Traditionalists’ knowledge deficit

Traditionalists are whipping themselves into a frenzy about progressive education at the moment. Recently the writer of one post fantasised about being Stormtrooper FN-2187 in a Star Wars film taking on the Dark Side of “the majority of educators who support the progressive philosophy of education.” While the post found favour with the UK Schools Minister, many teachers who do not adhere to the traditionalists’ educational straitjacket might be surprised to be labelled as the progressive enemy.

However, casting the net so wide turns out to have its advantages in on-line debate; it becomes relatively easy for the traditionalists to find a target for criticism. Learning styles, ‘fads’ of all types, group work, student talk and Student Voice, teaching a lesson for relevance or for children’s interest or without a textbook – all become part of the insidious progressive agenda.

For teachers who call for a ‘core knowledge’ curriculum, the traditionalists have a lamentable lack of knowledge of progressive education.

Progressive education is not occasional group work or giving students a superficial ‘voice’; instead, it proposes a complete restructuring of the contemporary model of schooling. The conformity demanded of students and teachers in the current system would give way to a collaborative community in which all participants learn to direct the journey to greater knowledge. New ways of learning would promote initiative, independence and creativity.

Progressives in state schools can take inspiration for the possibility of change from early attempts to develop experimental methods. For example, Rosa Bassett, headteacher at the County Secondary School in Streatham, introduced the Dalton Plan in 1920. Learning at the school was completely reorganised. Students decided how much time they would give to studying each subject, determined which subject ‘laboratories’ they would visit each day and took responsibility for recording their progress in completing the monthly assignments.

Rosa summarised the result: “One must confess that the brilliant child progresses at a far greater rate than before, but, at the same time, one must also acknowledge that the slower child progresses, too, at a greater rate and in a far better way” (The Dalton Plan, 1922, p. 194).

The majority of state teachers use a pragmatic mix of methods to get their students through the next exam. Some of the methods might be characterised as child-centred, but that does not make the teacher a progressive.

Before traditionalists start targeting teachers with one label or another, they should acquire the requisite knowledge that would allow them to enter the debate on an informed basis.


2 thoughts on “Traditionalists’ knowledge deficit”

  1. While most right thinking teachers would agree with you, I am afraid there will always be a few who don’t see things this way. One of the most vocal has his own view of what is traditional, based mostly I think on the way that he teaches and he then says “anyone that doesn’t do what I do isn’t tradtional therefore they must be progressive”.

    I find the argument to be sterile and tedious these days. You raise here some important issues here which are interesting and worth pursuing. However as soon as you mention “child centred” the old Rousseau arguments will be wheeled out with a few quotes from Dewey. It seems that these are the only arguments that the trads have which makes perfect sense as this is all trad vs prog nonsense and to be trad is to look to the past. As soon as you say “child centred” deosn’t mean progressive you will be told that you are a bit simple and that of course it does. Then the conversation will change tack from “child centred” to “child led”.

    As others have suggested, most of those of the “trad” ilk, I use the term as they wear the badge with pride seem to be almost devoid of any sort of creativity, any sort of empathy and any sort of vision. For them learning is all about effect sizes, knowledge organisers and obedience.

    The average trad seems to like to label the average non trad as progressive in order to do just as you say, to find all sorts of odd ball teaching meothds which they label progressive and pin to non trads.

    I am sure there are a few teachers out there who believe that learners should be in control of the learning process all of the time. I believe learenrs should take over responsibility for the process when they are capable of doing so but that most teachers do not hold these extremist views of teaching methods.

    I believe most extremist trads that I have come across teach that way because of who they are. Most extremist trads that I have come across teach that way as they are unable to teach any other way. Often they are maths and science teachers with a few historians thrown into the mix who are perhaps a bit introverted and not best placed to be creative and innovative. They find it easier to fall back on Rousseau to justify their lack of flexibility when it comes to teaching approaches.

    Most right thinking teachers now ignore the arguments and get on with the job. Some trads seem to be getting a little wound up that people are starting to find their arguments a little tedious and have started to become a little more goading. One or two have started to make the discussions personal in order to provoke some kind of response. You know the thing…”any response is better than no response” as you have heard at so many inset sessions when talking about the naughty kid who craves attention.

    You have stated in a simple and straightforward way above an approach that I believe most teachers would agree with.

    I believe that for some hard core trads, the child is not at the centre of the process, the knowledge is. What is more important for these types is that the culture is passed on. If putting the child at the centre of the process makes one progressive then so be it. But to then suggest that I advocate brain gym is a bit much.

    I will follw your blog so that when I need to I can find an oasis of common sense in the desert of homeostasis that is trad teaching.


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