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.