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Humour? You must be joking

Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

Article also available at

Balanced golf instruction

Well, folks, here we are at the Wholely Balanced School of Golf. We meet the developers to explain the theory and practice behind this method of teaching beginning golfers.

"Our approach to golf development was formerly based upon the wildly successful, but now sadly and unfairly pilloried educational model known as Whole Language. It seems that the right wing fundamentalist fascists have defamed our model so successfully that publishers and speaking circuit organizers are no longer feting those of us who selflessly worked for the social good of the nation. So we've moved on, chameleon-like, and now we have distilled the essence of these in-favour approaches into our old model. We've called it Balanced Instruction because who could criticize such a name? In our publicity blurb we indicate that we have deconstructed the structures and features of golf. (Just between you and me, it was pretty easy to morph the old with the current system – the Whole Language stuff still sits in there - just like a hidden file in a Windows folder. 

We know intuitively that golf is an irreducibly holistic experience best learned by authentic experiences. We enter all our novices in the US Open because that's authentic golf. The teacher's role is that of motivator/facilitator - we empower our students to grow in golf while experiencing a sense of enchantment. We do not teach skills, of course, even though some emerging golfers may naively request help with their swing. We explain that swing is only a subskill of golf, and to emphasise it out of the context of authentic golf is time-wasting and developmentally inappropriate. Students may choose to practise their invented swing during the Open itself, of course. The principles of the conventional swing are eventually induced by the learner who is highly motivated during an Open, but probably bored to tears and disheartened by artificially timetabled swing practice on a lonely practice range. We know that the swing will evolve naturally, and that feedback is pointless - even damaging to the self-esteem that learners need if they are to take risks with their golf. Admittedly, some teachers initially struggle with this radical non-interventionist aspect.

Because golf is such a natural, holistic pursuit, there is no need to demonstrate grip, stance, or even which end of the club is best to hold. Gradually, through playing in authentic tournaments, the golf game of the novice will more and more closely approximate that of Tiger Woods. If for any reason development is slow, probably caused by earlier misguided attempts at skill instruction, we provide entry into even more golfing majors, such as Augusta, or St Andrews - additional immersion in real golf is the only answer. Golf improvement depends largely on the learner's establishment of a self-regulating and self-improving system, not on anything an instructor might provide.

Our students avoid endlessly repeating chipping and bunker shots, as that involves fractionating the great game. Similarly, we consider driving ranges and putting greens are merely mind numbing traps used by old-fashioned, ignorant instructors who fail to understand the implications of balanced golf. Golfing-for-meaning is our mantra, because golf is such a very personal activity. Only by considering the golf experience from a developmentalist-constructivist-relativist perspective can we move away from the notion of goals prescribed autocratically from the mind controllers. Every golfer has unique background experiences from which to draw inspiration in forming their singular appreciation of golf.

We are also conscious of the developing golfer's learning style. We advise the visual learners to focus their learning transactions on watching the golf on TV (with the sound off) at every opportunity. The auditory learners actually go to golf courses, but wear blindfolds - better to focus attention on the sound of the ball being struck. They also make use of brain-based golf education employing a looped audiotape of a ball being struck. When played during sleep, this procedure re-patterns the golfing region of the brain for these fortunate students. The kinaesthetic learners must actually swing the club regularly, but their oneness with the game is dramatically enhanced when they cannot see the ball. The feel is the thing. Because our teachers are so skilled they are also able to use multiple methods, tailor-made to parallel each of the multiple golf intelligences our students may display.

We exhort our students to become critically literate in the game. Golf's dominant ideology needs to be unpacked, and its ambiguities made apparent. Its meaning must be provisional and always multiple, never able to be fixed or determined. Freddy Foucalt, a former French Open winner, noted that critical golf was about " ... identifying the dominant cultural discourses - themes, and ideologies - discussing how these discourses attempt to position and construct players, their understandings and representations of the world, their social relations, and their identities." Another fine player in this school, Jacqui Derrida, perhaps expressed it the most clearly – “Golf cannot be the object of definitive interpretations, but involves the play of inclusions and exclusions, presences and silences. Practically, this translates into a focus on multiple possible ‘readings’ of golf, on what ideas, themes, characterizations, and possible players - are silent or marginalised.” Ahh, so lucid.

So, we believe that players can progress far beyond the shallow objectives of the ball-in-hole-in-minimum-strokes model that dominates in certain entrenched mainstream quarters. Who really benefits from this approach? Far from being manipulated by the dubious intentions of the rulers of the game, our players are encouraged to achieve satisfaction of their own diverse needs, which may be markedly different from those of course-designers, or of self-appointed traditionalists. The golfers transact with the course, bringing their own unique understandings and experiences to the event - they should not feel obligated to conventional notions of what the process should mean to the player.

We encourage our learners to disengage from the tyranny of the ball. This aspect of golf is too often over-emphasised, as it's really only marginally relevant to the game. The golf ball is only one embedded cue to the deeper transacted meaning of the golfing experience. Students are sometimes bemused when we instruct them to pay as little attention as possible to the ball - just a quick glance is all that is needed as they stroll along the fairway (to ensure that their prediction is correct, and it is a ball not a cowpat). Striking any ball that meets the definition of a ball will do, it needn't be your own - in fact such an action is a genuine indicator of the degree to which one's comprehension of the true potential of this exciting game is developing. 

How much success on scores are we having with our balanced, golfer-centred philosophy? Unfortunately that question is very revealing of a failure to keep up with modern conceptions. You are still dominated by out-dated reductionist models of golf. One cannot validly and reliably keep scores without debasing the golfing process. Scores do not reflect all that is entailed by golf - they fail to capture more than the most minuscule element of the whole game. Scores are likely to be used to compare golfer to golfer - which is an unconscionable intrusion on the innate developmental trajectory of each individual seeker of golf prowess. We absolutely eschew objective standards of achievement developed by the controlling establishment designed solely to subjugate the ordinary golfer. Scoring is just a form of standardised assessment, and doesn't teach anyone anything. In fact, it is positively harmful to developing students, merely puting their miscues on the public record. The effects of this exposure on their self-esteem can be devastating - discouraging them from wanting to engage in life-long golfing. We encourage our students to engage in their own form of self-assessment, an innovation that ensures delightfully stress-free rounds. Failure-free golfing, we call it.

It is important to maintain the clarity and purity of the game, but a broader perspective is also necessary. Jim Freire’s view is that “golf education can generate tools and conditions for people to reposition themselves in relation to economies, cultures and dominant ideologies.” Hence, our approach embeds golf in a societal context. We want our students to grow as world citizens, rather than simply learn a game. We emphasise higher-order golfing skills - how golf meshes with societal structures. Ultimately, we believe that a more tolerant, humane and just society will eventuate from our efforts. The elimination of world poverty is not an unrealistic outcome for our program. 

We also have numerous anecdotes from our dedicated golf teachers who find the balanced, hands-off approach so much more rewarding than the drill and kill practice sessions they formerly endorsed. They are exhilarated to be part of this important redefinition of the essence of the game. They seem to especially appreciate the manner in which their students' golf improvement is now self-assessed. 

We anticipate that our balanced approach will sweep the golfing world. It is new, innovative, flexible - everyone's a winner. And we won't stop there either. We are developing a revolutionary, egalitarian basketball scheme in which the net is automatically lowered to below the height of the approaching dribbler. We have plans to take on swimming coaching for beginners using our proven immersion techniques. The sky's the limit! Maybe we could use our approach for beginning skydiver training too!"

Learning styles: Freud's seminal contribution to learning styles

Kerry Hempenstall


It is difficult to argue with the proposition that every child is unique. A less readily accepted assumption is that such uniqueness implies that children learn differently. Further, an assertion arising from this assumption is that teaching to a student’s natural learning style will lead to higher quality engagement and learning. It has been argued there are numerous possible styles. For example, there are visual learners for whom instruction should prioritise a visual format; audiles learn best when listening is the focus; and, tactiles need to touch for optimum learning. Kinaesthetic learners do best when instruction emphasises movement. Learning styles remains remarkably popular in education, despite the absence of empirical support that such classifications are valid or reliable, or that attempting to teach to a supposed dominant modality improves the outcomes for students. As the belief has been so resistant to contra-indicative research findings, this writer elected to consider how far the concept could be carried before being subject to ridicule. A seminal paper in The Onion entitled Parents of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum provided the impetus for a search for more than the few simple categories currently considered critical.

Examining the learning styles movement from a historical perspective provides some surprising information about its origins. A search of leading academic databases indicated that Freud was the first to recognise a "You say tomaytoe, I say tomartoe" instructional dichotomy. He pointed to differences in style among learners based upon the degree to which they successfully completed early developmental stages.

Thus, oral learners are those who are fixated at the oral stage or who regress to that style under stress. Bill Clinton is of course a classic example of the oral learner, despite Freud's famous dictum that "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar".

All students have an inalienable right to a preferred style of education, and young oral learners are those whose primary sense involves the palate. "I eat, therefore I learn" provides teachers with the challenge, and thereby the inspiration to meet these students' distinctive needs. Although much international research is yet to be completed, a strategy that is sure to work for this group involves teaching beginning reading through the ingestion of alphabet soup. Some critics have argued that such a force-feeding approach to teaching leads to simple regurgitation of facts; however, this may be the ideal system for oral learners as it provides learning opportunities at both the input stage and the output stage.

The ability-training model has been treated with undue harshness by researchers in recent times. Popularised during the 1960's, it proposed that training the underlying processes behind any given skill will overcome learning difficulties and accelerate learning. Many internet marketers have recognised the potential in this once forgotten sidetrack, and have enthusiastically filled this market niche. For oral learners, opportunities include tongue calisthenics, epiglottal biofeedback, and mouth aperture training programs in either small group or mouth-on-mouth instruction. 

Anal learners have always been misunderstood and harshly treated in school. Learning blockages are a common problem, and teaching that does not allow for this specific zone of proximal development often goes to waste. Anal students have suffered discrimination, and their innocent attempts to communicate anally have been met with disdain, disgust, and punishment. It is time teachers became responsive to the needs of such students, and provided encouragement for particularly insightful examples of anally produced responses to, for example, reading comprehension questions. Incorrectly interpreting these contributions as mischievous flatulence is demeaning to the students, and may massively diminish their self-esteem. Communication is the key to caring discourse, and all attempts should be respected. As teachers we must become alert to the anal learners’ construction of the world. This alertness was defined by Rogers as "entering their phenomenological field". Entering the field of an anal learner is invariably a rousing, unforgettable experience.

So, it is time to desist from the persecution of anal learners, and instead become attentive and accepting of their natural communication style. Because we appreciate that one-way communication is inadequate as a teaching strategy, we recognise a need for training how to communicate in like manner, in the manner of those dedicated teachers who learn finger spelling, sign language, or cued articulation to aid those with other special needs. A preliminary survey of young teachers known to be sensitive to unique student needs has reported their preparedness to do whatever it takes to redress this communication problem. Indeed, some remembered (in their teacher training) constructivist professors providing many lectures that could only be anally-inspired. There are rumblings from less flexible teachers, however, and only massive in-service re-education will enable them internalise the skill level required.

If we are truly to integrate those with such very special talents, we must also make every attempt to normalise their experience. How can a school demonstrate to these students that they are valued just as the way they are? It is not hard to imagine a school anal choir. What parents of the anal learners would not feel proud of their children, performing a beautiful piece of music in their natural and inimitable manner - thereby enhancing acceptance by teachers and peers alike? It would surely provide a public validation of their style that would elicit improved social cohesion and tolerance in the school.

The overt and covert behaviours of phallic learners have also been misinterpreted in the past. A category with more boys than girls, the apparent self-absorption has tended to leave them isolated in class and sometimes overlooked by teachers. Paradoxically, they often prefer their educational activities to occur in private, whilst sometimes relishing the opportunity to display their achievements to the whole class.

The phallic learner has a reputation for having a rather narrow perspective, and thus relatively few instructional windows of opportunity appear possible. However, inspiration to teachers can be provided by the many successful phallic learners working in the advertising industry. They have demonstrated that it is not difficult to cover a diverse range of topics while employing only one thematic tool. Teachers should consider the use of the double entendre to hammer home major conceptual points. Of course, the subtle introduction of Playboy into the beginning reading program is entirely consistent with the important role of pictures in learning an alphabetic language. "It's not what you've got, it's the way that you use it" is the phallic mantra. The phallic learning style appears to be a common and an enduring one, as in a large scale New York Times survey, many women reported awareness that most of their partner's cognitive functioning occurred below the waist.

Freud described the latency period as one in which very little happens. This obviously fits a significant number of students. The latent learner is one who is not ready for learning yet, and the appropriate teaching strategy is to do nothing. DO NOT TEACH! We are indebted to the far-sighted whole language pioneers who recognised this increasingly large group some time ago, and have ensured developmentally appropriate practice (in this case, no practice) is applied. Though it may be difficult to accept for some teachers, it is the normal style of these learners to do nothing. Latent learners should be accepted and celebrated, rather than badgered by well meaning, but behind the times, instructionally-obsessed teachers. The latent learners' conception of the universe is as valid as any other, and teachers should resist the temptation to shift them into any artificial learning model, such as mastery learning or precision teaching. 

So there you have it. An acknowledgement of the wonderful, and previously unsuspected, diversity in our students can open new vistas to teachers, albeit with a few associated challenges. Learning styles teachers appreciate that if children are to take risks as learners, it is incumbent upon teachers to provide the unconditional positive regard (C. Rogers again) towards their students' preferred modes of learning. As Marie Carbo clarified so succinctly, when we consider all of these traits as strengths rather than as teaching problems, difficulties simply evaporate.

Howard Gardner added an eighth intelligence to his profoundly important Multiple Intelligences framework, but it is obvious that he has missed something. It is time Gardner recognised the work of the pioneering Freud by inclusion of these additional categories. Oral intelligence, anal intelligence, and phallic intelligence must have their day in the sun. Surely, however, the most profoundly instructive of the Multiple Intelligences must be latent intelligence. This is an intelligence of which there are no observable signs in any domain. It’s criminal the way in which this group has also suffered wholesale discrimination. But, no longer. We've finally reached that most desirable of educational states - complete recognition, inclusion, and celebration of the brilliance of every student. Everyone in the world can now be above average in one of the expanded Multiple Intelligences framework. Thank you, Sigmund.


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