How the tide has turned…February 17, 2014
I’ll admit before I begin that this is simply how it seems to me and I’m more than willing to accept the unreliability of my recollections before I begin.
For the first few years of blogging, up to at least 5 years ago, the most common complaint (aside from the accusation that I hate kids, of course) were that I was the only one with my opinions and what I said was utterly unacceptable. I should stop expressing it. The evidence was all against me. Sometimes people would even quote from the latest government or OFSTED approved documents to demonstrate that my values were incompatible with what we were supposed to be doing and I should leave the profession. There was a right way to do things and, as could be deduced from the word “old” in my username, I was a relic of a bygone era resisting the modern world and there was nothing to debate.
Perhaps about 3 years ago, it became accepted that other teachers, perhaps staffroom moaners, had my opinions, but that anything I described was rare and what was being said was unrepresentative of what was happening in schools. In particular I remember being taken to task at about that time for suggesting that teachers found INSETs boring and had little respect for consultants, something which, if you read teachers on Twitter last September, cannot now possibly be doubted. My views were a curiosity, but even if offensive they weren’t necessarily unprofessional and people did start referring to me. But I should realise that it is unhelpful to be negative about anything in teaching and show more respect for the true experts and do nothing to divide the profession. My arguments were interesting, but there was no need for a wider debate and certainly no need to criticise (except, of course, if the object of criticism were politicians, as they really didn’t understand anything).
About a year ago, and for many months afterwards, I became used to the accusation that I was leading a “gang”. That there were a small number of teachers who agreed with me, who were, nevertheless vocal on social media, and we were teaming up too much to promote our views and argue our case. One complaint was that too many of “the gang” were youngsters who had less than five years teaching experience and didn’t really understand what was happening. We were being cocky and arrogant, and didn’t know our place in thinking we should try to persuade our betters that things could be changed for the better. Debate was, of course, to be welcomed, but we had to respect the authority and expertise of those we wished to challenge.
Now? What do I hear now? Well the most common complaint is that nobody really disagrees. The noise from me is all just straw men and being argumentative for the sake of it. Nobody really doubts the essential points in what I’ve been saying, I’m just failing to understand the nuances of other people’s positions. And partly this problem is because, from our position of great power on social media, people like me are oppressing and silencing opposition. We dictate how to teach and intimidate opposing views. We keep trying to push what the evidence says (presumably not the same evidence which 5 years ago proved I was wrong) rather than respecting the diversity of individual approaches. If anything, I need to be taken down a peg or two.
Now is this progress? Is this the tide turning? I like to think so, but the weight of opinion in social media is not the weight of opinion in the system. Apart from the influence of the same old progressive ideology in schools, universities and among the inspectorate, it also seems likely that whatever new institutions are set up, from new ways of training teachers, to a College of Teachers, will also be used to push that agenda given half a chance. Progressive teaching will not go away. As Hannah Arendt claimed about the apparent retreat of progressive education in the 1950s:
…a reversal will never bring us anywhere except to the same situation out of which the crisis has just arisen. The return would simply be a repeat performance–though perhaps different in form, since there are no limits to the possibilities of nonsense and capricious notions that can be decked out as the last word in science.
The same old battles will still have to be fought. But, in relatively few years, the advocates of progressive education on social media have gone from proclaiming the obvious unacceptability of the opposing view, to fretting that they are being marginalised by the “pedagogy police“. It would be great to see a similar shift in the arguments in schools where, in too many cases, the same old certainties still hold sway.