Ferris Bueller has taken the day off, and his poor classmates went to economics class. Voodoo economics…
As we could see in the video from Part 1, the 80-20 Rule, or any other arbitrary rule of thumb, needs to be critically examined. Let’s take the example we just had, and do the math.
Class length: 40 minutes.
Teacher Talking Time (TTT): 20%
Result: 8 minutes for the teacher.
Now go back to the video.
Question: What would happen in a classroom with this teacher talking for 8 minutes?
Answer: Students in a coma after 2 minutes, clinically dead after 5, brain dead after 8… 🙂 I’m not kidding.
We will return to this point later, but we begin to see that it’s not only a matter of how long the teacher talks. There are other variables that need to be addressed. However, we shall return, if only briefly, to this point.
Let’s do some history work: What is this 80-20 rule? Why is it such a powerful mental construct? How has it gotten repeated over and over again so much that it is practically a part of a teacher’s DNA?
We travel back in time to Italy. The date is July 15th, 1848, and Vilfredo Pareto has just been born.
Vilfredo Pareto grew up to become an economist. In 1906, one of his observations was that 20% of the people in Italy owned 80% of the land. This was an amazing discovery.
Even more amazing was that in his garden he discovered that 20% of the pea pods had 80% of the peas. It seemed wherever he looked, this 80-20 rule seemed to repeat itself.
Here’s an example of the 80-20 Rule in everyday life: in 1992 the United Nations showed that the distribution of World GDP (in 1989) was 82.70% for the richest 20%. (Source: Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle
So what does it all mean, especially when related to TTT? Is it relevant?
Well, firstly, I have to tell you that in 2006, Paul Krugman, (winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics) in a New York Times article, dismissed this as the “80-20 fallacy. It seems that over the past 30 years, 80% of the world’s wealth is now in the hands of only 1% (one per cent) of the richest people on Earth.
Krugman, Paul (February 27, 2006). “Graduates versus Oligarchs”. New York Times: pp. A19. http://select.nytimes.com/2006/02/27/opinion/27krugman.html?_r=1.
Blindly accepting the 80-20 Rule in ELT may make us feel good, but it has been proven to be a fallacy, at least in the field of economics, which is where it originated from in the first place. Enjoy the video.
In Part 3, I’ll address some implications for the ELT classroom.