There’s nothing new about the traditionalists’ disdain for progressive ideas on social media. They attempt to shame anyone who questions the traditional model, ganging up on progressive teachers without feeling the need to justify their moribund ideas. Developing a mob mentality is a good way for them to feel safe in numbers.
However, this recent tweet from Tom Bennett (adviser to the government) reached a new low point.
Let’s all applaud Tom’s wit and feel affirmed in our use of traditional rows and direct instruction when the alternative is meal-time chaos.
There are two issues with this tweet. Firstly, it does not link to the original post in which the infographics appear. This means we cannot examine the arguments presented for the second diagram (or understand that it is, in fact, the third of three). There is an interesting discussion to be had, for example, about the levels of teacher direction and student agency in all three classroom lay-outs and, indeed, whether they are mutually exclusive over the course of a year. Of course, Tom Bennett has no intention of either inviting or encouraging us to discuss the article. Let’s just sneer instead.
Secondly, the analogy with McDonald’s is deeply troubling. In using the cheap fast food chain that caters for low-income families, the tweet exhibits an anti working-class prejudice that is wholly in line with the reactionary nature of the government. Let’s laugh at progressive classrooms by associating them with places where poor people eat.
The traditionalists’ prejudice against the working class is usually hidden in their arguments about social mobility. They justify a classical curriculum that is common to elite private schools because the disadvantaged lack the ‘cultural capital’ of their middle-class peers. Teaching them through direct instruction is apparently necessary to close the gap created by their impoverished home lives; and draconian behaviour policies are required to offset the influence of an unruly family.
Moreover, the traditionalists promote entry to Russell Group universities as the aim of education, but don’t say that the vast majority of places will be taken up by privileged students from affluent areas of the country. The result for working class students is frustration and further alienation from the institutions of our society.
The traditionalists’ arguments reveal an attempt to impose middle-class values on disadvantaged children. In her new book Miseducation, Professor Diane Reay re-visits Basil Bernstein’s call to re-think equitable education for all classes in society:
[Bernstein] argued that we must ensure that the material conditions of the schools we offer, their values, social organisation, forms of control and pedagogy, the skills and sensitivities of the teachers are refracted through an understanding of the culture the children bring to school. As he pointed out, we do no less for the middle-class child. (2017, p. 161)
The class hostility of the traditionalist educator makes this impossible to achieve. Only through progressive notions of democracy, equality and mutual respect can working-class children get the education they need and deserve.