Why do I blog about education?

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I have been blogging about education for close to five years. When I first started, I never had an audience in mind (to be fair, I didn’t have an audience). It was more of a sandbox for setting out my ideas. I think that putting your ideas down in writing helps clarify your thinking and we don’t always have the opportunity to do that in real life. So blogging was an exercise that helped.

After a while, I began to receive feedback from readers. Much of this was positive and from people chewing over the same ideas as me. I started to realise that I was providing a useful resource. I would share papers and articles that I had read and they found this helpful.

Others would disagree with me. Again, I saw this as a way of testing out my thinking. Some of the arguments in the comments or on Twitter would go back and forth for days.

Then an odd thing started to happen. People would give me advice. “If you want to persuade me…” they would write before making comments about my tone or style. I genuinely found it astonishing that they thought I was trying to persuade anyone of anything. I now understand a little more about how writing is taught at school. It is conceptualised as writing for a purpose; narrative, persuasive, informative. It makes sense that someone would interpret the articulation of my views as an attempt to persuade.

Some of this advice seemed pretty restrictive: I should hedge everything; I should write more in the style of an academic paper; I should avoid saying anything that might upset anyone; I should be less abrupt on Twitter.

I never paid much attention to this advice because I wasn’t trying to persuade. I now realise that it’s almost impossible to persuade the people who strongly disagree with me and I wonder why they were offering me this advice. There are some people I’ve given up arguing with because they seem impervious to reason. More darkly, there have been attempts to shut me down with threats, complaints and abuse.

However, I now realise that there is a third constituency out there. These are the decent, hardworking teachers who are not ideologically committed to educational progressivism. They may have been taught this ideology during their training – without it ever being labelled as such – and had it promoted to them through professional development. But, as pragmatists, they are aware that it doesn’t work particularly well; it is impractical. I think it is no coincidence that the strongest progressive voices are those who don’t have to teach classes every day; consultants, academics, managers and commentators from other fields.

And I’ve realised that it is ordinary teachers who benefit from the airing of these opposing views. They see bloggers like me making a reasoned case and they see us attacked for our tone, insulted or labelled as fascists. They wonder if there is any rational argument hidden away behind those accusations and they suspect that they are made so vociferously because such an argument is lacking. 

So I think this debate is good for teachers. As a profession, we can only gain from it. That’s what keeps me blogging.

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18 Comments on “Why do I blog about education?”

  1. Alex Brown says:

    ‘However, I now realise that there is a third constituency out there. These are the decent, hardworking teachers who are not ideologically committed to educational progressivism. They may have been taught this ideology during their training – without it ever being labelled as such – and had it promoted to them through professional development. But, as pragmatists, they are aware that it doesn’t work particularly well; it is impractical. I think it is no coincidence that the strongest progressive voices are those who don’t have to teach classes every day; consultants, academics, managers and commentators from other fields’

    As an English teacher, I try to teach students to compress a quote to the essence of its meaning. I can’t here – this entire paragraph is the crux of why your writing is so important right now, Greg.

    As someone from that third constituency, I suspect we are the vast majority. We are exhausted by the rhetoric and abstractions, struggling to implement ‘priorities’ with no time and no modelling, while our families ask why we are working 60 hours a week. While classes are still overwhelmingly 30 students and 1 teacher the focus must be on what is practical and possible.

    Keep writing, Greg – your blog has anchored my pivot to a realistic and pragmatic approach to the job I love.

  2. Tunya Audain says:

    Pragmatism and Progressivism

    There is also a 4th interest group that appreciates Greg Ashman’s contemplations — those on the consumer side (not the producer side) who are interested in education and reform and whether educators care about the work they do. I for one — now a grandparent with school age grandchildren — do take some comfort in seeing educators grappling with issues in the education field. I am pleased that there is a grouping out there, for example, that does critique quite seriously the progressive dominance in education because I too see this as a problem.

    However, one should not equate pragmatism with being practical though the word “pragmatic” is often used in that sense. Do read this article: The Progressive Roots of Fascism — http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/progressive-roots-fascism.

    It says: “The Progressive movement was closely tied to the philosophy of Pragmatism: the belief that thought is a tool for action and change . . . the Progressives were animated by the desire to mold reality . . . “

    • Greg Ashman says:

      Thanks for the kind words and the reference. I suppose I was using the term ‘pragmatist’ in its everyday sense rather than the political / philosophical one:

      https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pragmatic

    • Tara Houle says:

      Tunya beat me to the punch – yes, fourth group, that would be people like me. Parent, tired of platitudes and excuses and “don’t worry, your child will eventually get it” bollocks. And when said parent tries to intervene, make issues aware, is labelled a troublemaker, told to leave it to the experts…we know what we’re doing, you’re just the parent.

      I know many of us parents are to blame for the woes of the public educations system based on all sorts of reasons. But at the end of the day, when the “system” preaches that parents need to be partners in educating their child, why is that whenever we exert our parental authority and insist that our child be taught properly, that we get shut out of the conversation?

      After many, many years going in with an open mind and hearing all the wonders of progressive, child centred ed and then seeing the devastating impact it was having on my children, it wasn’t until I started reading blogs like these, and find other common sense educators online that I understood I wasn’t to blame. And decided to do something about it. My kids have benefitted from that, but it’s been an exhausting process, and have determined long ago that it’s alright being labelled “THAT” parent. This is my battle.

      So keep writing. We’re listening.

      • drentsminger says:

        Tara, interesting point. Not sure if you’ve read E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s most recent work, Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing our Children from Failed Educational Theories, but he decries the “child-centered” educational approach that drastically and negatively transformed the educational systems in the U.S. and France. You seem to possibly have a similar experience. Good read if you get the chance.

  3. Phil Humphreys says:

    And on behalf of the thousands of teachers out there, like me, who simply read your blogs with interest for professional development… may a say out loud a profound ‘THANK YOU’.
    @MrHmaths

  4. lenandlar says:

    Your blogging has caused me to question a number of things and of course rethink my views on direct instruction. Thank you. Keep blogging man.

  5. Hi Greg.

    I enjoy your posts, that’s why I read them. And you have persuaded me of things, and I think that that’s good. But I’ve gotta ask, how do your claims above that you’ve never tried to persuade anyone of anything:

    e.g.,

    “I genuinely found it astonishing that they thought I was trying to persuade anyone of anything.”,

    and,

    “I never paid much attention to this advice because I wasn’t trying to persuade.”.

    Sit with your claim from about a month ago:

    “I am an Australian citizen and, more than anything, I would like to have some small influence over education policy in my home country.”

    (Source: https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/influencing-australian-education/).

    Surely in order to influence education policy you need to persuade people that there’s a better way to do things?

    Cheers.

    Ollie.

    • Greg Ashman says:

      I never set out to persuade with this blog. However, over time I have realised that it has gained some influence. Yet this influence has, for the most part, been in the U.K. If I am going to be influential then I would love for that to be in my home country.

      • Ollie Lovell says:

        Fairo.

        Just thought that if ‘more than anything, (you) would like to have some small influence over education policy in (your) home country’ you’d be keen to use the excellent communication platform that you’ve built to effect change as efficiently as possible.

        Again, I love your work. I guess I’m responding here because I would love to be able to discuss your ideas with friends and colleagues more easily. That is, without their evaluation of your ideas being clouded by impressions formed based upon your communication style.

        O.

      • Greg Ashman says:

        I’m afraid that when people don’t like an idea and can’t think of a good reason why they don’t like it then they tend to imbue it with the wrong tone. There is very little that can be done about this. If I write plainly and frankly then I am too abrupt. If I do the opposite then I am patronising. This is because tone is highly subjective. Graham is good on tone.
        http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

  6. Ale says:

    English teacher’s perspective: while a writer might intend to persuade, inform, entertain (or any other specific purpose), different audiences are more amenable to being persuaded, informed or entertained.

    For example, Greg has long since persuaded me (among others) that explicit instruction is the best way to teach. Perhaps this is because, funnily enough, I consider the findings from rigorous science the best way to understand the world. Since the epiphanies, I mostly come to Greg’s blog to be informed.

    Now, Greg’s satire, while on-point, doesn’t do too much to entertain me :). Probably because of my extreme fatigue with educationalists and jargon, even attempts at humour trigger PTSD symptoms in me.

    So, ultimately, it isn’t really whether a text is entertaining – or – persuasive – or – informative, but how much it is of each.

  7. Stan says:

    Greg,
    I think you should aim to persuade. Not those that are clearly too in love with some idea to question it. But there are teachers, parents, journalists, and administrators who need resources like this blog. When someone questions a new project based learning initiative having the counter arguments handily distilled on your blog really helps.

    It won’t change things overnight but when it is possible to quickly access strong arguments to question the status quo and those arguing for it sound more and more simple minded in their responses then gradually change becomes possible.

    • Greg Ashman says:

      Thank you. I think I agree. To me, this is the difference between being influential and aiming to persuade a constituency that has already stated its opposition. This is what I mean by focusing on this third constituency.


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