Progressive ideology – bad for everyone’s mental health?

You know me, I don’t beat about the bush. I’ve finally managed to get my planning done, but I’m feeling anxious about the start of the new term and I know I’m not alone in not being able to fully enjoy the Easter weekend. Why am I anxious? It’s because progressive ideology and the teaching/assessment etc methods that are associated with it requires me to constantly worry about children. Let me illustrate my point (and then I’ll talk about a solution):

Child-centred education essentially puts the adult on the back foot. So, the typical teacher will have to, ideally, differentiate teaching and learning for the individual child, personalise marking and constantly assess, assess, assess each child in every single subject, updating various APP-type systems as they go. This means that all the effort and worry of children’s learning is transferred to the teacher, trapping them in a never ending state of chasing and hoping and generally not being in control. Furthermore, and this is probably more of an issue in primary schools, unlike the other professions where being ‘professional’ means keeping a healthy emotional distance between front line worker and client (for example, in the police force, officers are minded not to get too emotionally involved for the sake of their own health), teachers are actively encouraged to get overly emotionally involved with children in order to be able to ‘teach’ the ‘whole child’ and also cater for the child’s ‘needs’. Anyone who questions this is at risk of receiving a hefty dose of emotional bribery: deemed to be ‘uncaring’ by those on high who have either never stepped foot in a classroom, or have left that exhausting place a long time ago.

The bonkers nature of this system is fully exposed when you consider how humans normally organise the more repetitive parts of their lives through the use of ritual and routine, a sort of human version of ‘automation’ that outsources the worry and makes us all more efficient and in a better state of mental health. This could be anything from how we manage to get ourselves of bed and out of the door for an early morning run, to falling into a routine of weekly meal prep that saves the household ‘cook’ from constantly having to dream up new and exciting dishes for everyone’s delectation. When we walk a familiar route to the shops, do we make sure that every single time we go, we change the route a little, perhaps opting to hop, skip or jump our way there? No, each time we get a little more efficient: choosing the exact place to cross the road where cars naturally slow down for example, soon we don’t even think about it. But the teacher who is minded to follow and use the teaching methods associated with progressive ideology is effectively expected to take a wiggly walk to the shops. with no walk ever allowed to be the same. Teachers are barred from outsourcing worry, using a teaching and assessment version of ‘automation’ or becoming more efficient because a) she must try to follow/plan for each and every child’s learning ‘needs’ (the thought-process equivalent of trying to stab a single ant among a hundred other ants) and b) constantly dream up new and ever more exciting ways to pique children’s interests. Then of course we have to consider the extra burden of worrying about children’s feelings constantly which is EXTREMELY draining.

You know what the answer is? Yes, you guessed it. A massive switch to the traditional side of education would, I believe, save the sanity of teachers and dramatically reverse the trend for teachers to leave the profession in droves. You see, I think it’s not so much the long hours that is the main factor in driving teachers away, it’s the fact that they can’t let go of anything and they are forced to worry all the time. This surely must be the mental oppression equivalent of doing 30 PhDs at once, forever.

By teaching the subject and not the child, the former is a much more stable entity that can be codified and delivered as a neat package of information divided up into ‘chunks’. with regular testing. The ‘worry’ can be outsourced to textbooks and the use of efficient methods of teaching which involves ritual and routine can save the teacher so much mental energy that would have otherwise been sunk in trying to dream up ever crazier lessons. The use of frequent testing and healthy competition transfers ownership of learning back to the child, who is then incentivised to work hard. Rules and regulations regarding behaviour and giving respect back to the teacher also puts a healthy emotional distance between the child and the teacher; the child is able to trust the teacher, but doesn’t overstep the mark and the teacher’s mental health is protected.

Happy, relaxed teachers.

Who’s with me?

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9 thoughts on “Progressive ideology – bad for everyone’s mental health?

  1. “Child-centred education ” puts teachers on the front foot not the back foot. I am child centred and I am on the front foot.

    “It’s because progressive ideology and the teaching/assessment etc methods that are associated with it requires me to constantly worry about children.” Heaven preserve us, a teacher worried about the people they are teaching, whatever next.

    “personalise every bit of marking ” … oh no, give feedback to an individual about their own performance. Or are we not talking feedback here? My apologies if I misunderstand.

    “This means that all the effort and worry of children’s learning is transferred to the teacher”. You can’t transfer worry and effort to a teacher, a teacher needs to accept worry and expend effort. It is a choice.

    “teachers are actively encouraged to get overly emotionally involved with children in order to be able to ‘teach’ the ‘whole child’ and also cater for the child’s ‘needs’.”…nonsense. you can teach the whole child if you are aware of their needs. getting emotionally involved with children you teach seems to me to be unprofessional. ps…police tend to clap people in irons as part of their job description, there is only one school I know of gets anywhere near this.

    This is discriminatory and suggests that people with fat arses might find it more difficult to go for a run…”we manage to get our fat arses out of bed and out of the door for an early morning run”. Also we do not all have fat arses so maybe I fall outside your intended “fat arse” audience.

    “The teacher who is minded to follow and use the teaching methods associated with progressive ideology is effectively barred from outsourcing worry”. This is once of the daftest and most indefensible assertions. I use guided problem based learning often as well as direct instruction, and I can assure you when I am teaching via GPBL I am able to outsource much more “worry” that I am with DI. Just for the record, kids tend to learn more (but fewer facts) also.

    “falling into a routine of weekly meal prep that saves the household ‘cook’ from constantly having to dream up new and exciting dishes for everyone’s delectation”…my mum was household cook and she didn’t have any intention of dreaming up new delicacies. This is just you again.

    “A massive switch to the traditional side of education would, I believe, save the sanity of teachers”…oh dear, true colours now showing.

    “You see, I think it’s not so much the long hours that is the main factor in driving teachers away, it’s the fact that they can’t let go of anything and they are forced to worry all the time”…. I believe it is both but this is nothing whatsoever to do with being child centred.

    “By teaching the subject and not the child”….. I teach my subject very well thank you, and for me the child is at the centre of the process. I make minor adaptations as I go to accommodate the odd need to do so but the situation is nothing like you describe.

    “The ‘worry’ can be outsourced to textbooks and the use of efficient methods of teaching which involves ritual and routine can save the teacher so much mental energy that would have otherwise been sunk in trying to dream up ever crazier lessons” …….. worry cannot be outsourced to textbooks, how daft is that. only people can worry. If a student and a teacher can avoid worry that is a win-win. That’s how I do it. Thinking up even “crazier lessons” is likely time consuming, unprofessional and stressful. That’s why I don’t do it. Maybe that is why you are so stressed. I often use textbooks and have done so every since my secondary ITT in 2002/3. There I was advised that textbooks were a great resource that save teachers a great deal of time and effort. “Outsourcing” to textbooks is a good way to describe the process. When one outsources one does not relinquish responsibility, in fact quite the opposite.

    “The use of frequent testing and healthy competition transfers ownership of learning back to the child, who is then incentivised to work hard”. Former I agree 100%, however incentivised to work hard is totally unsupported anywhere in any literature that I have ever come across and I have been studying motivation as a manager and as a teacher for a long while.

    “Rules and regulations regarding behaviour and giving respect back to the teacher “. Rules and regulations promote respect for the rules and regulations not the teacher.

    Don’t get me wrong the system is broken and I would never work in a UK primary school, many who do so must be as mad as a box of monkeys. I agree that rules, regulations and routines are necessary, especially in primary school and in many primary schools the powers that be seem to have lost the plot. Such is the value of the Queen’s shilling.

    Every teacher in the land has the option to stop doing what they are doing and do something else. Every teacher in the land has the option to say “no” when asked to do something that is unprofessional and/or unreasonable. Every teacher in the land has the right work in an environment that is healthy and free from undue stress.

    Every teacher in the land has these options. For me it isn’t a trad/prog thing. Trad/prog simply gets in the way. Ever teacher who goes to work for the cash, knowing that what they do is unprofessional, stressful and eventually affecting their own mental health is complicit. Have you ever heard of contributory negligence.

    As long as teachers are willing do all of this daft stuff such as crazier lessons, tolerate bad behaviour, take on more and more stress then they should not complain. That is what you get for accepting the Queen’s shilling. £30,000-£40,000 for a 36 week year teaching kids who will be on minimum wage and pay no tax back into the system doesn’t cost in. Most in primary school are baby sitters, they wish to do a good job and are quite capable, but they are the babysitters of the 21st century economy.

    That is the way it is I am afraid. If you don’t wish to accept that, go and work in a private school where you will be paid a similar wage for smaller classes and a proper 36 week year. As long as teachers are willing to accept such high salaries for childminding then stress will prevail.

    Teachers need to refuse to childmind, at which time others will be brought in to do the job at a fraction of the pay.

    Until then you are trying to turn childminding into teaching by trying to go all “trad”. It might be a good plan in theory but it cant be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ” Just for the record, kids tend to learn more (but fewer facts) also.”

      This one comment just about says it all–anyone who can make such a statement is basically saying that the great majority of cognitive scienists are completely mistaken. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that the weight of research in any given field is always pointed in the right direction, but if this weren’t the case in the great majority of cases, we’d still be living in trees.

      For all we know, we may be headed in that direction. As Thomas Sowell wrote,
      “Dangers to a society may be mortal without being immediate. One such danger is the prevailing social vision of our time– and the dogmatism with which the ideas, assumptions and attitudes behind that vision are held…[these] assumptions are so much taken for granted by so many people, including so-called ‘thinking people’, that neither those assumptions or their corollaries are generally confronted with demands for empirical evidence.”

      The empirical evidence we have has certainly been supported by what I’ve seen as a teacher, an educational publisher and an academic. The basket cases have without exception been schools where ambitious young teachers with post-graduate degrees in education have risen through the ranks to the SLT, where they put their progressive fantasies into action. The most notable case I’ve seen was the Kingswood Academy for the Arts in Hull. I never had a chance to visit Christ the King in Knowsley, but they had to close this eye-wateringly expensive monument to open-plan learning–a progressive fantasy which keeps getting resurrected no matter how often it has failed in the past.

      On the other hand, the schools where teachers and pupils alike were united enthusiastically in a common endeavour to learn were all uncompromisingly traditional. Many of these were primary schools that bucked the trend, but the most impressive one I’ve visited to date is–you guessed it–Michaela.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In primary the main workload issue seems to be planning. In secondary, the main issue is data. You have 10 or more classes and SLT wants data for all of them, five or six times a year in some schools , often with three or more columns for each child. That can be 300 pupils in some subjects. Followed by analysis and intervention. Planning is an issue with new specs,but yes, most sec school teachers use textbooks, so the main issue for us is data,data,data….

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    • In Scotland at Primary there is (LA) testing at several stages and more testing for Nicola upcoming with no sign that the former will evaporate. Reduced funding and layoffs so that in many cases Council Tax is not raised (for all – it will be for the upper bands) means more workload not surprising that there are so many vacancies; esp as the pay is poor compared to other professions.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It makes nonsense look sensible. The vast majority is a very poor caricature of reality that serves to get the writer noticed by the right people but serves little other purpose. This is not an issue in UK education such as it is being promoted here.

      Liked by 1 person

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