On learning and indoctrination: a quick thought on the @john_brunskill and @imagineinquiry debate

The debate between @jon_brunskill and @imagineinquiry is an example of Twitter at it’s best. Two professionals engaging in a positive discourse on a substantive issue. I can’t help feeling though that @john_brunskill hasn’t dealt with the argument put forward by @imagineinquiry. I think it is an interesting issue because it neatly spans the fault line between traditionalist and progressive thinking about teaching and learning. Of course, that is not to suggest that either one would accept, that they are one, or the other.

The issue in question is tracking, a practice  whereby young learners track the speaker (in this case a teacher) with their eyes, @imagineinquiry pondered whether this practice could be described as teaching, training or indeed indoctrination. Of course, indoctrination is arguably a form of teaching it’s just not one, to which, many people would subscribe. The original objection to tracking seemed to be twofold; firstly that the argument used to justify it, “you can’t listen unless you are looking at the speaker”, is wrong and on that point @imagineinquiry seems to me to be correct, secondly @john_brunskill seems not to differentiate between indoctrination, training and learning, rather focusing on the difference between training and “no training”, which was not @imagineinquiries point.

A progressive perspective would not regard learning as a “thing in itself”, it doesn’t happen simply as a consequence of someone talking at you.  On the other hand traditionalists seem to regard learning as a kind of exercise in curriculum, there is a body of knowledge that has to be learned.  A traditionalist perspective would consider training to be a “thing in itself” separate from teaching and learning. Training is what is done to make learning possible. Or, at least, this seems to be the approach  @jon_brunskill has adopted.

Progressives would regard that as a somewhat impoverished approach to pedagogy. Learning, from a progressive perspective, in my view, can be described as a “coming to know” of the  world in all it’s forms; natural, social and transcendental. We learn as we interact with it. The curriculum is one aspect of learning whilst understanding how to exist in the social world as a responsible citizen is another. In other words we are learning as we are training; it’s just that we aren’t learning the curriculum prescribed by the expert(s).

Therefore it seems to me that training without context and without some “buy in” from those being trained is a form of control. Those being trained are learning how to conform. Techniques which exist outside of social norms, such as clicking of fingers instead of clapping, are particularly insidious, the skill is unusable in any other context. It seems to me to be unneccessary and unsophisticated practice.

The sophisticated practitioner will develop a learning space that is respectful, negotiated and accepted by all parties because part of being a responsible participant in the social world is also being able to be to say “no, this is not right”. The children in Rotherham  would certainly have benefited from less compliant and more critical adults. It seems to me that the problem with the education system is not learners that are not compliant enough but adult practitioners that are far too compliant.

Much is made of the fact that practitioners have held OFSTED to account but, in truth, it as a very small number. The great majority would still be delivering VAK learning styles, or Mind Gym, at the  “click of  a finger”. And therein lies a big problem that, I think, even the most extreme of traditionalists would accept.

A small thought about a sizeable problem.



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