Gordon Bennett!

James_Gordon_Bennett_Vanity_Fair_15_November_1884

The exclamation of surprise ‘Gordon Bennett!’ is possibly a version of ‘Gor blimey’, which is itself a corruption of ‘God blind me’. It is also thought to be derived from the name of John Gordon Bennett Jnr (born 1841) – pictured above in Vanity Fair in November 1884  – who ran the New York Herald and was well known for his outrageous Playboy life-style and newsworthy publicity stunts. All of which has hardly anything to do with the following post, but it was difficult to find any other image that would be in any way appropriate. Meanwhile…

Man who doesn’t teach creativity tells us nothing new. A reviewer reviewed.

Unless you happen to be a politician who should but doesn’t know better, All Change Please! tries to avoid making personal attacks on individuals, so will refrain from naming the author – the traditionalist’s very own behaviour guru – of a recent TES book review that has been widely and enthusiastically Tweeted over the last week by the traditional classes, and to which one can only surely exclaim ‘Gordon Bennett!!!’.  Although All Change Please! has never personally met the reviewer, it’s sure he’s a very nice man and an excellent traditional classroom teacher, and the books, articles and posts and articles he clearly enjoys writing are joyfully provocative, not unlike All Change Please!‘s. And of course he has a perfect right to express his own opinions, even when they are wrong.

However, if you only read one of his reviews, then don’t read this one. It’s his recent joyfully provocative TES review of Sir Ken’s Robinson’s latest publication Creative Schools: the grassroots revolution that’s changing education‘. He starts by making the quite reasonable observation that, although the great man has spent 40 years working in education, he has never actually taught in schools, and as a result in the past he has offered little in the way of practical remedies or strategies for change or advice as to exactly how the Arts can be resurrected in education – although what the reviewer doesn’t mention is that this book is his attempt to do so. Neither does he refer to one of Sir Ken’s major concerns, shared by the vast majority of teachers of all persuasions, that schools are being increasingly driven by commercial and political agendas and children are being tested to distraction. At least the review does not reiterate the traditionalist’s entirely misinformed belief that Sir Ken claims that learning to dance is more important than learning to read, write or add up.

However, the reviewer does trot out a different traditionalist’s claim, that schools are already alive with the sound of the Arts, and we really don’t need any more because it is distracting kids away from their pursuit of more and more knowledge and entry to Oxbridge . There are perhaps a few schools left – and by happenstance, it seems the one where the reviewer teaches – where creative activities are indeed plentiful, but the point he misses is that increasingly the provision of such courses in schools are being diminished in favour of those that will produce academic league table EBacc success. And even where the Arts remain there tends to be little sense of continuity, progression or co-ordinated assessment across the creative disciplines. What Sir Ken is primarily doing is trying to ensure that such provision is not further depleted.

The reviewer goes on to dismiss the thought-provoking comparison between schools and prisons which All Change Please! has already discussed here. Schools are of course much nicer and better places to be in than prisons, but the point that he seems to miss is that they are both highly structured and de-personalised in approach, have a one-size-fits-all captive audience and are several steps removed from the everyday reality of life in the outside world. And parent’s evenings/visiting hours, the playground/exercise yard and ‘recreational activities’ don’t sufficiently set them apart.

Then we come to the traditionalists’ use of so-called evidence. All Change Please! has already expressed its doubts about evidence here. Educational evidence is notoriously unreliable and rarely proves anything once and for all. It makes useful and interesting suggestions, provides clues and raises questions, but no more than that. And for every reference source a traditionalist makes, somewhere there’s an alternative study or set of data that contradicts it. Indeed while the reviewer triumphantly proclaims:

‘Cherry picking like this to advance a cause is the worst kind of fundamentalism. You can lasso any data set carefully enough and torture it to say what you want. Pulling out every school in alignment with your own tastes and claiming it represents the truth of education is wilful ignorance. Perhaps he doesn’t know what goes on in schools other than the ones he gets invited to?’

he then goes on to do exactly that and pick his own cherries that support the traditionalist’s view of the world. Perhaps he doesn’t know what actually goes in lessons in the Arts? Perhaps he hasn’t had the experience of seeing how the Arts can transform the lives of children who are struggling in more formal, traditional learning environments?

Finally the reviewer throws in an attack on the Free School movement of the 1970s (which bears no relation to Mr Gove’s current Free School offering). But you have to actually check out the link to the article he provides here to learn that these schools were few and far between, and mainly set up to provide deprived inner-city children with at least some sort of relevant education as an alternative to playing permanent truant from their allocated education establishment. These are not the type of schools Sir Ken is promoting. They did not set out to attempt to specifically provide an education in the Arts, and nor do they in any way represent the approach of today’s more progressively-orientated teachers.

That’s the problem with traditionalists – they are so utterly convinced they are absolutely correct, and that anyone who sees things differently has been ideologically brain-washed, soviet-style by loony-left training colleges into deliberately depriving children of a purely knowledge-based route into academia. Children do indeed have a right to an academic education if that’s what suits them, but they also have an equal right to a creative, technical, practical and vocational one too. And while so-called ‘progressive’ teachers acknowledge that to be the case, traditionalists don’t seem to be able to.

Other than that, I enjoyed the review. And in the interest of balance, I look forward to reading Sir Ken’s response to the reviewer’s own next book.

 

Image credit: Wikimedia

 

 

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