50,000 Shades of Grey

‘Only connect.’ E.M. Forster

Speaking from the sidelines, the education profession seems particularly divided at the moment. It’s like there are lots of people in a room together, and they’re all shouting at each other from opposite sides of the room. Writers of educational books, blogs and tweets keep trying to convince me that ‘their way’ is the only way. By definition, I suspect that ‘my way’ (whatever that is) must surely be wrong. Mind you, I don’t think I actually have a ‘way’ as such. I just talk about approaches that have worked for me, and that other people might like to try. It’s a ‘no obligation’ offer: entirely up to you whether you agree or not. (Or, as I’ve said previously, does ruling something in mean we have to rule everything else out?)

When we seek to simplify things – ‘it’s my way or the highway!’ – we end up entrenching ourselves in polarised positions. When we try to remove all uncertainty, and say that one or other position is ‘right’, we deny the amazing complexity of human life. I feel like I’m being told that I must side with either approach ‘x’, or approach ‘y’, but I’m not allowed to pick and mix between the two. I am either with you, or against you; I either agree with everything you say, or I am a heretic.

But when we fall victim to these false dichotomies, we deny the 50,000 or more shades of grey that signify the relationship between a teacher, some children, and the chance to learn something. To my mind, this is a reductive, futile and essentially pointless exercise, triggered by a desire to paint the world in shades of black and white. Can it ever really be as simple as:

Evidence -v- Intuition

Knowledge -v- Creativity

Testing -v- Trusting

Traditional -v- Progressive

Grammar -v- The Destruction of Language

Insist -v- Engage

Reason -v- Emotion?

I wrote a tweet this morning listing some of these ‘false dichotomies’, as @digitaldaisies put it. At the end of my tweet I put: ‘Masculine -v- Feminine?’. I was being a bit cheeky, a bit provocative (it is Friday after all). Underlying that cheekiness was a feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on: not men versus women exactly, but just a vague sense of masculinity and perhaps even machismo that I feel when I read what some people write. (Perhaps they in turn find me hopelessly fluffy and feminine.)

In retrospect I think I was also trying to say that all this black and white stuff is a nonsense. Just because you think differently to me, does it mean that I’m wrong and you’re right, or vice versa? Wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense to join forces, to swap and share our ideas and our approaches? Doesn’t the combination of man and woman, masculine and feminine, yin and yang, add up to more than the sum of its parts? We can be as different as a man and woman are, and yet we can, if we wish to, still connect. After all, that’s how we create children in the first place, isn’t it?

Live in fragments no longer.’ E.M. Forster

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2 Responses to 50,000 Shades of Grey

  1. Helen says:

    I think you need to follow a few more science teachers on twitter. I find that our community is far more supportive than those who find their opinion so important they are willing to waste time arguing about it on twitter. The science teacher community (that I belong to) are also aware of the shades of grey and are willing to include all sides of the arguments in our teaching practice.

    Like

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