Thursday, November 11, 2010

Alphonso's Dog

I really should be working on my reports but I read this blog post today Of Monkeys and Bananas and it reminded me of the story of Alphonso's dog. We refer to Alphonso's dog so frequently at home and at school, that it has become an embedded phrase for anything that continues to happen just because it's become accepted practice, regardless of whether or not it's good practice.

Alphonso's dog comes from a story someone once told me about a monastery where dogs had been strictly forbidden for hundreds of years. One day the Abbot (called Alphonso), took pity on a stray that he found outside the monastery and he began to feed it. The dog, of course, kept coming back and because Alphonso was cool with it, the monks began to believe that having a dog in the monastery was OK and that the dog must, in fact, be a creature of spiritual significance. When Alphonso died, the monks revered the dog in his memory. In this way, in time, all dogs became important to the monks and were treated as something special rather than something forbidden. Pretty soon no one knew why having a dog at the monastery was important, it just was.
We use this phrase to describe many things, just one of them being the acceptance of teenage drinking in our community. When did it become accepted practice for 14 and 15yr olds to get slaughtered every weekend? Why is it that football clubs and parents condone the behaviour and in some cases even supply the grog? Because it's an Alphonso's dog, that's why. Everyone else does it, therefore it must be ok.

When I was a kid, it was smoking. Everyone else did it, therefore it must be a good thing to do. Thank goodness someone euthanised that dog before it euthanised me.
There's an awful lot of teaching practice that's become an Alphonso's dog too. Grouping kids by age is one of them. Judging intelligence based on good spelling and neat handwriting is another!
I'm concerned that attitudes to social media are also becoming Alphonso's dogs. If you ask most of the people who have never used social media but are opposed to the use of it in the classroom why they don't approve of it , the reasons they give aren't based on their own experience but rather because 'someone' says so and 'everyone' knows. Thanks to shock jock media beat ups and just plain ignorance, the idea that the internet is a bad and dangerous place is becoming one of Alphonso's dogs.
One of the reasons I love teaching so much is the ever changing nature of the job. No two kids are the same, no two days are the same, every year is like starting a new job but with the bonus of lessons learnt from the previous year.

So how come some teachers keep regurgitating the same lessons year after year? When so many rich and varied tools are at the disposal of 21st century teachers, why do they continue to deal in 19th century teaching practices? I know it's boring for the kids but it must also be boring for the teachers. If I wanted to know what I'd be doing in week 4 of term one I think I'd be better off working in garbage collection. When the doors to classrooms all over the world are open and inviting us to Skype or Tweet or Elluminate ourselves in, why are some of us still working behind closed doors and closed minds ?

It's that damned dog of Alphonso's that's why and if anyone has ideas on how to get rid of him, I'd appreciate it if you shared them.


  1. Jeez Anne,
    I wish I had some ideas but that dog just seems to defeat me every time. It can be one powerful and obstinate mongrel. Thanks for naming the beast for me. Now with a name I hope to recognise it more often.
    Michelle Norton

  2. Hi Michelle,
    Nice to hear from you via blog comment :-)
    You watch, now that you know about Alphonso's dog you'll find him wagging his pesky tail all over the place!

  3. Oh so true about that darn dog! Thanks for sharing. I love the story.

  4. Thanks Leslie
    I don't even remember where I read the story about Alphonso's dog and even though I've googled it with lots of different spellings I can't find it again. Maybe I dreamt it but it has certainly become an entrenched part of our vernacular!