After all, Imitation is the Sincerest Form…

Well, it’s the beginning of 2016, and I find myself once again writing about Paul W. Bennett.

Now, anyone who has read anything I have ever written knows that I am not a fan. It is not just that Bennett, an adjunct professor at St. Mary’s University, comes across in his frequent media statements as anti-teacher, but rather that on more than one occasion, these statements, presented as fact to support his views, have been inaccurate. A rather famous example of this came in 2014 when Bennett released a report on standards in the teaching profession that contained enough errors that it needed to be addressed by the minister of Education herself.

Despite a number of such gaffes, many media outlets, including the CBC, still sought him out as an expert on matters of pubic education. After about two years of challenging his claims, I finally decided to abandon the effort. It  had become rather obvious to me that few media outlets were particularly concerned with examining the validity of Bennett’s statements, and there seemed to be little I could do to point out the error of their ways. Other than an occasional reference in my writing to some of his more outlandish ideas, (i.e. Blizzard Bags) I have been pretty content to simply ignore his commentary.

I do, however, still read his blog from time to time. And that is how I find myself writing about him again.

Because, you see, around the start of December, I received an e-mail notification that Bennett had just published a piece on the “Googlization of Education” on his home blog site, educhatter.wordpress.com. I was intrigued, because I, myself, had written a piece for the Canadian Education Association’s blog site on a similar topic just a few months before, so the material was fairly fresh in my mind.

In his essay, Bennett expressed concerns he had around the idea that Google is, essentially, taking over education systems across the world with its Apps for Education platform (GAFE). He wrote about how there has been “remarkable zeal and surprisingly little critical analysis” of what the potential impacts might be of having a single corporation in charge of so much student information. Then, rather suddenly, Bennett mentioned me in the piece. He wrote “Many educators like Nova Scotia teacher Grant Frost express grave concern about the “digital divide” and the inequities in terms of student access to computers and digital devices.”

Now, up to that point I really had been just skimming the article, but as when one hears one’s name in a crowd, seeing my name in print, naturally, caught my attention. And, with a bit more interest, I read the rest of the paragraph that included my name. It continued like this:

In schools across the country, it is becoming increasingly essential for students to have access to the Internet in order to be successful. Homework, projects, even information and advice from teachers is available on-line, if one only has the means to access it.

Now, something about that paragraph bothered me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, mind you, but I had a slight tickle. So slight, in fact, that I forgot about it. It was not until a few days later that I thought I might have another read of the piece to which Bennett had alluded. And what to my wandering eyes should appear but the following sentences.

In schools across the country, it is becoming increasingly essential for students to have access to the internet in order to be successful. Homework, projects, even information and advice from teachers is available on-line, if one only has the means to access it.

There was my tickle, in black and white. My exact words in Bennett’s piece, as if they had been written by the man himself.

I knew they had sounded familiar.

Feeling like I might be splitting hairs, and recognizing my own bias, I revisited his essay, and there were a number of other similarities between our two posts. The section of his piece where he explained how the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DoEECD) had rolled out the Google apps suite began like this:

Three years ago, without much fanfare, provincial school authorities announced that they would be signing an agreement with Google to implement GAFE in the public schools.  After piloting the program in a number of schools in 2014-15, the DoEECD  decided to make GAFE available to every single child and teacher in the 400 schools across the province.

On October 2nd, I had written:

A little while back, the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development…announced, rather quietly, I felt, that they would be signing on for Google’s “Apps for Education” program, or GAFE, for short. After piloting the program in a number of schools last year, the DoEECD  made GAFE available to every single child and teacher in the Province.

Not exactly cut-and-paste, granted, but when combined with what I had already noticed, I thought I saw a pattern. Then there was this paragraph in Bennett:

The Nova Scotia GAFE service provides every student and teacher user with their own g-mail account, as well as several useful applications, including Google Docs, a leading edge word processing program, Google Sheets, which outperforms Excel, and Google Slides, which is a more integrated multi-platform version of PowerPoint. Users also have access to Google Classroom, where, with a click of mouse and a one time code entry, they can sign up for a class and receive notifications about upcoming events, class assignments and ask about homework questions with their teacher via his/her cell phone at all times of the week.

Again, on October 2nd, I had written:

The service provides every user with their own g-mail account, as well as several particularly useful applications, including Google Docs, a slick word processing program, Google Sheets, which does most everything that Excel ever did, and Google Slides, which is basically Powerpoint on steroids. Users also have access to Google Classroom, where, with a click of mouse and a one time code entry, they can sign up for a class and receive notifications about upcoming events, class assignments and, apparently, ask homework questions to their teacher via his cell phone at 11:30 on Sunday morning.

Finally, the phrase that had first caught my eye was not only used once in the piece, but twice.

Google Apps for Education is spreading quickly and teacher training summits have been held or are scheduled to be held in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and BC as well as Nova Scotia.  In schools across the country, it is becoming increasingly essential for students to have access to the Internet in order to be successful. Homework, projects, even information and advice from teachers is now transmitted on-line, and more readily accessible if you have the electronic tools to access the information.

My own use of the phrasing had appeared like this:

In schools across the country, it is becoming increasingly essential for students to have access to the internet in order to be successful. Homework, projects, even information and advice from teachers is available on-line, if one only has the means to access it. Nova Scotia students are not the first to embrace the GAFE; training summits have been held or are scheduled to be held in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and BC.

Taken individually, each of these could perhaps have been ignored. Taken collectively, however, they gave me a great deal of pause.

To be fair, blogging is not exactly academic writing. And although one might expect a bit more from an adjunct professor of education and published author, as Bennett is, little of what had been borrowed could be considered original thought. Finally, even though he certainly gave me no credit for having written the words, Bennett did, at least, provide a hyper-link on his page to my original article.

But on New Years Eve, I was the very last interview of 2015 on NEWS 95.7’s The Rick Howe Show. Guest host Sheldon McLeod had, rather graciously, offered me the spot. It just so happened that the second last guest of 2015 was none other than Paul W. Bennett, who offered criticism of everything from “easy” teacher upgrades to the “overabundance” of teacher professional development days. I listened to his criticisms, and thought about his report on teacher standards, and considered how he had, somewhat heavily I believe, appropriated my words.

And it occurred to me that before offering up criticism on the professional standards of others, Mr. Bennett, perhaps, might take a few moments to examine his own.

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11 Comments

Filed under Educational Change, Educational commentary, Public education

11 responses to “After all, Imitation is the Sincerest Form…

  1. This is fascinating and discouraging all at once. I try to impress upon my students the importance of giving credit where credit is due through proper referencing. I insist that they not steal the ideas or words of others. I preach against plagiarism as if it was one of the seven deadly sins – and now this guy, an apparently respected pundit, educator, academic, writer makes a mockery of it all.

    • Well, I’m not sure Bennett has much respect in any of the areas you mention. His views are often skewed and as I pointed out in my piece, inaccurate. He often speaks out and says things about how teachers should be held more accountable, how public education is failing kids etc, but he does not now, nor has he ever, worked in a public school in Nova Scotia.
      I could go on, but if you want more background, have a quick peek at the article I linked above where I mention I had finally had enough of pointing out his errors. Thanks for reading!

      • I’m aware that he has never taught as a public school teacher, but as you point out, he is an adjunct professor and I thought that made him an educator, and also as you point out, his opinion is sought by the CBC indicating that he garners some respect whether it is warranted or not.

      • You are correct, Shelia. The bit that has befuddled me in the past, and still does, is how often the CBC does seek out his opinions, despite how often he has been wrong on even the basics of our system. He does, however, speak with conviction. So, for example, when he says things like “Teachers get 16 pd days a year”, he says it with gusto. Even though this number is inaccurate, folks believe him because he is on the CBC and is an adjunct professor. Thanks again for reading and replying!

  2. Alexis Allen

    Hi Grant, maybe you should send this to the CBC so they can stop the idolization of a “supposed academic” who blatantly plagiarizes another scholar’s work. Maybe then they can see what a fraud this man is and realize that his sole intent is to privatize education and allow business to run education for profit. That is the goal of AIMS and he works for them after all. Very disturbing indeed! Keep up your good work. Alexis Allen

    • I have already sent this on, Alexis. Now we will see if the media responds accordingly, or if they simply let it slide. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
      Thanks for commenting!

      • Dawson

        To quote George Costanza, “It’s not a lie if you believe it”. Keep up the great work Grant. It is very much appreciated by teachers. The silence by Bennett on this matter speaks volumes.

      • Well, I believe that may be the first time anyone has quoted George Costanza in my blog!
        Thanks for your kind comments. And, yes, I too believe Bennett’s silence is rather telling.

  3. Pingback: Cross-Posting: Guest Blogger – AIMS E-learning Criticisms Should Fall On Skeptical Ears | Virtual School Meanderings

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