Education is a strange, looking-glass world where conservatives pose as radicals. It is not a progressive education utopia, even if the ideas of the progressive education movement are drawn upon heavily by educational academics. Schools are intensely practical places and children pose myriad problems which educators have to muddle-through on a daily basis.
Instead of providing solutions to such problems, education academics are generally committed to some sort of an ‘approach’. Typically, academics construct complicated-sounding nouns and then try to rationalise why these ‘things’ are important. ‘Reification’ is the complicated-sounding noun that describes this process.
Educationalists would do better to adopt part of what is recognised as the scientific method. They should ask, ‘What would be the case if I were wrong?’ and then seek that evidence. This is what scientists do. This is why science is the best magic available at present and why we haven’t yet benefited from The Sociological Revolution. A good theory echoes Pat Benatar. “Hit me with your best shot,” it says, “fire away!”.
And so we must welcome the disruptors. And I’m not on about those who are giving kids iPads or anything as daft as that. I am talking about those who are now holding received educational wisdom up to the light and seeing right through it.
They ask whether learning styles or multiple intelligences exist. They wonder whether ‘skills’ such as ‘collaboration’ or ‘creativity’ are really skills and whether they look the same in different contexts. Perhaps these skills have just been made-up – ‘socially constructed’ if you will – and are not really ‘things’ at all.
The disruptors wonder whether teachers really are to blame for children’s deep-seated behavioural problems. They challenge the narrative that these are caused because teachers don’t listen or don’t plan engaging enough lessons. Instead, they question whether there are other causes and other solutions.
Indeed, they wonder about the notion of engagement, sanctified as it may be. Perhaps there are many kinds of engagement of which relatively few lead to learning. Perhaps hard work can in fact cause the right kind of engagement. Perhaps defining engagement in ‘active’ behavioural terms risks circular reasoning, particularly if we wish to promote behaviourally active teaching methods. Other kinds of engagement are possible, after all.
The disruptors ask what is wrong with telling kids things. They challenge the idea that inquiry/discovery/constructivist/insert-new-name-for-it-here methods are better and point to the empirical evidence that they are not.
Of course, those who inhabit the current landscape are not going to welcome the disruptors. They are the conservatives who wish to preserve the way of things. They are likely to dismiss, patronise and even openly insult the new punks who are insisting on thinking for themselves.
But they can’t stop it. These are revolutionary times.