There is a school of thought that argues we, in England, have gone way too far down the ‘progressive’ route in education. I’ve looked at this here, here and here. For me the traditional vs progressive debate is a false one because in 2016 neither approach is dominant and the two approaches have much to offer. Certainly individual teachers can be appalled at a woolly approach to, for example, learning verb endings and then blame it on the ‘progressives’ but this doesn’t dig deep enough. We must consider something very obvious indeed here: teaching takes place in many different contexts e.g. a class of teenagers preparing for a French GCSE, a class of six year olds starting a new topic about volcanoes, a small group tutorial at university discussing the romantic poets etc etc. Naturally enough these examples may lead to the teacher choosing a more ‘progressive’ approach or a more ‘traditional’ one.
Here is a link to Dominic Cummings recent paper ‘Some thoughts on education and political priorities’
“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”
Bertrand Russell in ‘A History of Western Philosophy’
Oh dear! I may well have translated Dominic Cummings’ unwieldy ‘Some thoughts on education and political priorities’ into something I can understand. His paper, as it turns out, is largely unrelated to developing a high quality education system for all which is a pity because a lot of people, past and present have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue; but when the DfE insists on ignoring practically all of this we are left with plenty of room for pretentious bores to fill the vacuum. I haven’t read all of it. Life’s too short. What follows is not a disciplined analysis of all 237 pages. This is because, unlike Mr Cummings, I am very interested in what it might take to develop a high quality education system for all.
Here is a link to the ‘education’ section of a website called ‘Films for Action’. There are a lot of films here (95) and there’s even one film made as a direct riposte to the horrid film ‘Waiting for Superman’. It’s an interesting selection of shorts and feature length pieces, most of them made within the last ten years.
I have left one school and moved on to another. At the last place they never did show the staff ‘Waiting for Superman’. Apparently there “wasn’t time”. I like to think that my exposure of this film as a horrid piece of corporate propaganda helped to keep it off the agenda. In my old classroom I left a picture of some fine young ladies sitting at their harpsichord; as you can see I have put words in the mouth of one and thoughts in the mind of the other, and I re-titled it as well: it is no longer ‘Adelaide de Guiedan and her sister’ (by Nicolas de Largilliere) but instead ‘Pupils will not learn to think for themselves if their teachers are expected to do as they are told’. You will have to click on the picture to read the other quotes. They are both from the Cambridge Primary Review (2010)
I understand that the member of senior management who came across this, whilst instructing someone else to clear the room, decided to personally remove this portion of wall-display. Perhaps it now adorns the wall of a senior management office. We may never know…
Here is a quote from Ken Robinson speaking at a Royal Society for the promotion of the Arts (RSA) event in 2009
“Getting back to basics includes recognising that great education requires great teaching; it’s not enough to know your discipline, great teachers have to know how to engage people, and great teachers do. And what, really, I think most people find exasperating is when – well intentioned as they are – politicians decide they’re going to take control of a process they don’t know, promote ideas they only half understand and remove the one thing which improves education which is the discretion and creativity of the people actually doing the work.”
(If you don’t know Ken Robinson just put his name into Youtube for a number of interesting talks he has given in recent years).
“Education is either for liberation or domestication” Paulo Freire
I read an interview with Alan Moore today in which he mentioned that Wilhelm Wundt was a key figure in the development of what we think of as the typical model of universal free education. I looked up Wilhelm Wundt – the man who developed the first ever laboratory dedicated to experimental psychology – and ended up watching ‘La Education Prohibida’ which is an excellent film exploring education from a ‘how-we-learn’ point of view rather than from a political or administrative point of view. It does include a summary of how our current education system was born (at 16 min.) This doesn’t mention Wilhelm Wundt but it raises the same very important questions that Alan Moore raises in his interview.
I highly recommend watching this. Be aware that it is two and a half hours long. It’s a South American film in Spanish, just click on captions and choose ‘English’ if you don’t speak Spanish.
The depth of thought in this film about what learning really is makes the 200 or so comments beneath today’s Guardian article on ‘Teach First’, including my own, look ridiculous