Now I Have Finally Seen The Light

“I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!”
The Crucible

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”.

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7 Responses to Now I Have Finally Seen The Light

  1. Tim A says:

    One of my strongest memories of being at primary school is the “Roman Feast” we had when I was about 7 years old. The anticipation and excitement of the week leading up to it sits with my 30 years on. In reality it was just a room full of children in bed-sheet togas eating grapes speaking pidgin Latin. I don’t remember the details of what we studied to tie in to the topic – I’m sure we’d have been told about Roman Emperors and the life of citizens, that sort of thing.

    Now a neo-traditionalist would say it was a waste of time. In the day we were doing that role-playing nonsense we could have been learning list of Roman emperors sat as desks. The beauty and joy of knowledge was cast aside for the short term sugar high of fun. And if we had sat down and taken a test on how many emperors we could name the next day then traditionalist class would have been “proven” to be better.

    The thing was the class wasn’t designed to impart specific knowledge. It was to get us interested in history, and it worked for me, far more than another memorised list of facts ever could. Because we did also do memorised list of facts. I think most teachers will do a blend of the prog/trad depending on the situation. Sometimes you want to light the fire, sometimes to fill the vessel.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Tim A says:

    Whenever I comment on a teacher-blog I make numerous spelling and grammar mistakes. I’m not illiterate – honest!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. edukate123 says:

    I am sick of the whole debate. Its a complete red herring when talking about education and an excuse for many self-appointed gurus to get their twitter airing & publicity they crave. The fact is that great teachers use & adapt what works for their cohort & individuals & themselves.
    As a child, my best memory of learning took place in what was the 3rd year (Y9 to people under 40) when our History teacher abandoned the curriculum and let us follow the Falklands War daily – reading papers, tracking developments, predicting next moves and fervently discussing how Russia could possibly get drawn in. It made me choose History in my options, and I went on to get an A at O level (in my crappy 80s comp). My worst memories of learning were the tears and tension of trying to learn times tables aged 7 – 10yrs and the weekly tests (actually 70s primaries oop North weren’t all progressive! weekly spellings & tables were the norm) Anyway, it made me hate maths, and I carried on hating it until I gleefully burnt my books after the last O level exam. ( I did learn trigonometry & pass though!) .
    Fast forward to now, and I use & encourage settings to use a mix of methods – think about what needs to be learnt & the best way to teach, practice and apply it. I am a massive fan of proper SSP, and decodable books, and also a huge supporter of learning through play in the EYFS.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. fish64 says:

    Yes but Sue, the debate arose because people like me (broadly traditional but also known to do some group work, open ended tasks, project work on occasion) started being told that we shouldn’t teach knowledge because 21st century skills were all that mattered, or that seating children facing the front was being like a prison warder. Yes, I was insulted when I was told that. Yes, I started collecting research that justified my way of teaching. If traditionally minded teachers are accused of being dogmatic, I would say it was because we were forced into it, much as you say you feel forced to try some group work when someone claims that you shouldn’t do it.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Practicing says:

    It seems part of what you’re objecting to is the way in which the debate is carried out: polarised opinions etc. Certainly, the 140 characters limit can lead to a rather blunt dialogue. But surely education overall is more likely to improve if we debate methodology than if we don’t.


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