pro-d events for years on end and has not explicitly harmed anyone, his price must be reasonable, and he has some name recognition. Additionally, he is local and for whatever reason (saving on travel?) being from British Columbia seems to be important in getting regular keynote gigs for pro-d events.
Neufeld’s presentations are a strict “teaching to” exercise. There is no audience thought required, like other presenters extolling their panacea, Neufeld expounds upon his topic, hustles his books and dvds, and then makes a speedy retreat. The thousands of dollars that his presence costs should be used more productively. If him and his ilk are the best that can be offered to BC teachers for professional development, why not just donate the money to a worthy charity? (Hey I hear the Neufeld Institute is accepting charitable donations).