A View From The Trenches

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With educational traditionalists and progressives currently distinctly at odds with one another, All Change Please!’s guest contributor Alan Jones bravely peers up out of the trenches to observe and comment on the current state of play.

“First we have an apparently minor disagreement, then we take up opposing positions, then we shout across the divide, then we begin strengthening our own position with half-truths and trashing those of the opposite camp. And then the fighting begins….

If this sounds like war, well, it’s not a bad description of how some actual conflicts begin. But it’s also, sadly, how things happen in debates over education, and that’s ultimately more important than war. Just recently, this process has got worse. The two ‘positions’ that seem to be hardening at the moment in educational debate are, broadly, that of the knowledge-based approach and that of the child-centred approach.

The first, championed in many people’s eyes by Education Secretary Michael Gove, is identified with the values we might associate with the immediately post-war education system and with the private sector – education is, first and foremost, about the acquisition of facts, about understanding the basics of a subject before trying to progress to higher levels. It’s also about discipline, respect and moral fibre.

The second, usually identified with the left and with views coming from ‘trendy’ academics lecturing in schools of education in the sixties and seventies, puts the child at the centre of things, believes in ‘discovery’ methods and stresses such things as freedom of thought and openness to feeling and self-expression.

As with real wars, whilst taking up a position behind the barricade of one of these views and lobbing missiles at the opposition might make us feel good for a while, there’s no substitute in the end for a negotiated settlement – ‘jaw-jaw’ not ‘war-war’. Because, of course, the truth is that education is about BOTH knowledge AND skills, about what’s out there and what’s inside the child. It’s the intelligent blending of the two things that makes for good education, not the exclusive adherence to one or the other.”


Image credit: Wikimedia


One comment on “A View From The Trenches

  1. It’s the arrogance of the man (Gove) that people seem to find so offensive in this war. From what I understand, he offers no real evidence for the policies he creates which seem more to be based on his personal opinions rather than any discussed, rationalised understanding and agreement (or attempts to make peace).

    I agree that there may be nothing wrong with some of what he stands or aims for, but to base everything around “academic” on the day of exam achievement and the learning of facts versus the ability to find out facts and then productively manipulate them is perhaps taking some of the skill and advances we have made in education (and technology) out of it all.

    Who is not meeting who in this war? Who is not coming half-way? Who is not considering all the normal Tommies out there and only taking care of the Generals and commanding classes? Gove is all jaw-jaw all right, but I’ve seldom seen him really come out with anything that actually takes on board anything that’s been said in opposition to his policies and then work with that to reach amicable understandings and/or compromises. After all, who started this war and was there really any need to start it in the first place?

    I think we should be looking elsewhere for the root of the problems that pervade society at the moment, It’s not the teacher’s, kid’s or even the parent’s fault that a larger proportion of people in this country just don’t care about anything these days. Greed, profit, selfishness, capitalism all play a part in the general lack of understanding many people have, something perhaps that was seeded under the last iron-clad government.

    There are plenty of teachers and kids out there that are highly intelligent and are highly respected for what they achieve and have done. However, Gove in his war of eloquent words and balderdash seems to be tarring everyone with the same brush. Like what this government is doing to the disabled or those on benefits, everyone is being painted as a cheat, a troublemaker, useless and a sponging lefty good for nothing.

    In the long run, it’s all just excuses for budget cutting, splitting everything down into profit making business and not really looking at the overall picture. All very narrow minded and at the same time disrupting a lot of people’s lives unnecessarily especially when there are bigger fish to fry higher up in the corrupt world of where the money really goes and from where society’s problems really stem.

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