Why I continue to take part in and promote The Debate

This is another riposte to the ‘Oh the trad/prog thing isn’t even real; it’s all about teaching methods that work’ type tweets that keep flashing up whenever I open the twitter app on my phone. Here are some of the reasons why I refuse to cower in submission:

  1. I believe the trad-prog divide is real and that people need to properly understand it in order to take part

One of the most alarming ‘truths’ that goes around is that being trad or prog is all about teaching methods and this is why I continuously refer to this handy guide (I just like the table format) because whether you’re trad or prog comes down to philosophy of education – you cannot be in the middle or ‘both’ at the same time because the purposes are completely different and pretty much mutually exclusive. I really am quite astounded that people with BEds don’t seem to have a basic grounding in philosophy or history of education that would enable understanding of this, or am I missing something?

2. Ed-media newbies and new teachers in general need to be given straight-up information

I spent ages googling, after my ‘Something ain’t right here’ senses alerted me on SCITT course days, eventually understanding the two main philosophies and the methods usually associated with them. I wanted to feel like I had purpose myself and a sense of direction for my teaching career by sorting my ed-head out on this matter, rather than blindly follow all those missives to make lessons fun, highly differentiated, noisy, child-centred, knowledge-lite, textbook-free etc. Now I want to reach as many people as possible and say ‘Hey, here are the facts, yes there is a very important difference and you have a right to know this and make your own choices.’ I get messages of thanks from previously befuddled teachers, people who were being guilted into towing the prog party line while at the same time being told ‘There is no such thing as trad or prog because it’s all about teaching methods that work, so you might as well just stop engaging with all that edu-twitter debate nonsense’. What are these big-guns deniers so afraid of? Why are they so insistent on stopping new teachers in particular from getting involved?

3. Some teaching methods actually inhibit other teaching methods

Alongside the ‘there is no such thing as trad/prog’ missives, also runs a ‘just choose which way works best based on the needs of your class’ command. I think this is rather devious because the very people who are ‘advising’ this know full well that beginning teachers with all their youthful energy, zeal for social justice and complete absence of worldly wisdom are more likely to have been taught to use methods associated with the progressive philosophy, including the advice that implies good behaviour comes from planning ‘engaging’ lessons with high levels of differentiation. However, once these newbs follow the prog party line, not only does prog style teaching become a habit, but the very children they teach would have become used to a prog classroom as well. The latter consequence is the most serious, especially at primary school where children only have one or two teachers for an entire year. This is because children are highly suggestible and if they are taught to expect fun activities and personalised worksheets, to always be able to choose from an educational buffet, to not have to concentrate or listen to one adult’s voice for any length of time, to view the teacher as an entertainer rather than a font of knowledge, deserving of respect and to view the purpose of lessons as a series of activities rather than the transmission and retention of little jigsaw pieces of subject-specific knowledge, then this embedded attitude potentially inhibits them not only from learning, but also from accessing the lessons taught in a future trad classroom. I think this is one of the key reasons why behaviour is worse in secondary schools – the children have effectively been indoctrinated to rate their teacher based on fun-ness rather than intelligence, knowledge or clarity of voice and thought; they feel entitled to switch off if lessons aren’t to their liking, or they simply don’t understand the purpose of a lesson, you see. Such habits of thought and demeanour, this sense of entitlement, is very hard to change once it is an entrenched mindset – future teachers are then forced to continue with the whole progressive charade until they leave teaching feeling exhausted, frustrated and having internalised that they are utter failures. How convenient for the Debate Deniers, eh? I don’t want this situation to happen to any child or any young teacher, hence my persistence.

4. Shaming people into silent compliance just doesn’t feel right

It is alarming when educators who are aligned with trad philosophy publicly declare that the words progressive and traditional shouldn’t be used because they are not ‘nice’ words (the same people like a quiet classroom, but never an occasional silent classroom – they need to go out of their way to constantly prove to the progs that they are not dictators). Perhaps it is because these same people have their own brands, books and consultancies to run and they don’t want to risk putting the punters off since the ‘trad’ label has, in their view, been sullied so much. This is a very sad situation because it means that the new teacher is less likely to hear/see these words and then ask questions; he will instead infer that these are dirty words never to be spoken or mentioned – how will they ever find out about the two philosophies if we never mention their names? Surely it would be better for new teachers to have the courage to ask questions, rather than hesitate or feel frightened? The very first thing we all need to do is to openly debate, use the correct words (not obfuscate like cowards) and let those new teachers join in.

Who’s with me?




10 thoughts on “Why I continue to take part in and promote The Debate

  1. In 1989, when I began haunting the education stacks at the UEA library, I came across a study that found that teachers never went back to child-centred practices once they discovered how much easier and rewarding their jobs were once they’d adopted traditional practices. I don’t doubt that the same thing is going on now, and that by allowing a debate, progressive educators fear that this will only encourage defectors.

    They’ve already had a massive defeat over synthetic phonics. There are still a lot of primary school teachers around who can recall the days when Reading Recovery was considered the Rolls-Royce of remedial literacy programmes, and it no longer creates masses of jobs under the corrupt Every Child a Reader programme (see https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/every-child-a-reader/). Teachers who can recall the days when they were helpless to answer the concerns of parents whose children had been failed by look-and-say and whole language–this is less than ten years ago–know that the eternal verities they’ve been taught in ITT aren’t so eternal after all.

    So for committed progressive ideologues, it’s a lot easier to pretend it’s just a matter of ‘what works’. As recently as 10 years ago, Stannard and Huxford–the principal architects of the eclectic National Literacy Strategy that was displaced by synthetic phonics–could still argue that “[whole language] fits comfortably with the active account of learning, rejects highly didactic rote teaching which is what a lot of phonics teaching consisted of, and it promotes a rich, creative and motivating experience with ‘real books’ which is worthwhile in its own right and much to be desired”. Now that a lot teachers have had a chance to see the difference that intensive phonics has made, you can see why the blob wants to downplay that kind of rhetoric. Who knows what they might question next?

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  2. All educationalists need to recognise the subtle differences between the rights and responsibilities of Voice; no respectful discourse should ever be muted.


  3. All my experiences as a parent are that it’s very real. Conversations with my children’s principals and teachers have demonstrated this. The methods they use and advocate for, the way they organise class rooms, the fun, fun, fun…, the lack of phonics, the lack of proper maths instruction ie drilling, memorisation all dirty words, I’ve taken these ideas/issues up with our teachers and principals over the years until I saw it was a losing battle.

    The progressive ideology still has a stranglehold in Aust. schools from my perspective and traditional methods are shunned. The curriculum is knowledge-light because the ideology views facts as low-level and simple regurgitation. Therefore, the progressive’s have driven out most of the knowledge and replaced it with skills. This type of schooling is boring my children and all the other kids I know. However, give them content to know and learn and they become excited.

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  4. The biggest difference for me in switching from industry to teaching was attitude to methodology. Industry asked “where’s the proof this improves”, teaching adopted ideas with no evidence it would benefit anyone. Very difficult to keep questioning things in schools as you are just labelled as awkward. I got a verbal warning for saying learning styles wasn’t scientifically proven. I learnt to shut up.

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