Friday, 5 February 2016

Pascal's Wager, otherwise known as 'it wouldn't hurt...'

Dear Reader,

Have you ever played the lottery? Did you know that the odds of winning the jackpot are around 1 in 45 million - you are much more likely to be in a plane crash (1 in 11 million), die from lightning strike (1 in 10 million) or die from food poisoning (1 in 3 million).

Anyone who's interested in education may have heard about the new College of Teaching initiative. The premise is that the 'chartered professional body' will be shaped by what teachers want it to be, which could include representing their interests, promoting the profession, helping to develop their careers and giving them more political clout.

Sounds great so far, right?

But there are problems.  One is historical: teachers have been through something similar before, with disastrous results.  Once bitten, twice sceptical.  Another is the peculiarly open-ended nature of the organisation: no-one knows what it is, what it is for, and what it stands for, and this makes for some interesting and circular debates.  "But what does it do?" "It does what we want.  We have to tell it." "But how does it make decisions?" "That's up for debate, too. But right now, there are people - trustees - making decisions about how they will make decisions..."

A third issue is funding.  The College wants, quite rightly, to be independent of government and other agencies.  But they need a huge amount of money to run, as any organisation does, and that has to come from somewhere.  A crowdfunding model has been set up - one of the first of its kind - which seems to make sense, given the premise.  But the response from many has been largely scathing (not entirely, of course - they have raised some £20,000) so far.  Many have criticised it openly, dismissed it on social media, or been openly contemptuous- even creating the parody Twitter account @CabbageofTeaching ('We think that a nice cabbage would be better for you and of more use.  Claim your Cabbage.')

Many, many teachers on the ground are flummoxed and flabbergasted by this and don't know or don't care enough to give it the time and research it needs for them to come to a decision (compare this to the GTC, which was a compulsory body that teachers had to pay for).

I propose an answer.

You may be familiar with 'Pascal's Wager', the (tongue-in-cheek) idea that one should logically consider the stakes when considering belief in God, and naturally conclude that one might as well believe, because the rewards are higher if you do and the disadvantages are greater if you don't.  It's sometimes expressed as a similar to saying 'it wouldn't hurt' to do something, for example taking the Pill even if you are not currently sexually active, getting dressed and ready in preparation for a supply job even if you're not expecting a call from the agency, or having tea and coffee in the cupboard even if you don't drink it.

So, would it hurt to spend that £2 that might have bought a lottery ticket on the College of Teaching?
Would it hurt to complete their surveys and give your views?

Would it hurt to be a part of something that has better odds of working than the Lottery, and greater stakes for the profession that we can imagine?

If it did work, even partially, it would potentially be a tremendous uniting of the profession, voluntarily, under one banner.  If it didn't, that's £2 you won't ever see again, half an hour lost.

I propose: Rycroft-Smith's Wager.


  1. The vast majority of teachers do not support the initiative. Suggesting that people should support it just in case is the worst suggestion I have heard for a long while.

    The vast majority of teachers do not want it and if you can convince enough people that this is only a gamble of £2 then in concert the thing may go ahead.

    It isn't the few pounds that people are being asked to pay that is an issue, it is the idea of the College of Teaching itself. The risk is that if people pay their £2 they might actually be lumbered with it.

    £2 wasted on the lottery seems a better bet to me.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Can you explain a bit more about why that is?