The Five Apes

Everyone knows that education is in the middle of a shift, things are changing and whilst many are embracing the change, there are still a large number, maybe even a majority, of educators whom are content to just move forward in the same old way, because that’s how it’s always been done.

Recently at the ICTEV conference, I was asked to come to a discussion regarding the teaching of teachers at University, how can we produce better educators for the future? Most of the people in the discussion said…more time in schools…more time in schools…but I think that could honestly be a hindrance rather than a benefit. I spoke up at this time, that a lot of these students are seeing bad practice at work, something that Donna Gronn of ACU agreed with, saying many students come back from their placements saying that the ideas spoken about at University aren’t happening in the classroom.

Reflecting on this, it all fits really well together with a point that was made at the Grampians Principal’s Conference Keynote address about the 5 apes. I have included the story below.

“Inside the cage, a bunch of bananas are hanging on a string and a set of stairs is placed under the bananas. Before long, one of the apes will see the bananas and start to climb the stairs to get to them.

As soon as they touch the stairs, you take a fire hose and spray all of the apes in the cage with ice cold water until you knock them down and drive them away from the bananas. Sooner or later another ape makes an attempt and, again, all the apes are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, whenever another ape tries to climb the stairs, all the other apes will attack that ape to try to prevent it from going for the bananas because they don’t want to get sprayed by the ice cold water—another attempt, another attack, another attempt, another attack. Before too long, all of the apes know what will happen to them if they make a move.

Now, put away the fire hose and the cold water, remove one of the original five apes from the cage, and replace it with a new one. Of course, the new ape will see the bananas and attempt to climb the stairs. To its surprise and horror, all of the other apes will attack that ape to prevent it from climbing the stairs because they don’t want to get sprayed with ice cold water. Another attempt, another attack, another attempt, another attack.

Pretty soon the newest ape knows that if it climbs the stairs, it will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five apes and replace it with new one. As Yogi Berra says, this becomes déjà vu all over again—the scene will repeat itself—and the first ape we replaced will actually take part in the punishment of the newcomer with the greatest enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original ape with a new one, then a fourth and fifth. Every time a new ape tries to climb the stairs, it gets attacked. Interestingly enough, the apes who are beating him have NO IDEA why they are not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest ape. After replacing all the original apes, none of the remaining apes have ever even been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no ape will ever again approach the stairs to try for those bananas.

The question we need to ask is why not? And the answer is because as far as the apes in the cage know . . . well, that’s just the way we do things around here.”

We can’t let ourselves get like this, I don’t ever want to hear myself say well, that’s just the way we do things around here, because it might be what we do now, but who says it can’t be done a different or even better way.

Here is a link that contains the full presentation as well as many other things from the Grampians Region Prin’s Conference.


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