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

 

 

Daisy, Daisy… is she both Right and wrong?

 

One of traditional far Right-wing teachers’ current favourite party games appears to be identifying what they describe as the myths of progressive teaching and learning. They then tweet to each other in utter disbelief and with great smugness when they encounter someone who has not been persuaded by their dogma – their self-assuredness and unwillingness to even consider views other than their own is frightening. Meanwhile the national press picks up on their sensationalist claims which it publishes with delight, giving the general public the mistaken impression that our schools are full of free-thinking, do whatever you like, so-called progressive Marxist teachers. And, as All Change Please! has already observed in RU a trendy teacher?, in reality, teachers of the type they seek to exterminate just don’t exist – they are just too busy in the classroom getting on with the job to even consider the matter.

In the video clip above, Daisy Christodoulo, current doyenne of the Right and author of ‘Seven Myths About Education‘, makes a very reasonable assertion, that knowledge is essential to learning – but then, as her colleagues do, she goes on to perpetuate a myth herself – that progressive teaching involves no knowledge transfer whatsoever. And of course what she doesn’t mention is that from the 1950s – when traditional rote learning was very much the order of the day – to the mid 1990s, standards of literacy apparently remained pretty much the same. Furthermore The Literacy Trust suggests that rates have risen substantially since the late 1990s. Of course the figures do rather depend on what is defined by the term ‘ poor literacy’.  Literacy figures simply a right-wing fantasy

And this pattern is repeated through the rest of the traditionalists’ so-called myths – indeed what they succeed most in doing is revealing their own lack of understanding about what contemporary approaches to education actually involve, and what is currently happening in a positive way in the majority of our schools. Most worryingly, the far Right are succeeding in demonising attempts to find and develop the new ways of learning that are needed to meet the requirements of the 21st Century.

All Change Please! feels that it’s about time some of the Right’s more outrageous statements were challenged, and so here’s All Change Please!’s myth-busting guide to the myths behind the traditionalists’ myths of progressive, child-centred teaching and learning. If the Right want to present a caricature of the Left, then it works the other way round too.

1. There’s no need to learn any facts
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that teaching children facts prevents understanding and that they don’t need to have any prior knowledge in order to be able to adequately debate issues or solve problems. This is of course utter, utter nonsense as the vast majority of teachers readily agree that children need to acquire knowledge. However, they also realise that if children are only taught facts that their understanding of them will be limited, and that it is sometimes useful to set up learning activities in which children identify for themselves what knowledge they are likely to need and then set about acquiring it for themselves.

2. Just Google it!
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that because the future is difficult to predict then there’s no point in teaching children anything, and that all knowledge can be easily found on the internet anyway. This is another gross misconception. Teachers accept that, while often very helpful, there are limitations to what can be learnt on-line. They also understand that while certain areas of basic knowledge remain essential, other areas of traditionally taught knowledge are likely to be redundant in the future, and so we need a proper reappraisal of exactly what facts should and do not need to be taught in school.

At the same time, what has become increasingly essential is that children learn how to learn for themselves so that they will be able to easily acquire and the knowledge they eventually do discover they need to have when the future actually arrives. And effectively learning things via the internet is in itself a demanding skill that we should be putting more emphasis on teaching in school, because at present it’s not something we do terribly well.

3. Teacher-led lessons are boring
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that teacher-led instruction is by definition passive. Of course it’s not, or at least it needn’t be. Everyone knows that teacher-led lessons can be extremely effective and essential, especially when balanced with some practical work, and opportunities for learners to contribute their own ideas. Unfortunately though, there are still some traditional teachers who do little more than stand at the front of the class giving what is essentially a lecture, with pupils copying notes from the board.

4. It’s all about transferable skills
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that only generic skills should be taught. But so-called progressive teachers realise that   there are indeed a wide range of skills that are directly transferable and could be better taught more effectively if properly managed across the curriculum. But they also accept that there are still certain skills that are unique to each particular subject discipline. In contrast, traditional teachers don’t like the idea that their specialist subject domains might not be quite as specialist as they might think and refuse to make any connections with other subjects. They like to place themselves in a walled garden, whereas in reality the world is rather more open-plan and inter-disciplinary with generic skills being applied alongside recognisable bodies of knowledge.

5. Projects are the only way to learn
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that project and activity-based learning is the best way to learn. Actually they are probably correct about this one, especially if it is well-managed, guided independent learning that is being developed. However so-called ‘trendy’ teachers still acknowledge that practical work does need to be balanced with traditional knowledge-based learning, although perhaps more on an individual ’need to know’ rather than ‘just in case’ basis. The problem is that traditionalists generally won’t have anything to do with project work. In the first instance they’ve never tried it because they know it doesn’t work. And in any case they’ve never taught that way, and they know they would probably make a complete mess of it.

6. Every child is different
Traditionalists believe that progressives believe that each child learns best in its own particular way and that teaching methods need to reflect this. Again, they are probably right to think this about more modern approaches. Most successful teachers have realised through their own observation and experience that some children learn more effectively if they are presented with knowledge in a visual format or have done something active rather than just being told about it or have read it, i.e. verbally.

Traditionalists have read about a small-scale US academic research experiment that demonstrated that including visual or practical content made no difference to verbally-based knowledge-based test scores, thus apparently proving once and all that they are fully justified in maintaining their ‘sit-still, keep quiet and listen’ single style of teaching that fits a supposedly common style of learning. Of course in practice it’s impossible for more progressive teachers to prepare a different method of delivery for each child in the class (although computer-aided learning metrics claims it can and will), but nonetheless the vast majority of teachers will tell you that lessons that involve visual and practical work are generally likely to be more successful than those that don’t.

 

So having de-mythologised progressive teaching and learning, by this point All Change Please! is of course quite unable to resist the temptation to present its own highly controversial, completely biased – and entirely unsubstantiated by questionable small-sample research data – myths about extreme Right-wing traditionalists.

Progressive teachers believe that the most traditional right-wing teachers tend to like things to be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, and they get anxious about things that are ambiguous or could be interpreted in more than one way. They enjoy asserting their authority over others and the feeling of being in control over them. They rather like the sound of their own voices and derive satisfaction from the idea that they are filling children’s otherwise empty minds with unquestionable facts and figures.

Traditionalists find teacher-led lessons easier to deliver, because child-centred lessons are much more demanding to manage and might mean they are not entirely in control of the classroom situation. They fear that the class might detect a gap in their knowledge and as a result develop a lack of respect. Assessment is a great deal easier too, because pupils either know the answer or they don’t.

Traditional teachers tend to deny that substantial change is happening in the world and that things will be different in the future, or to put it another way, they express a deep fear of change. While progressive teachers are generally happy to accept that a lot of what traditionalists claim is true, traditionalists feel the need to denounce progressive approaches, and to quote flimsy evidence as proof of the existence of Gove.

But, in conclusion, and echoing Alan Jones’ recent statement that:

“..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.”

what actually exists in the majority of our schools is a generally healthy mix of traditional and progressive teaching and learning, and there should not be any need for either side to feel the need to make unhelpful and highly contentious and misleading statements about the other. And while All Change Please! now feels a whole lot better for having at least launched a few retaliatory missiles, it knows that what’s really needed are some diplomatic peace talks in which the far Left and far Right can come to a negotiated settlement that ensures that today’s children are fully and appropriately prepared for whatever the future brings them.

In every other aspect of life people have evolved and adapted to changing conditions through progress – but All Change Please!‘s concern is that if the educational far Right has its way, we will soon be all extinct.