Aristarchus, Copernicus, Galileo and the Vatican

Elton John once sung that, “Sorry, seems to be the hardest word.” I’ve always disagreed with this thought, to me – over 19 years of teaching, saying it is incredibly easy, being it and demonstrating it is the hard part. However, I have noted with interest at the start of half term how the media shows that for many in the spotlight, ‘sorry’ is as tricky as 3 other words, “I was wrong.”

As a teacher, I find this ironic, given that I have worked with colleagues, and been guilty myself, of getting children to admit their mistakes – without qualification, defence or creating oblique links to the errors of others. Nowadays, I try to do this through far more positive methods – namely the F.A.I.L Principle.



Bruce Lee on mistakes

These are just 3 posters I have used in lessons, as display and through assemblies to get my point across to children from 7-18, though my favourite still remains the inspiration of Michael Jordan, someone  so synonymous with success, but who reiterates that this is based upon the foundations of failure.

It appears that this week it’s easy for famous people, from all walks of life, to deflect from themselves, for example:

Jose Mourinho – he has seen his team descend from impervious champions, to looking ordinary and having discipline issues; yet this is (apparently) the fault of the referee, the FA, the press, in fact anyone and everyone!

George Osbourne – he has seen his central plank for Welfare Reform hit by the House of Lords. Now he says he is listening, but has focused on the fact that it was ‘unconstitutional’ (there are arguments both ways here), ‘unprecedented’ (it’s not, it just doesn’t happen often) and needs ‘sorting out’. This all despite the growing voices of concern urging rethinking of the Tax Credit cuts (I’m not examining the politics here, that’s covered in plenty of depth elsewhere online!)

Tony Blair – this past weekend (supposedly ahead of the Chilcott Inquiry Report) has offered a qualified apology for the Iraq War; in so far as (and I paraphrase here) ‘…I’m sorry for the deaths, I regret them, but the war did mean the end of Saddam Hussein, so it worked out in the end…’

But, and this is key here, we all make mistakes. It’s part of our very being, it’s innate and – more importantly in education, it helps us learn. Think of the young learner who used to talk about having runned, or the older learner who turns a gas tap open with the blue flame created. How about the rugby player who attempts a drop kick and the ball threatens moles more than birds, or the aspiring artist who in mixing colours creates a wonderful shade of brown – but not what they’d intended. However, from these errors, with guidance the correct outcomes can be achieved, but first the learner needs to recognise the error.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon. Let’s look at the inspiration for the blog post, the idea of heliocentrism. In a recent discussion with a Science teacher I asked why his class still thought that Copernicus and Galileo had discovered that the Earth orbited the sun. His response shocked me, “Because they did.” When I pointed out they hadn’t and that, whilst at the time I couldn’t remember his name, I knew that the heliocentric model had been described in Ancient Greece, he disagreed as he hadn’t heard about it. However, a quick Google search also showed that before Aristarchus (310BC-230BCE) in Ancient Greece, in fact Yajnavalkya (9th Century BCE) in India had put forward the idea of heliocentricism – so I was wrong too!

Notwithstanding these ideas, without the advent of the telescope people weren’t prepared to dispense with the geocentric model – for Aristarchus he had to battle the joint force of Plato, Aristotle and Ptolemy, so no wonder his ideas never held sway!

On showing this evidence to my colleague, who had done his own search – he apologised and said he’d point this out and adapt his teaching to show how  thinking changes. At least he did this quicker that the Roman Catholic Church who took 359 years to admit they were wrong publicly and that Galileo was right – having promoted Copernicus’s idea, even causing him to be interrogated by The Inquisition:



However, I wonder how often we seek out challenges to our own perceptions and look to see if we have made mistakes? Consider who you follow on Twitter – do they reflect your general beliefs and concepts of education and the world in general, or do you follow people who differ from you? Clearly there are plenty of people on Twitter who will tell you they disagree with you, but look at your list of who you follow and try to seek out people with different stances, or experiences to yourself. A great example of this for me is David Didau , or The Learning Spy as I don’t always agree with him, but in reading his thoughts and comments I know I am richer for the experience – as was the case for his recent book What if everything you knew about education was wrong? Similarly, I follow and avidly read @HeyMissSmith, @oldandrewuk, @mj_bromley, @headguruteacher, as well as numerous teachers from around the world to challenge myself.

But do we need to go that far? What about at school? Be honest, do you sit and chat with people beyond your ‘circle’? Do you challenge yourself – and I’m not talking about ‘drains and radiators’ here! We really should – just think how we push children to work with different people in groups, or give them learning partners beyond their friends to develop and challenge them. So why, if, as many people state (though perhaps don’t believe), the teacher is the biggest learner in the classroom do we not apply the same rules to ourselves?

Therefore, over the rest of half term, seek out challenges. Get engaged with a debate and look at different sides of the argument. But, perhaps more importantly, think of at least one colleague who you will engage with next week on your return that you don’t normally. Don’t just exchange pleasantries about half term, the weather, Halloween, etc, but think of a point you have seen and ask them about it, even be really brave and explain you’re doing it to improve your learning!

I admit this won’t be easy, so here’s one of mine, that thanks to a dialogue with a colleague a good few years ago has changed irrevocably for me – sadly it was them who instigated it not me. In my pre-Unhomework days I used to chase the grades, I took pride in securing value added for each child and was ruthlessly successful about doing so. Yes, I knew about my class; siblings, interests, strengths, but I didn’t really know about my class, until I was told in a conversation, “But Mark, no child is defined by their grade, they’re all much more than that.” This was over 13 years ago and this is very much my attitude now, but I look back, embarrassed at my former attitude, as I now see that I can have both and in fact by knowing the child leads to improved grades. As my friend @CristaHazell “Get beneath the surface and really get to know your class.” This picture she has used before perfectly illustrates the point:


So, there’s one of my many errors – the Creasy archive is huge, thank goodness for cloud storage! Look at your own, admit one or two, challenge yourself and develop your own learning:


And, whilst doing that, accept it won’t be easy – but don’t make excuses for not doing it. I’ll leave the final word on making excuses to Michael Jordan!

Michael Jordan on excuses

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