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