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Progressivism and the NC

Discussion in 'Education news' started by Mathsteach2, Oct 6, 2015.

  1. Mathsteach2

    Mathsteach2 Established commenter

    When I started a conversation in Personal about my reading of Rousseau's "Emile" I had two thoughts in my mind.Firstly how reading the book had influenced my teaching, and secondly, in spite of the innumerable educational theorists throughout the centuries, beginning long before "Emile", in fact I believe the vast majority of them, have espoused a version of progressivism both in theory and in practice, we were still burdened with the National Curriculum.

    We have progressed to some extent. We no longer beat children, students are given great freedoms of choice in their studies, and there are small efforts to encourage a view of education as a life-long process (viz-a-viz "Emile"). So-called failure at school does not mean failure at life.

    So how is it that as professional teachers we have accepted the National Curriculum so meekly? It appears that politically we have progressed very little, we believe in, or at least accept (thinking we can do nothing about it), the wisdom of our rulers. Free schools (e.g. Summerhill), de-schooling (Ivan Illich) leading to home schooling, and Donald Trump advocating the de-bunking of a core curriculum delivered from Washington (!) seem to be the few remnants remaining of progressivism.
    stmha likes this.
  2. stmha

    stmha Established commenter

    Within every domain of learning there exists a pre-requisite set of skills. Some of these skills are so fundamental, when they are mis-learnt they create proficiency barriers to other higher order skills. The deficit created by such a barrier can ruin the life chances of a student as they go from failure to failure destroying their self esteem and their future ability to learn.

    The national curriculum could be a vehicle to ensure the pre-requisite skills that create the solid foundation for learning are embedded and grooved. Furthermore, where relevant, ensure these skills are portable.

    I believe what we have missed is that underpinning the national curriculum are a different set of skills that underpin all learning. We have simply fallen into line regarding results and cosmetics and consequently these skills are ignored.

    I used to lead INSET for teachers on creativity across the curriculum. In one of the units I delivered I gave the teachers an A3 sheet with a sketch of a Yr 7 student at their school. it also had the year they would leave after completing A'Levels. ( I still have them if you would like some examples)

    I then asked the teachers to draw in all the skills they would like that student to attain before they reached their leaving date. The response was fantastic but not surprising. I would then repeat the process with SLT. Both sets of results were the same.

    None of the teachers suggested the following skills; literacy, numeracy, spelling, times-tables, anything that lived on the curriculum

    All of the teachers put on their picture the following; flexibility, resilience, problem solvers, able to work in groups, good listeners and so on.

    I think you get the picture.

    So I don't believe the issue is progressivism. I believe we relinquished control of the curriculum without even realising to those who would measure our performance with % and £ and value for money.
    Mathsteach2 likes this.
  3. xena-warrior

    xena-warrior Star commenter

    "None of the teachers suggested the following skills; literacy, numeracy, spelling, times-tables, anything that lived on the curriculum
    All of the teachers put on their picture the following; flexibility, resilience, problem solvers, able to work in groups, good listeners and so on."

    Given the context of the training, why am I not surprised?
    drek likes this.
  4. drek

    drek Star commenter

    Teacher Training these days requires one thing and one thing only - compliance to whichever initiative or strategy is in current favour, with a particular 'coach' or mentor.
    First the SLts job is to find a trainer or consultant that promotes 'their' values whether that particular methodology is the best way to encourage students to 'achieve' their 'full potential', in a particular subject, or not as the case may be.
    Then all staff have to show evidence including putting down the right buzzwords on post its or brightly coloured charts on inset day and in their lessons. Students sitting and solving problems in an observed class would probably be regarded as an inadequate maths lesson these days. Show and tell is the order of every lesson. This is where planning time can become tedious and go on forever.
    If we said we first need to improve literacy or numeracy skills by say, God forbid, repetition first, we would probably be seen as 'negative' or disagreeable by our performance managers.
    If you Look at the training of, say, a ballerina, they first need to master the basic skills through tenacity, discipline and loads of practice before they can set free their creative potential.
    Or any vocalist ( excluding Simon's pop stars), they would say they need to practise their scales over and over again before they gain enough control to create their own music.
    Unfortunately in teaching, people keep bandying bloom's taxonomy around without actually understanding the process behind it.
    I remember when some assistant head said that they achieved an 'outstanding' with the one group they taught health and social studies per week, because they used 'group' work.
    Next week 'learning' walks took place, and any teacher who did not use group work, no matter what they taught, was deemed to require coaching until they were brainwashed into it. This involved many hours where they had to work overtime to fit in group work, even in lessons where this would detract from the learning. This is what teachers mean when they refer to micromanagement.
    By the time they realised that it was better to go with the flow, the next 'leader' came up with a new 'must have' strategy.... And the next round of SLT teacher coachee 'victims' were caught out for not complying.... And so on and so forth!
    Such a waste of time and resources.
    I have seen perfectly capable degree qualified teachers failed, for not falling in line with some absolutely ridiculous planning details, or daring to debate, oops, I mean, disagree, with their mentor. Whilst teachers with a second or third class degree in non related subjects pass for obscure reasons! Nothing to do with the requirement to get students upto speed in a particular subject. More about showmanship.
    Sometimes it seems that a simple ego clash is enough to get a teacher removed from service under the guise of 'performance management'. It is in policy now under 'standards'.
    A great pity and disservice to the sector.
  5. megsie

    megsie New commenter

    Great post Drek, I agree with everything you've said. We are always playing chase the latest initiative in my workplace. It is usually introduced by the phrases, 'Ofsted are looking for', 'Ofsted will want to see'. 'outstanding teaching...'. Still I guess if you stay in teaching long enough the wheel just turns round again and what was unfashionable becomes the latest great idea!
    drek and xena-warrior like this.
  6. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    I went to school before the National Curriculum was introduced, and I don't think that I was taught any of those things. Might not some people also say that teaching those skills is not just the role of the school, but also the job of the parents and society as a whole?
  7. stmha

    stmha Established commenter

    I think when we went to school skill based education was a must. We needed those skills to function in the workplace. They were well defined, often discrete in nature and continuity over generations was important as children followed the opportunities available within their local community.

    The scene is very different now. Read about the flat earth theory. Children now compete on the global market not just with people in their town. Hence many skills are becoming redundant. So time to look again what we are preparing them for. It's possible the job they will do when they leave us wasn't invented when they started their schooling.
  8. Mathsteach2

    Mathsteach2 Established commenter

    Thank you for your response to my conversation in Personal regarding my reading of "Emile", xena-warrior, where you gave an emphatic "No" to my question whether or not teachers in training were encouraged to consider the varieties of educational ideologies, and an emphatic "Yes" to the inadequacies of teacher training concerning classroom management. I am not sure your mirth needed to have been sardonic, but everyone to their opinions!

    Thank you too for your response here, but I was unsure of the context to which you refer. However, the very interesting and informative post from drek has cleared that up for me.

    Googling "educational ideologies" throws up 10.5 M hits, and interestingly on the first page is something from Leeds University, albeit a little dated, but I therefore do not think that the subject is ignored at teacher training levels. My feast in my 1966 PGCE course was a module on curriculum run by a progressive method tutor, who mostly told us about A. S. Neill, and a module on philosophy in education, which was mostly based on Wittgenstein and the possible impending demise of logical positivism. Needless to say I was mostly influenced by my method tutor, but a few years later, still as an armchair anarchist, I read "Against Method", by Paul Feyerabend, and after that I decided that "anything" goes in my teaching! For teachers in training nowadays, somewhere here would be quite a good start, I think:


    The response from stmha I also find very interesting and helpful. However, it throws up for me the question whether or not any particular educational ideology was in the minds of the National Curriculum writers when they conceived it? Perhaps stmha hits the nail on the head with his final sentence, "I believe we relinquished control of the curriculum without even realising to those who would measure our performance with % and £ and value for money." I think this detracts from the image of a teacher as a professional. Medical practitioners, artisans, airline pilots and any others do not submit to such top-down directions, but then their occupations are, perhaps, not susceptable to such diverse ideologies as is education. Teachers should realise this, and then choose a place in the world of education most suited to their desires and inclinations. I sometimes wish I had worked full-time in adventure playgrounds, and at the end of my career during supply work I was told I would have made an excellent infant teacher, somewhat along the lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Kindergarten Cop". That would not have worked in an adventure playground, though!
  9. stmha

    stmha Established commenter

    Since 1870 our education system has swung from centralised to decentralised and back again. Each time it became centralised it had to be translated by teachers. The more translation that occured the better the curriculum became. So the net effect is that any national curriculum will cause heart burn, but only until the teacher wrestles with its soul.

    Each culture tends to create an education system that mirrors the society at large. One would suggest that as we no longer live in the 19th century, and that our curriculum is almost the same as it was in the 19th century then change must be afoot.

    We do not need a redundant curriculum, we need a dynamic one.
    Mathsteach2 likes this.
  10. Mathsteach2

    Mathsteach2 Established commenter

    Donald Trump talks about revolution, but he is getting into politics, and he may have to assess just what he means!

    As an arm-chair anarchist, steeped in the work and writings of Tolstoy and A. S. Neill, for instance, non-violent revolution does not come easily. (Ghandi was quite influenced by Tolstoy, BTW).

    I agree we need a dynamic curriculum, but from where is to come the motivation, and the individuals who will promote it? Generally teachers are conservatives, they want the easy life that teaching provides, with security and quite a good pension. Generally they are not professionals, willing to stick to their principles and beliefs and they bow down to curricula dictated by their employers, whom they meekly show respect, just for the sake of their own security. By doing this, they abandon their progressiveness, and think they are becoming professional!
    stmha likes this.

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