Neo traditionalism and the Sutton Report: the pedagogy of the matrix

There is, in truth, only so many hours in a day. And there are those who exploit that fact. They feel that it is important that their ideas prevail often for perceived noble reasons; the ideas are important to advance an ideology that is genuinely for the common good.

They exploit the time issue to good effect by simply re-iterating the same thing over and over again.  Eventually the discursive space of eduBlogging is filled with “re-iteration” of the same point to such an extent that others start to repeat it verbatim. It becomes a social fact . Any attempt to engage with the ideology in debate is met with the kind of hyperbole that makes most people not want to bother.

I was pondering this when reading Harry Webb’s latest blog . I’m a regular reader of Harry’s BLOG and generally speaking they are well written well researched and an informative read but do tend to stick to  re-occuring neo traditionalist themes.

The latest is no exception. The issues are:

1) Learning styles / Brain Gym are bad

2) Discovery learning is really bad

3) Learners aren’t scientists

The only issues missing is “teacher talk” and behaviour. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t mind reading Harold Pashler or one of Kirschner, Sweller or Clarke again, and of course again but you do wonder where this is heading. And I suppose the honest answer is that it is proving an effective method for winning an argument.

So here is a quick response to Harry’s BLOG:

Bad Ideas

There are bad ideas in education apparently, who could disagree, there are bad ideas in everything.  In the case of education it’s brain gym.  My view is that  brain gym was never taken particularly seriously. Another example is  Learning styles that was, and is, a serious field in cognitive psychology. It isn’t just a stupid idea that someone thought up.

The problem with learning styles is not with the idea, nor with the source of the idea but rather the way education engaged with the concept. This is an important point to consider as education engages with growth mindset and other more modern variants of the learning styles phenomenon.

Quite simply speaking many educational ideas don’t come fully formed. Social concepts do not exist in a causal relationship with improved data.

Discovery learning

Discovery learning was really a development by researchers and theorists such as Bruner building on the constructionist / constructivist ideas of Papert and Piaget but with concepts such as scaffolding heavily influenced by Vygotsky.  The idea is, or rather was, that discovery learning leads to a better engagement with knowledge, than knowledge that is simply transmitted from teacher to learner. It was a reaction to what was perceived as transmission based learning that had slowly become unfashionable as constructivists challenged traditionalist educational thinking.

The reason being is that cognition is complex, evolved and works holistically based on the senses, emotions stored memories etc. The idea goes that an approach to learning based on cognition is a good thing and more likely to yield better learning. Of course, this is dependent upon the type of learning being done and an approach to delivery  that is sufficiently expert with an underpinning knowledge of cognition. Most teachers don’t study neuroscience nor do they know why they are engaging in discovery learning.

Not such a silly idea nor radical enough to warrant its status as the whipping boy (or girl) of the eduBlogosphere.

Inquiry approach

Apparently the inquiry approach is bad because learners do not have the knowledge of scientists. Clearly teachers are so stupid that they are mistaking learners for scientists. I mean is it not possible for learners to study an issue and on occasion, under supervision, develop their own hypothesis? Surely this is not such a terrible thing to use alongside other pedagogic tools.

It seems we are heading for an impoverished prescriptive “tick box” pedagogy that seeks causal relations to the exclusion of social relations and a broader understanding of cognition and pedagogy.

The Sutton Report didn’t reassure me much. I read the words “with at least some justification for a causal relationship, to measureable, enhanced student outcomes” and my initial reaction was, oh ” here we go”;  teacher knowledge and  assessment is good, discovery learning is rubbish  yadda yadda.

I wasn’t disappointed apparently good teaching is about teacher knowledge and assessment, who knew? Oh and discovery learning is rubbish. Sadly relatively little about what happens in between teacher’s having knowledge and assessing how well it has got into learners heads. Apart from scaffolding that is, which ironically,  is the underpinning concept of constructivism, discovery and inquiry based learning. A fact that also seemed to escape Kirschner, Sweller and Clarke.

We do seem to be heading towards a plug ’em in and pump ’em full of knowledge pedagogy. Welcome to the machine folks. Roll up roll up “botch it and flog it” have the computers and the curriculum, ready prepared. You buy one and you get one free.

It seems self evident to me that a report’s findings will largely be determined by the methodology it uses. And of course so it is with the Sutton report. The researchers looked for causal relationships and found them. Unfortunately it also alludes to circumstances where there is no causal evidence but largely excludes the word “causal” in the report. “Enthusiasm for ‘discovery learning’ is not supported by research evidence” . Can you see how  they did that? Clever eh.

I have no doubt Professor Coe has a more nuanced approach to data than the ones that will find  their way into the headlines. Challenging these ideas and explaining context is a very wearying business. Most stupid ideas that enter education are as a consequence of those in education not really understanding the context in which those ideas are derived and the circumstances, in which, they will be purposeful.

Most thinking educators will already know much of this but it seems that life lived on the eduBloggerspehere / twittersphere is like being a hamster on a wheel. He who re-iterates wins the argument, simply by saying the same thing over and over again. Round and round we go.

I say I say he who re-iterates wins the argument, simply by saying the same thing over and over again. I say I say…..!



7 thoughts on “Neo traditionalism and the Sutton Report: the pedagogy of the matrix

  1. An interesting summary.

    I find it very interesting, the way that these bloggers form “networks” as Daisy C likes to describe the situation. The same old ideas are then passed around the “network” with increasing velocity and veracity., each quoting the other with increasing confidence. It is then announced that the dominant orthodoxy is being challenged as this idea is becoming increasingly popular among intelligent teachers. These little networks become increasingly mutually congratulatory at which point they convince themselves that the weight of their argument has prevailed.

    A great post, thanks

  2. A great piece, thank you! I’ve been teaching for twenty odd years – and I thought we just chose the most effective strategy (whatever its ‘ism) to help the children in our classes learn.

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