“I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!”
There was a strangely febrile atmosphere on edu-Twitter last weekend. People snapping at each other, making bold statements, accusations of bias or rudeness flying around, a general sense of narkiness in the air. (Personally, I blame the US election – after what happened with Brexit, who knows what the outcome will be and what will happen next?) When Twitter turns like this, it makes me want to step away. To hunker down and get back to the real world, where sweeping statements are rare, and where people talk with nuance in sentences of more than 140 characters. The cause of all the upset seemed to be an (ongoing and apparently endless) debate about different styles of pedagogy. In the past I’ve been called a “well known progressive”, which I found both amusing and annoying, but which mainly felt to me like I was back in the playground and someone was calling me names. But this blog is not about whether or not I, or anyone else, is “a progressive”, or “a traditionalist”, or even whether there is a divide between the two camps. This blog is about the problems of framing questions in terms of “a debate”.
I left school at 16, and my school was an ILEA comprehensive, which meant I missed out on the kind of ‘debate clubs’ that you tended to only get in sixth forms or at private school in those days. I can vaguely remember a class debate once about fox hunting, in which tempers got very heated, but beyond that it’s not a format in which I’ve often worked. When I was small, my parents got divorced, and it was all very heated, so I’m not keen on arguments in any form, really. I don’t like to hear people quarrelling and getting upset with each other. From what I can understand, in a debate, people argue both “for” and “against” a motion, and at the end you take a vote to see who “won”. It all sounds very rational, and measured, and balanced, and democratic, but the problem is that coming to decisions in such a binary way leaves no space for the thousands of graduations between absolute agreement (yah! go Donald Trump!) and absolute disagreement (no! go away strange orange guy!). While I accept that this is how democracy (or referendums) work, I’m not convinced it is a viable way to talk about something as complex as education.
I’m a contrary person, and the more that you tell me what I have to do, or say, or believe, the more likely I am to do the complete opposite. This means that, if you say that there is a debate and you must accept that and join in, you are only making it even more likely that I will say “no thanks, I think I’ll pass on the debate thing”. If you say group work is stupid and people should realise that and stop doing it, I will feel inspired to immediately go and get a group of children and do some work with them. Or I will start thinking about all the circumstances in which group work plainly isn’t rubbish. (As in team sports, drama, music ensemble, and so on.) Now you may or may not think this attitude is childish, but at my advanced age, I like to try and retain a childlike nature. You may or may not care what I think, and if you belong to “Team Traditional” I have learned to live with the idea that you don’t. But the point is that you can’t have a debate if no one joins in with you. You can’t have a debate if the opposition doesn’t agree with the way you’ve worded the motion. And if your debate causes people to polarise their opinions, that’s not very helpful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dance with the devil. I’ve heard he has “all the best tunes”.