3 Things I Strongly Disagree WithJanuary 7, 2015
Because progressive education is multi-faceted, and continually represented as something new, one of the most common techniques used to hide its influence is to claim that the disagreements in education do not really exist. There are two variants on this argument that are used frequently. One is to claim that the terms used to describe the positions (like “traditional”, “progressive”, “child-centred” etc.) are either meaningless or refer to something either nobody or everybody agrees with. The other version is to claim that in all facets of the debate there are compromise positions, rather than stark choices, making it possible for the debate denialist to claim that they (and very often the majority of teachers who are, it is assumed, unaffected by ideology) somehow transcend the debate.
For this reason, every so often I find it worthwhile to point out examples of things that I fundamentally disagree with. Not to debate them, or to criticise them, but to point out that there are some really quite clear cut differences where people need to choose sides. Particularly when those people do have, or have had, power and influence in the education system.Here’s three blogposts that have not won me over. As ever, I would recommend you follow the links to read the whole post, so we can avoid the accusation that I have misrepresented the views by quoting out of context. Also, I acknowledge that I am highlighting what it is I disagree with, so anyone who wants to find some uncontroversial sentence in the blogpost and say that this was, in fact, the true point of the post needn’t bother.
First from a well established educationalist whose blog gets far more hits than mine and whose power to influence future generations of teachers is far greater than mine, some views on the importance of knowledge:
No matter how clever or persuasive certain so called experts’ arguments appear to be about the need for children to memorise facts and receive their knowledge from teachers, we should not be taken in by such rhetoric. We need to see these people for what they actually are. They are dangerous individuals who are trying to prevent progress by perpetuating a restrictive method of schooling that ultimately, will rob our children of their futures. They are self acclaimed experts who wish to maintain control over our education system by perpetuating standardised testing, rote learning and whole class instruction, while demonising alternative approaches such as personalised learning, games playing and problem solving.
They wrap up their ideas in a cloak of respectability and present them exclusively as the answer to today’s education crisis. They snipe and sneer at those who advocate progressive approaches to education, as they fight desperately to preserve what control they have over schools. In so doing, they are depriving an entire generation of children the right to discover for themselves just how wonderful learning really is. They rob this generation of students of their human right to receive a good, dynamic and relevant education.
Next, another educationalist, internationally influential and involved in training teachers defends the inclusion fad of 10 years ago. While I disagree with that argument as a whole, as a result of having lived through that disaster (this blogpost from @ is a great description of what it was like), I’m particularly surprised at one of the obstacles to inclusion:
Sam’s mother lists a number of factors that she sees as having contributed to the failure of schools to meet the needs of many children. Inadequate training of teachers, poor resourcing and the over emphasis upon academic attainment and narrowly focused assessment and testing procedures are all seen as inhibiting progress. These are certainly contributors to the difficulties with moving the inclusion agenda forward that are recognised by many teachers and families. [my italics]
And finally, and this one from a politician (a former minister for schools, as it happens), on the non-academic aims of teaching where the third paragraph sums up the depressing views of so many politicians of all sides:
Today, Tristram Hunt is calling for schools to do more to develop character among young people. Quoting Winston Churchill and the idea of ‘British spirit’ was a clever way to ensure today’s speech got some good Sunday coverage.
As a former teacher I can also imagine that there will be a fair amount of resigned sighing or angry harrumphing in staffrooms this morning about this latest demand on the teaching profession as reports need writing, excited children need calming and the end of term seems just too far away.
But I think teachers should see this call as a massive vote of confidence. If anything demonstrates the power of education and teaching then it is the ongoing assumption that many social or economic problems could be solved if only they were included in the school curriculum or promoted in schools.
Anyone want to tell me I don’t disagree with these sentiments? Or that there are some convenient middle positions between my position and theirs?