Debate deniers


The traditionalists continue to rail against all those who ‘deny’ the debate over progressive and traditional teaching methods. This latest post correctly views the two approaches as rooted in different philosophies of education. It then makes the incorrect inference that, as there are two philosophies, teachers must follow one or the other. Yes, you can’t be both progressive and traditional, but you could be in the ‘middle’ if you hold to a different philosophy – such as pragmatism.

Notwithstanding the existence of a middle ground, it is puzzling that seemingly educated people deny the debate has relevance in today’s schools. To my mind, there are two reasons for this denial. The first is self-interest; and the second is a reaction to the facile caricatures that traditionalists deploy against progressive educators.


In my experience, the most prominent deniers are not teachers. They are private consultants who promote ‘what works’ (in terms of teaching, making schools ‘Ofsted ready’ or improving behaviour) for financial gain. While teachers’ pay has declined in real terms, they are happy to suck money out of the state system for their own ends.

Facile caricatures

The more important reason why people deny the debate is the manner in which the traditionalists make their case. The latest post is typical of their approach: label all teachers ‘prog’ if they are not demonstrably ‘trad’ and then criticise them with facile caricatures of progressive methods. Examples of caricatures from the post are:

  • Students in progressive classrooms “expect fun activities and personalised worksheets, to always be able to choose from an educational buffet”;
  • Students do not have to concentrate;
  • Students view the teacher as “an entertainer”;
  • Students view the purpose of lessons as “a series of activities”;
  • Students are “indoctrinated to rate their teacher based on fun-ness”;
  • Students “feel entitled to switch off if lessons aren’t to their liking”; and, finally,
  • Progressive education leads to poor behaviour.

As we’ve explained before here, this list shows a lamentable lack of knowledge about progressive education. However, it also debases the debate. If your critique of a philosophy is that it leads to teachers who are obliged to ‘entertain’, then you cannot be surprised if people are not prepared to engage in such a trivial discussion.

One final point: The post complains that new teachers are easily indoctrinated in progressive ways because of their “zeal for social justice and complete absence of worldly wisdom”. So, progressive education is associated with social justice and innocence, while ‘worldly wisdom’ leads to traditionalists’ authoritarian practices and the injustices they breed. No wonder new teachers, full of hope and idealism, are attracted to the progressive message!


One thought on “Debate deniers”

  1. This is my take….

    I believe your analysis is fatally flawed in that there is no evidence that choice of teaching methods is rooted in ideology. This is compounded by the fact that the beliefs and attitudes that comprise a persons ideology are not clearly defined and vary from person to person.

    I believe most teachers have a good handle on the range of methods that can be used in the education process and that some are more efficient while others perhaps more effective. I feel also that most teachers have a good handle on their own views of the purposes of education.

    There can be debate regarding which the most appropriate purposes of education given the fact that state education is funded by taxation. There can also be discussion regarding the most efficient and effective methods and which should be used in a particular context.

    Conflating the whole thing and picking out a trad vs anti trad debate is for me meaningless and pointless although it is clearly possible.

    It is more relevant to me to discuss ideologies and in a different discussion about methods once ideology is reflected in provision.

    I can see no tension whatsoever in believing that education is to make people smarter and at the same time suggest that people are made smarter via groupwork.

    It is often considered trad to use “teachertalk”. I sometimes use teachertalk extensively in a lesson while at other times I use it minimally depending on my professional view of which is best for the learning transaction. Clearly I can’t use minimal teachertalk and extensive teacher talk at the same time, but that is nothing whatsoever to do with my ideaology of education unless you extend the definition to include methods.

    There are at least two debates to be had but in my view they cannot be usefully dressed up as trad vs prog.. Conflation is the realm of the narrow minded I feel.


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