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The battle for the future of education is being waged over autonomy and not ideology

It seems to me that there is a general tendency amongst bloggers to assume that someone somewhere has an ideology they just cannot tolerate. Ideologies compete for acceptance. Straw men are constructed, knocked down, rebuilt and knocked down again. I absolutely reject that I do it, of course, I am right and that is that.

Others, though, seem to have little desire for tolerance or for finding a middle ground. One side thinks the other, has treated it badly and is  jolly well going to get what’s coming. And the other desperately attempts to distance themselves from the ideologies that once they were happy to embrace. Or at least contribute to, even if they did rail against the worst excesses.

It seems to me that ideologies don’t always achieve pre-eminence based upon their merit. Often they are accepted in order to achieve other purposes than that for which they have been constructed, largely those of power. The authority is not taken away from teachers because some crackpot ideology wills it, but because teachers exist in a hierarchical power structure, where it is convenient for everyone, to make those below them accountable for whatever it is that needs to be accounted for. That’s not to say they don’t have merit, rather the merits they have are not the reason that they come to dominate the ideological landscape.

There is an influential scholar in America who seems to hold the view that ideas compete in an ideological marketplace and the best emerge as the winner because they are innately better. I won’t mention his name because those on one side will object, and accuse me of creating straw men and round and round we go.  In fairness some of his ideas are interesting and purposeful but not, in  my opinion all of them. This idea does seem to persist in general debate on BLOGS.

Now I would accept that somehow a “mish mash” of ideas that are loosely described as progressive have become dominant. And those people who have been advocating them are getting a bit of a kicking. They in turn deny that they ever said such a thing and point to newspaper articles from many years ago to prove the point.

So where do these ideas come from? Well that’s my point Ideas don’t solely exist because they are good. There is no ideological boxing ring where the best idea wins and defeats all other ideas. The problem is ideas win out because they serve a purpose in society or in this case education.

I don’t suppose that any government really minds if some random ideology means that problem learners are kept in school regardless of how disruptive they are and how many educational opportunities they ruin. Head teachers are happy if graded observations give them the power to fire someone who makes them look silly in meetings.

Is there anyone in the hierarchy that is going to shed too many tears if in the end it turns out to be the fault of teachers, except of course teachers. How many schools and colleges have a culture where classroom teachers are pretty much responsible for everything that goes wrong and for nothing that goes right. Well why wouldn’t you, if you weren’t a teacher. So, if edutainment keeps them off the streets and examining boards compete to out dumb each other then so be it. No one fails, the kids are happy,  stats look good politicians get re-elected. What’s not to like?

This, of course carries on until someone says enough is enough. This is not achieving our purpose anymore. What is the point of an education system, if what we produce is too stupid to make us money, and even worse is teaching those saps who are not making us any money to hate us. And that’s where Michael Gove comes in. That’s not to say he is wrong. He has a point. I don’t pay my taxes so that young people can treat me with disrespect and then compete with me for state hand outs when I retire. I’m naive but not entirely stupid.

Then everything changes. No one quite remembers who said what or why. Some dusty academics who once spouted some crap at some  convention, before retiring to the bar to talk about “post nuclear thermo dynamic thingy me bobs”, gets blamed for something he never really said. Orthodoxy is challenged, new orthodoxy emerges.

The question is whether it’s the job of teachers to engage with it. Our job surely is to create a body of pedagogic knowledge that gives substance to the profession.  Otherwise we will always be the slaves and not the masters. From my perspective most, if not all, bloggers are progressives. All are engaged with professional knowledge and looking for better ways to teach, or at least some kind of justification of why they teach as they do.

Metaphysics are not our concern, we are told what to teach but we shouldn’t be told how to do it. So the challenge is to find the best ways to deliver knowledge, skills, non cognitive skills or whatever using the latest in cognitive science, the Sociology of Education and well who knows…… And that’s it, whether you believe that the best way to get knowledge into the heads of learners is through chalk and talk , minimal guidance or a bit of both when required is not really the point.

The point is that as professionals, our professional knowledge is respected and as long as it’s justifiable, and it works then so be it. Orthodoxy should emerge from evidence based good practice and the professional knowledge of teachers and not be imposed from above. The battle for the future of education is being waged over autonomy and not ideology.

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5 thoughts on “The battle for the future of education is being waged over autonomy and not ideology

  1. “It seems to me that ideologies don’t exist on merit. They exist to achieve other purposes largely those of power. The authority is not taken away from teachers because some crackpot ideology wills it, but because teachers exist in a hierarchical power structure, where it is convenient for everyone, to make those below them accountable for whatever it is that needs to be accounted for.”

  2. “It seems to me that ideologies don’t exist on merit. They exist to achieve other purposes largely those of power. The authority is not taken away from teachers because some crackpot ideology wills it, but because teachers exist in a hierarchical power structure, where it is convenient for everyone, to make those below them accountable for whatever it is that needs to be accounted for.”

    Isn’t this an excuse for engaging in ad hominem arguments, rather than discussing the content of ideas? Doesn’t everyone deserve the benefit of the doubt on this?

    1. Ad hominem?

      Seems a bit harsh I didn’t have any one person in mind rather the dualisms of blogging traditional / progressive, left / right.

      Not sure what you mean to be honest. I am not saying that individual ideologies don’t have merits rather I am saying that they aren’t selected on Merit.

      So the nature of progressive education, for example, has not neccessarily been shaped by the merits of the ideology but what it offers to existing hierarchies and power.

      The point I am trying to make is that all ideologies have some merit and that practitioners should have the autonomy to choose one.

      Is that not clear? Have I misunderstood your point?

  3. Also I was half thinking why progressive ideologies are so hard to shift even when they are debunked because whilst the the merits of the ideology can be de-constructed that is not the point they are there.

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