An intensely political campaign

I really like The Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou. It illustrates convincingly the extent to which progressive education pervades all aspects of education. It then takes on some of the key tenets of modern progressive education, as reinforced by the establishment, and illustrates that these tenets are myths.

Daisy’s book provided me with additional arguments, and clarified the position I take against progressivism and in favour of a knowledge based curriculum drawn from the liberal arts. I knew I agreed with Daisy from her blogs. Her book is a clarification of loads of those arguments and is very helpful. It’s like an extended briefing sheet against the progressives I encounter daily, or those who are heavily or wholly influenced by the progressive establishment.

The book was launched last night. Tom Sherrington, a Headteacher and blogger, cancelled his invitation. Harry Webb has written a great reply to a post from Mr Sherrington where he feels slighted because Daisy has prepared a defence to the points he would have been likely to make. You can source these posts yourself – they’re interesting reading – and Harry and Mr Sherrington have explained what happened really well.

I should say at this point that Tom Sherrington’s blog is excellent throughout, even though I disagree with many of the things he writes. He engages in debate and that is welcome.

One thing Harry skates over and meant I wanted to write this blog, is the ethical position of Daisy circulating her points, specifically the points that reply to Mr Sherrington, in advance of the meeting. Mr Sherrington seems to think that this indicates the book launch would have been something of an ambush, and cancelled his invitation to attend. He judged in advance that there would be no debate.

Now I’m sure the overwhelming position at Daisy’s book launch would have been one that is supportive of her book. That doesn’t mean there would be no debate, but I’m sure that Mr Sherrington would have been in a minority.

It is worth remarking that this is unusual. Progressives (or progressives masquerading as being ‘in the middle’) have their ideology dominating mainstream educational and hence political discourse. As Daisy shows in her book, it dominates OFSTED, training providers, the rhetoric of highly influential professors of education, and seeps its way into schools – even ones that on the surface appear to have nothing to do with progressivism.

Those who I am aligned with, ie opposed to progressivism, are in a tiny minority, both nationally and within schools.

As Robert Peal outlines in Progressively Worse, this is a tragedy for education. I would argue it is a significant reason that so many children leave school illiterate and innumerate, and a reason the UK trails behind countries we wouldn’t consider our economic competitors in international comparitors. Progressivism dominates UK education, to the detriment of our kids. A good example is the issue of the curriculum as detailed by Cristina Iannelli in this paper.

I want to change this.

As a result, I want the few schools with explicitly knowledge based classical liberal curriculum, such as West London Free School, Michaela Community School in Wembley Park, or Dixons Trinity in Bradford, to be hugely successful. I need them to be so that I can have positive examples of an alternative to what Michael Gove termed ‘the blob’ – a metaphor for the education establishment based on a 1950s film about a being that creeps into every corner.

I also want to read more, learn from those who have rehearsed their arguments (or are better read than me) but whom I broadly agree with, and ensure that I make the best case possible against progressivism. Yes, I’ll debate with people, but I want to make the best case possible and be thoroughly prepared.

I think the arguments stand up for themselves, but in a climate of almost total opposition to traditionalists, it’s no surprise that the argument needs to be rehearsed, challenged and rebuttals written, and, to some extent followed.

People who agree with each other circulate their arguments, respond to each other and agree the strongest line, including challenging others. In some cases, this means just hearing what those who are best-read suggest. We are dealing with opposition to institutional practice, and hence it needs organising.

I’m sure some will read “unthinking acceptance” into that phrase, but that’s not what I mean. I mean that sometimes, for example when I write a blogpost, I send it to others who broadly agree with me. They often make suggestions for improvement, and I often use their suggestions. Through discussion and argument we come to a consensus – usually but not always – about what is the best way to argue for ends we agree with.

For when Harry writes in the first link above, I thought ‘yes, that response chimes’ and I am sure I will repeat some of it in some of my discussion. My arguments against progressivism have become more nuanced because of the contribution from Harry.

Pushing back against progressivism does need organisation, it needs those who are aligned with what is often termed a more traditional vision to pool their resources and ensure their arguments are developed, and yes, nuanced. It requires that those that agree share their arguments, including their arguments against others, in order to strengthen them and their effect. It requires that those that agree carry the tradition of their position in order to build on that tradition. That’s to ‘push back’. I want to go further than to push back.

Amongst educational discourse, it requires a version of a political party – or at least requires working like one when developing the arguments.

That’s why I don’t think it’s an ambush to circulate one’s arguments in advance, particularly the response to possible objections, and why I don’t think it’s wrong to explicitly want to win the discussion. Of course, this requires us to hear the argument (and not shut it down by using institutions and the establishment to do it, or not arguing the point but arguing the way in which the point has come about).

Without trying to win, by implication by defeating the other side, the educational establishment will easily overcome argument simply by its power and its institutions that engender compliance.

I have no problem with organising in a way that apes political organisation so that we can push back and give us a better chance to win. I’m not surprised progressives don’t like us doing that.


11 thoughts on “An intensely political campaign

  1. As another deputy I am getting increasingly tired of the “progressive” vs “traditional” discourse. Both sides are guilty of a succession of cherry picked, straw man arguments backed with anecdote. Good teachers will, day in day out, match their planning to the students they teach and the material they are teaching. If a school dictates that “one size fits all” for all of its pupils whether it is “trad” or “prog”, it is doomed to failure unless it can select pupils that fit that particular mould.

    Interestingly, the WLFS is oversubscribed whilst MFS recieved 51/120 first choices.

  2. These are interesting edu-times. Whilst it may be true that progressive forces have dominated UK education for many years (but the degree of this dominance is hotly contested), it is surely also true that the tide has started to turn? The recent revealing of Ofsted’s consistent over stepping the mark with respect to pedagogical approach, the turmoil caused by Mr Gove (and the introduction of decentralisation of schooling allowing the setting up of schools focussed on more ‘traditional approaches’), and the opening of the debate about behaviour, all appear to signal a turning point.

    I can see that if you are a teacher who has laboured under the yoke of progressive forces for many years, then such signs are not only very welcome, but make a strong call for seizing the opportunities with both hands as quickly as possible. However, I would caution restraint. The problem with viewing this situation as requiring the same approach as ‘politics’ is that the consequences will be the same that we currently see in the political sphere. That is, small numbers of committed at each polar end of the issue, with a mass of undecideds in the middle, who become increasingly disenchanted with the poles as the methods employed to ‘persuade’ by said poles become more questionable. Remember that the aim is to persuade the undecideds that your view of the issue is correct (I have recently blogged on Respect, and on Truthiness), and it materially matters how that persuasion is carried out. If at all possible, the evidence should be presented clearly and should ‘do the talking’.

    [it should also be remembered that there is a considerable amount of uncertainty appertaining to a wide range of pedagogical issues; much evidence still needs to be generated in many areas]

  3. I agree with Chemistry Poet. I completely understand your yearning to redress the balance, and it is very tempting to do as you suggest. But by doing so, all that would happen is that one self-serving clique (however large) would be replaced by another. That surely is not in the interests of education as a profession and would involve descending to the tactics of those to whom we object. Better to advance the argument by ‘rising above’?

    • My point is that ‘rising above it’ in the manner that you describe actually allows the institutions to reassert their orthodoxy. It’s not a fair fight in any sense because they have all the power to impose their will without argument.

      • I’m not suggesting withdrawing from the fight….I am suggesting that how that fight is engaged with is very important, because the aim is persuasion of the many undecideds….

      • I can see your point here – the problem of inertia by entrenched interests is real. I’ve spent 25 years biting my tongue because my views were on the margin of acceptability where I work, and I don’t think that’s unusual. I don’t suggest giving up for one moment – but is a fight won by foul means really worth anything? It would not really legitimise the approach, just reduce it to the status of another vested-interest faction.

        The fact is, there is an argument to be had within education between two diametrically opposed views. To date it has indeed not been a fair fight, but the problem has been 1) the inability of those with a traditionalist outlook to co-ordinate their views as a result of small numbers and geographical dispersal – which the internet is now addressing 2) the political climate, which for all his manifest faults, I think Gove has actually opened up just a little to traditionalists and 3) the ability to rationalise what is by nature a holistic view of what ‘education’ is into something that can hopefully trump the pseudo-science of the progressives. Again, I think there are developments that are gradually shaping a rational argument for traditional education, with people like Coe and Bjork making good points. I get the feeling that this just needs to roll (perhaps for a few more years) abd the traditionalist view will be strong enough to engage in a fair fight…

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