Pedro De Bruyckere is funny in explaining serious stuff | Conference Matters
Pedro De Bruyckere ©Speakers Academy-Walter Kallenbach

Pedro De Bruyckere is funny in explaining serious stuff

The Belgian educationist, youth researcher and lecturer Pedro De Bruyckere also happens to be a speaker. In his lectures, he debunks a range of myths about education. “People talk so much nonsense about young people and education, and all nuance is often lost.”

How did you become a speaker?

“I wasn’t planning on it, and it happened almost by accident. As a teacher, I was a member of an association for teacher trainers, and they wanted to hire a few speakers for an event. However, they didn’t have the money to pay for them, and someone of the board suddenly said: Pedro knows just as much about these subjects. Just a week after sending the invites for that lecture, I received two more requests. My fourth lecture was attended by a publisher who asked me if I wanted to write a book, and the rest is history.”

What do you talk about?

“My research has always focused on the three-way relationship between popular culture, young people and education, and how they influence each other. I actually talk about anything to do with young people and education. Ever since my most recently published book Urban myths about learning and education – which we used to debunk a variety of myths about education – my lectures have mainly addressed the plethora of made-up stories about young people and education. This is actually a project that got a little out of hand: I wrote the book to get over my writer’s block, but it became my best-selling work. The book has now been translated into English, and Swedish and Chinese translations are in the making. As a result, I’m getting more and more requests to deliver lectures outside of the Netherlands and Flanders. In Urban myths about learning and education, we’re taking a look at the facts behind the claims made by education gurus and others: is there actually any substance behind what they’re saying? For example, last summer, many newspapers ran a story about the benefits of attending lessons without wearing shoes. The story was supposed to be based on research involving 10,000 pupils, but here’s the catch: that research never actually happened. It took me two minutes to find out the facts, but almost all newspapers still went along with the story. People are always on the lookout for simple solutions, and that claim in particular sounds great: just take off your shoes and learning will become a doddle.”

What is your message?

“My message, especially when we’re talking about young people, is this: people must remain aware of nuance. Simple, ready-made solutions do not exist, because the stereotypical ‘young person’ does not exist either. What you can do is try to establish what the main factors are that play a role in the lives of young people, and how you should deal with these as a teacher. Funnily enough, I’m actually failing to meet my promise to myself that I wouldn’t ever deliver the same lecture twice. I’m reusing parts, but I’m trying to introduce at least 20 percent of new content into each talk. I would never have imagined that this subject would be such a hit. Sadly, I’m having to refuse a lot of lecture invites, because I want to keep teaching and researching as well. Those three elements – research, teaching an lecturing – really complement each other very well, and it would be stupid to give up on one to focus on the others. In all three of my areas of expertise, I urge people to remain critical, and I try to provide as much information as possible to help people separate fact and fiction about education.”

How does the audience react to this?

“Right at the beginning, Generation Einstein’s Inez Groen, who often gave lectures, warned me that there would be a lot of angry reactions, and I really expected that to be the case when I started talking about myths in education. But I’ve never actually witnessed the rage I was expecting. I have asked a few people why that was, and apparently, I’m managing to deliver my message in a disarming way. Let me give you a quick example: I was invited to a scientific conference to talk about a deeply serious subject, and it really wasn’t the time and place to be light-hearted. I thought I my lecture treated the subject with the seriousness it deserved, but the first question I got when I came off stage was whether I had ever considered a career in stand-up comedy! Apparently, I’m just unable to keep science inaccessible, or to avoid humorous comments when I’m talking. So the audience is laughing, but learning at the same time. I suppose it’s just the natural teacher in me. After that lecture, I promised myself never to hold back again – I’m incapable of doing so anyway!”

What is your speciality?

“It’s difficult to say that about yourself, but someone once told me that I was ‘funny in explaining serious stuff’, and I think there’s something in that. It’s important to me that I’m clear and factual in what I’m saying, but that I don’t lose any nuance. That’s something I invest a lot of time in. I always mention a lot of experiments in my lectures to make things really clear, and it gives me pleasure to base those thought exercises on real scientific experiments. Just last week, I received a really nice compliment at the Dutch Teacher Conference. Someone said: “I’ve never heard someone explain research in such a simple way”. What’s funny is that people should really have known all this stuff. But adopting ‘facts’ without questioning them seems to be more tempting that doing a bit of research.”

What has surprised you recently?

“I recently discovered an error in my own lecture. In my introduction about young people, I mention a well-known quote from Plato about young people today. But I recently found out that this quote isn’t actually ancient at all, but originated from a 20th century parody. Even though everyone always falls back on that quote! You should always check everything, even with the most serious of books and authors. Have you heard about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule? The one that says you need to practice for 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything? This summer, the researchers on which Gladwell based his research published a book. In brief: Gladwell has completely misunderstood their research. You should always remain critical, and check everything a hundred times.”