Some months ago my wife and I were out for lunch with a gentleman from our church. His name is Fred. My wife knows him quite well through her voluntary work, however this was the first time I had really spent time getting to know him. Fred, now well into his eighties, was in his time a craftsman, a joiner, a coffin maker, and, eventually, a teacher.
As both my wife and I have been in education, our discussion that day turned quite quickly to teaching. And so it was that we ended up talking about Fred's "remedial class" over a mid-week discount carvery at the local pub. It's his favourite, "Keeps me going all week for a fiver." he says.
Fred is clearly keen to discuss his time as a teacher, and it is obvious that he still takes a lot of pleasure and professional pride in his work. I, on the other hand, am much less keen on the topic of conversation. My inner historian is always looking out for the educational prejudices to emerge, especially from someone who taught during the progressive, Piaget-inspired 60s and 70s. As the conversation turns to how Fred was given the task of getting his "remedial" class reading, I am in a somewhat sceptical frame of mind.
There has been something naggingly familiar about the grammar school debate which has been raging on Twitter recently. True I have heard many of the arguments before in educational discussions, but this was something more. It only struck me when I began editing a chapter of my upcoming book on C19th America.
I have copied a page of the book for you below. In many ways I feel it encapsulates exactly the same lines of argument that we see currently, simply replace "slavery" for "educational inequality" and "slaves" for "low SES children" and you are away. I think this reveals not only the lines of debate, but also, with hindsight, some of the main faults in each.
Worryingly I look ahead to how this debate was resolved and the long term failure of such a solution...
Just a short post to say thanks to everyone who came and contributed to my HA session on the Making of America today. It was great to talk to so many enthusiastic historians.
You will be able to find relevant blog posts for C19th America by clicking on "GCSE/A Level Topics" above and following the LINK to "America 1789-1900". The blog posts are indexed and contain some interesting bits I have found whilst reading around the topic.
I will also be uploading a range of teaching resources which you can find by clicking on the "NEW UNIT" resources on the right hand side of the page. These will be updated as I add new things. I have also added a CPD folder in which I will put today's PowerPoint. My old American West A Level resources are also available here for download.
If you do trial any of the materials; make useful modifications; or want to share your own resources, please do get in touch via the contact form and I will make them available on the blog and in the file store.
Finally, here are some links to recommended books. Many of these are available as audiobooks so you could even get a copy with a free Audible trial and listen to them on your commute:
As a rule I try to let some of the more extreme posts on Twitter pass me by. I find it is better for my blood pressure. However, the recent blog by Anthony Radice, the self-styled “Traditional Teacher” was just so abrasive and wrong-headed that I have felt the need to pick up on some of the points he raises.
In his post, “The Ideas Behind Forced Academisation,” Radice uses Hirsch to create a kind of apologia for the policy of forced academisation being pursued by the government. I do not really want to get into my own views on this issue, save to say that the process tramples on much democratic accountability and needlessly removes co-operation from the school system. Instead I want to focus on why Radice’s argument does not stand up to scrutiny, whether it is closely based on Hirsch or otherwise.
Radice begins by taking Hirsch’s assumption that progressive notions in education “became so widespread, to the point where young people could spend many years under the care of expensive professionals, and emerge lacking even the most basic knowledge of the history, geography and literature of their own country.” This assumption rests on an unstated belief that there must have been a golden age of some sort before progressives took hold of education in schools when all children left with a clear grasp of all required adult knowledge. The simple fact is that this is not upheld by historical investigation. For a really detailed study of how history education in particular has performed and developed over the last century, Radice may wish to look at Cannadine’s “The Right Kind of History.” One core aspect of Cannadine’s findings of history teaching in the 20th century is that the idea that there was a golden age of history teaching is largely a myth. What he does show is that more and more children have been given access to history education as time has moved on, resulting in a thriving discipline which values both pedagogy and knowledge.
Radice goes on to suggest, in line with Hirsch, that the spread of progressivism was the result of parents being “pushed out of educational decision making” to make way for the educational experts. Even a cursory glance at the Academies programme shows that parents are being completely sidelined in the new world of MATs. Indeed, the CoOp who have suggested an alternative MAT model, in which parents maintain a democratic role, has been rejected multiple times by the DfE. Radice also suggests that parents values of hard work and discipline were overridden by progressive teachers. Once more, I am not sure the realities agree. To go back 75 years, my grandmother’s brothers both opted not to attend school, not because of the “crazy” educational theories being peddled there, but because they were seen to be more valuable if they put their hard work and effort into earning a wage to help the family survive. I don’t doubt that if they had gone, they would probably have found the experience much more rewarding in the long run, but the simple fact is, that was not a choice they could make. In many ways, progressives sought to encourage a generation of children to stay in education. Granted, they may not have always got the balance right; and granted, they may have at times denigrated the value of subject knowledge; but to term them “high priests of the new gnostic religion” is stretching the truth somewhat. One might also criticise the “dusty guardians of pointless facts”, but I won’t because I don’t believe that!
Not content with his attack on progressive teachers, Radice continues to show how Hirsch proves that university education departments were also part of a master plan to control the teaching of subjects and claim their academic credibility. What is interesting here is that there is seemingly no engagement with the current state of university education. Whilst I am sure I could find examples of people in education departments playing down the role of knowledge, I have yet to meet one in person at any HEI I have been in. A brief glance at the course of the Cambridge History PGCE would reveal a course steeped in knowledge, but also supported by pedagogical thinking. Indeed, I have spent every PGCE session since joining my current HEI showing how knowledge is a core around which meaningful pedagogy is practiced. To say that there is no pedagogy worth knowing trashes decades of fantastic work by professionals dedicated to developing pupils’ knowledge. It is also interesting that Radice does not note that history as a discipline had to establish its own place in universities during the nineteenth century, and that almost all subjects barring theology have had to fight to validate themselves as worthy of study. Just as historians spent a generation or more arguing over whether history was a science or an art, so educationalists have debated the role of knowledge within their field. What we see today is diversity, but certainly not a group of people who are endeavouring to “rule supreme” over a domain divorced from knowledge.
Later, Radice echoes Hisrch in characterising progressives as “anti-knowledge” in an absolute sense. This again does not hold up to scrutiny. More accurately we might say that many progressives are against a particular type of knowledge, or value other forms of knowledge in addition to that cultural capital Hirsch is so keen on. An important point here is that cultural capital is of course a currency set by the dominant culture. Whilst traditionalists might say we can liberate students by giving them this capital, many progressives argue that we should change the currency. I wonder if Radice believes that we should still learn our church history and catechisms by rote? This was definitely the cultural capital of the pre-Enlightenment world, but it is no longer! To take another example of the above, many of the problems which have come about in the Deep South of the USA in the last decade might be traced back to the fact that education authorities there are controlling what has currency. Texas textbooks tell the tale of loyal slaves fighting for the Confederacy, whilst a recent McGraw Hill publication referred to slaves in the C18th and C19th as “workers.” The cultural capital here is controlled by interests which seek to create a particular type of society. It is this blind acceptance of the currency of education which many progressives seek to challenge.
There are however two points on which I will agree with Radice. First, I think that there is an issue in the teaching profession in terms of awareness of educational debates. For me, this has been caused by two main factors: an excessive focus on high stakes, nationally published examinations; and the decline of educational theory as a core part of university courses. The former has been driven by successive governments of all colours. The latter has come from a demand for more “practical” teacher training and a push for teachers who can be deployed to deliver externally controlled curricula. Whilst there is some truth in the “knowledge light” classroom claim, it is certainly not driven solely by extreme progressive agendas.
Finally, I would agree with Radice that forced academisation is a kind of “creative destruction” (incidentally not really connected to the points being raised before). However, I would take this in the way Schumpeter originally intended: that Capitalism is fundamentally a process of change, and that in being a process of change it is ultimately doomed to fail. I will outline Schumpeter’s explanation here in brief because I believe it illustrates nicely why the Govian approach to educational reform is also doomed to fail:
This is really a follow-up to my post a week or so ago in which I tried to provide a set of resources for use with students based on Make it Stick. Here I am uploading a mostly-finalised 3 lesson sequence which I plan to use with students in Key Stage 4 and 5 in the run up to mock exams. If you do use the resource, please let me know how you found it. I have added some extensive notes to the slides and would like to credit Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel for their inspiration in the book.
So I have been reading "Make it Stick" by Baron, Roediger and McDaniel over the last few days, and I have to say that it has been quite enlightening. The book sets out to explore the neuroscience behind how we learn, setting out the processes involved in learning in an accessible way and making reference to a number of studies. The book does not claim to have complete knowledge of the subject and notes where more research is needed, however I feel it has offered some very useful guidance on how I could move my students on. Most importantly the book deals with a number of myths which are peddled in education especially and debunks these once and for all (VAK I am looking at you).
I was pointed in the direction of the book by Christine Counsell and Michael Fordham. Michael in particular has posted three excellent blogs on the specific application of the book to issues of planning in history. (Blog 1, Blog 2, Blog 3). However, I wanted to focus more specifically on helping students to grasp some of the key points from the book. As such, I attach a PowerPoint which could be looked at in one, two or three sessions. I would suggest it will work best with KS4 or 5 and, in the spirit of creating a sense of urgency, should be linked to the idea that mastering memory is key to exam success.
"Money it's a crime. Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie." So sang Pink Floyd on their 1973 classic, Dark Side of the Moon. So what has got me to thinking about money this week? Well two things really: let me elaborate.
Yesterday I received my budget for the 2014-15 school year. I run a large department with over 260 GCSE and 100 A Level historians as well as a good number studying government and politics. Now, thanks to a range of issues, including falling rolls, and the general squeeze on education at the moment, my budget for next year has been reduced by nearly 30% from last year's figures. With this kind of cash, I worked out that I would barley be able to cover the costs of my photocopying (which has been growing exponentially as our dwindling stocks textbooks, most dating back to the mid 1990s or earlier disappear into the ether) and materials. After some reflection, I was left puzzling quite how I was going to make ends meet.
The second trigger for my thoughts was reading the following tweet on the DfE Twitter feed, in which one academy head was quoted as saying:
The AndAllThat.co.uk teacher blog is moving from WordPress onto the main website. From now on you will find non-topic related content here.
You can still access the archives from the WordPress site by visiting http://andallthatweb.wordpress.com . I will endeavour to transfer the content over the next few months.