Why progressivism matters

Educational progressivism matters. This is not because the majority of schools subscribe to a progressivist philosophy. Far from it. It matters because it is the dominant ideology within academia and the bureaucracies that run our education systems. And this has real, practical significance to teachers and schools.

What is progressivism?

As an educational philosophy, elements of progressivism have been around for a long time and progressivism has existed in its current form since the advent of romanticism, from which it draws. Progressivism came to prominence at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries.

In 1918, William Heard Kilpatrick penned ‘The Project Method’, an early description of project-based learning. Kilpatrick was a leader of the American Progressive Education Association (PEA). Yet it would be a mistake to see progressivism purely as a label to apply to particular teaching methods. Teaching methods have always been derived from an underlying set of principles.

Two brief, sympathetic texts can give us a better understanding of these deeper principles and the way that they have persisted over time. The first is an extract from John Dewey’s 1938 ‘Experience and Education’. By this time, Dewey had begun to criticise some of the extremes of progressive education and had a complex relationship with the PEA. However, I still think that it is clear where his sympathies lie.

The second text is a more recent article by Alfie Kohn.

One essential principle is that education is a form of natural development. A strong metaphor might be a growing flower – provide the right conditions such as water, compost and light and the flower will grow according to some internal plan. Education is a process of encouraging and drawing-out of children what is already there, innate. This is an individual process where children develop in different ways. As Dewey explains, “To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality.” This metaphor also helps explains the emphasis on intrinsic motivation. If students are endowed to develop in a particular way then we should not force this process. At some fundamental level, they know what is good for them.

Herbert Spencer, a 19th century philosopher and progressive, drew on recapitulation theory to try to explain development. This is the idea that the progression from a child to an adult should go through stages that mirror the development of humans from ‘savages’ to civilised beings. Forcing young children to complete the kinds of academic tasks that are characteristic of members of modern civilisations is therefore unnatural.

Recapitulation theory has no scientific basis but the idea of education as natural development has stayed with us, most notably through Piaget’s stage theories.

The implications of progressivism

These principles lead to progressivism’s troubled relationship with knowledge. The most effective and efficient way of gaining knowledge of the world is through others, either by direct instruction or by use of a proxy such as a book. Yet this is an imposition from the outside – from ‘above’ – and so it does not fit with the idea of education as personal development from within. There are three main ways that progressivism tries to deal with this problem.

Firstly, progressives may suggest that students should acquire knowledge of the world themselves. In recent years, it has become popular to talk of students ‘constructing’ their own understandings, drawing on the psychological theory of constructivism. Unfortunately, self-directed learning of this kind is not supported by experimental evidence. Alternatively, progressives may encourage student collaboration as a means of improving the chances of students making the correct conceptual leaps. This makes use of the direct transmission of knowledge from one individual to another but by trying to avoid imposition ‘from above’, it favours knowledge transmission from novice to novice over knowledge transmission from expert to novice.

An alternative approach is to make knowledge acquisition a secondary aim of education and to prioritise the development of personal qualities over knowledge acquisition. As Kohn Suggests, “Facts and skills do matter, but only in a context and for a purpose.” Instead, the aim is to develop students’ problem-solving ability, their critical thinking ‘skills’ or their creativity. Again, the emphasis is on personal growth from within.

There is little evidence that generic capacities to solve problems or think critically or be creative or whatever else can be improved in this way (see here or here). Instead, these qualities seem to be features of expert performance within a specific domain of knowledge: The same person can think critically about an area where she possesses expertise and yet fail to think critically in an area where she lacks expertise.

For most of the last century, it could be argued that progressive ideas aligned with the new science of psychology. This meant that there were both philosophical and empirical reasons to be progressive. The last hurrah for scientific progressivism was probably 1980s constructivism and, as a teaching approach, this has now been largely debunked by carefully conducted studies and epidemiological research. This leaves progressives in a bind. They can change their minds – and many have done so; they can argue that the scientific method does not apply to something as complex as education; or they can define new objectives and argue that progressive methods are best suited to achieve these. This is what has happened with the 21st century skills movement and the idea that progressive methods are superior for preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist.

Practical examples of where progressivism makes a difference

Everyone involved in the debate recognises that there are few schools that can describe themselves as adhering to a 100% progressive philosophy. As Kohn notes:

“It’s not all or nothing, to be sure. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school — even one with scripted instruction, uniforms, and rows of desks bolted to the floor — that has completely escaped the influence of progressive ideas. Nor have I seen a school that’s progressive in every detail.”

This does not mean that the debate has no practical significance. I don’t think that there is any country on Earth where every enterprise is state owned – even North Korea has farmer markets – but this does not mean that the principle of state ownership is not worth debating: How should we deal with China’s state-owned companies? Should we sell state assets to build infrastructure? What is the best way to organise public transport or electricity generation and supply?

Similarly, the philosophy of progressivism’s grip on our education systems has numerous practical implications:

  1. Systematic Synthetics Phonics (SSP) programs for teaching early reading have two key features: They are highly effective compared to the alternatives and they are completely at odds with progressive principles. It is twelve years since a government report in Australia recommended the wholesale adoption of SSP and yet we still have education departments pursuing alternatives such as L3 that offer a more progressive-friendly outlook: students are taught in small groups of two or three to cater to their individual needs and are offered a range of strategies for decoding text rather than being explicitly taught letter-sound relationships.
  2. Any discussion of behaviour or research into behaviour problems is couched in terms of progressive principles. If students do not behave in class then this is because schools and teachers are not meeting their developmental needs or treating them as individuals. Given that education is a natural process, if it seems to be going wrong for some students then this must be due to the imposition of unnatural conditions or requirements. We should follow the students’ interests and offer them more appealing choices.
  3. The Australian Curriculum requires teachers to teach generic skills such as ‘critical and creative thinking,’ and ‘ethical understanding’, whatever they are. It has also been so denuded of content knowledge that, for example, history doesn’t exist as a subject prior to Year 7, replaced instead with a Dewey-inspired ‘expanding horizons’ curriculum. In turn, the science curriculum is knowledge-lite with a focus on students posing and answering their own questions.
  4. In his recent book, E D Hirsch Jr. presents evidence that the imposition of such a knowledge-lite curriculum in France in the 1980s led to real and significant declines in the abilities of students.
  5. As with any discussion of behaviour, standardised testing tends to prompt people to reach for progressive arguments. For instance, a delegate at a teaching union conference in the U.K. suggested that teaching, “should be about ‘liberating’ children’s minds, not preparing them to answer tests on things they did not understand.” There are good arguments against such tests but I am broadly in favour. I tend to agree with Eric Kalenze that they represent a failure of our education systems: What other levers do politicians have to pull when schools will not adopt effective practices such as SSP?
  6. The priority placed on individualism has led to inefficient approaches that increase teacher workload for no obvious gain. Teachers are expected to ‘differentiate’ lessons in myriad ways, some of which could actually harm learning. Feedback, rather than being delivered through whole class teaching, has been envisioned as something that is done, as Dylan Wiliam describes it, “…one student at a time, after they have gone away, and in writing…” Probably the worst manifestation of this has been the learning styles theories that simply refuse to die, despite evidence to the contrary and the potential dangers associated with labelling students.

I could go on. The point is that the philosophy of progressivism matters because it has direct, practical consequences, even if people are unaware of its origins or feel that they are above the debate. Decisions made on the basis of these principles are being made on a daily basis and will continue to be made until they are sufficiently challenged and the decision makers are held to public account. These ideas are part of the collective memory of our education systems and, for many, form part of their implicit understanding of what education is. Progressivism won’t go away of its own accord.

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72 Comments on “Why progressivism matters”

  1. Excellent summary, Greg.

  2. Chester Draws says:

    Progressive ideas have destroyed junior school Maths teaching in NZ.

    The Numeracy Project is one manifestation: designed by education theorists with constructionism and progressive ideas at their core. Out went any sort of algorithm or learned method. Our descent in the PISA rankings was no surprise.

    The result is students who have ad hoc ways of solving problems — and are quite good at them sometimes — but can’t build on their knowledge because there is no solid base of skills.

    • Agree with you. The system here in NZ is dominated by child centred approaches, particularly in primary. Our curriculum is very non-prescriptive with some commentators suggesting that another 40% reduction in knowledge needs to happen so that skills can be taught properly. Learning to learn is the mantra – with those skills in the bag no student need worry they will ever want for a job. Convincing those in positions of influence to think critically about their progressive approach and maybe look at the research evidence has to happen before we will close the achievement gap for Maori and Pacific Island students.

  3. Greg you’ve clearly identified particular theories and practices that have been discredited or aren’t based on robust evidence.

    But essentially you seem to be saying that any theory or practice, espoused at any time during the past 200 years, by anyone advocating what they call a progressive approach to education, is a feature of ‘educational progressivism’, and this hotchpotch of theory and practice matters because “it is the dominant ideology within academia and the bureaucracies that run our education systems”.

    I can’t see how there can be an ‘it’ unless you insist that every idea ever associated with the word ‘progressive’ has to be categorised as ‘educational progressivism’ – in which case your taxonomy becomes the dominant feature.

    Nor can I see how ‘educational progressivism’ as you define it, can be ‘the’ dominant ideology within academia, because by your definition it’s very diverse, and I’d suggest command-and-control and the market model are far more dominant amongst the ideologies employed by the bureaucracies.

    By all means draw attention to discredited theories or poorly evidenced practices, but how does lumping together any that could be remotely described as ‘progressive’, and implying that all those factors *collectively* have direct, practical consequences, actually make education better?

    I agree that people might be unaware of the origins (and the consequences) of particular theories or practices and it’s important that they become aware. And some people might feel that they are ‘above the debate’. Others, like me, are quite happy to debate, but think the debate is being framed wrongly; that lumping together particular theories and particular practices actually draws attention away from why they might be right or wrong.

    • Greg Ashman says:

      I disagree with the implication that progressivism is not a consistent philosophy. I have given two authoritative sources separated by 70 years that express similar principles. I have also identified one of the core principles and explained how it leads to different ideas and approaches.

      • You’ve cited Spencer, who Egan blames for more or less all things progressive, and he died in 1903, so we’re talking about much longer than 70 years.

        Also, people can categorise things however they wish, but whether the categories are valid or not depends on the similarities and differences between the features of the entities they categorise. Certainly your categorisation recognises similarities between two authoritative sources and identifies what you consider to be a core principle. But whether it’s your category ‘educational progressivism’ as a whole, or particular theories and practices that have led to different ideas and approaches is open to question.

      • Greg Ashman says:

        Of course. Hopefully readers will take their own view on that.

    • Stan says:

      Logical, wouldn’t your complaint have more value if you offered a counter example to Greg’s generalization. All those words without a single example where it goes wrong actually makes Greg’s point sound better. Sure you entitled to your own categorization too but if there is something wrong with Greg’s other than it is not yours you should tell us.

    • I’d make the point that progressive education or ideology as a category is not something Greg has come up with, it has been a well established and discussed domain in education for a long time. The different practices collected under the umbrella of progressivism share underlying philosophies and motivations which make it logical to group them together. However, I agree it is valuable to evaluate each practice on its own merits, as you suggest.

      • education86466: ‘Progressive’ and ‘traditional’ are descriptive labels applied to various theories or practices by different people at different times, not clear-cut mutually exclusive categories.

        This is a taxonomic problem, not an educational one. A biological analogy is the difference between ‘trees’ and ‘shrubs’. Most English speakers would know what you mean if you describe a plant as a ‘tree’ or a ‘shrub’. But because the main difference between the two labels is height and it’s very difficult to measure the height of plants precisely, plants aren’t formally classified as ‘trees’ or ‘shrubs’.

        Most trees have some characteristics in common but they also vary widely. Attributing any problem caused by any characteristic of any tree to ‘treeism’ would be pointless; you’d need to say what characteristic was having what consequence for a claim to have any meaning.

      • Chester Draws says:

        A biological analogy is the difference between ‘trees’ and ‘shrubs’.

        There’s no difference between a tree and a shrub except label. It’s a terrible analogy because there are radical differences between Traditional and Progressive approaches.

        Although there might be some, few, people who exist in the middle between the two poles you could walk into most classrooms in the world and know — quickly — to which basic group the teacher belonged. If you had to make binary choices, most teachers would be put into one or the other easily, because we tend to clump at the ends not the middle.

        A biological analogy might be between horses and donkeys. There are hinnies and asses, but the vast bulk actual members of the group Equus is pretty easily put into either the horse or donkey category. And although you can ride a donkey, it isn’t any good at it.

        And hinnies or asses tend to be sterile — just as part constructivist, part explicit is not the way forward.

  4. Tempe says:

    It’s fairly clear that as long as teachers are only exposed to one side of the story” ie Progressive theory”, including Piaget and Dewey with the emphasis on developmental stages and the “blossoming of the intellect “under the right conditions, that progressive philosophy will be hard to shift and knowledge will suffer.

    It’s incredible to me that many teachers do not even encounter the ongoing debate regarding progressive/trad. methods or the skilling/knowledge debate. and the research/ideas underpinning them. Surely, if they are being taught pedagogy at university an equal amount of time should be spent on direct/explicit instruction and on making sure they are secure with the content they will teach.

    As I understand it Hattie himself was struck by the indoctrination of many teachers during their training courses ie direct instruction bad/inquiry good. He comments that the trainee teachers felt angry to learn that in fact this is wrong, bias and not supported by evidence.

    I recently asked, on a forum on education, how many teachers had been to a PD on direct/explicit instruction and not one answered that question. I also asked why they persisted in embracing the ethos of PISA (training for the 21st C workplace re: skilling via inquiry/project/problem based methods) while simultaneously ignoring the fact that the latest PISA found students taught directly learnt more and were also better critical thinkers. Not one came back to me on that question and continued to argue that they teach knowledge and skills. But I would ask to what are they devoting the most time and why? I would argue it’s the nebulous skills of creativity and critical thinking which they unashamedly claim to be more important than facts. I was actually suspended from that partciular board for 48 hrs for having this debate (it’s claimed I’m too provocative) and have been abused in the most incredible fashion for simply saying that they might want to look at “the other side of the coin”” for a change.

    Is knowledge disparaged in schools due to the underlying domination of progressive theory at university and in PD’s? I would argue that it certainly is.

    • You are right that most teachers are not even aware of the debate and would not know what you meant if you mentioned progressivism etc. I asked a colleague of mine who is a beginning teacher if she had any exposure to cognitive science in her training and she said no. To me there is a significant lack of intellectual rigour in education, mostly evident in unwillingness to take scientifically based evidence into acount but also in the form of poorly thought out initiatives – ideology wins the day.

  5. […] Greg Ashman (April 18, 2017). Why progressivism matters. Filling the pail blog […]

  6. Brian says:

    “Everyone involved in the debate recognises that there are few schools that can describe themselves as adhering to a 100% progressive philosophy”

    Some of the more popular trad voices in the UK currently say exactly the opposite surely.

    As few schools adhere to a 100% progressive philosophy, you are accepting that it is possible for a school to be progressive leaning or traditional leaning.

    This indeed has led to several serious arguments in the last 7 days. Most are arguing that as you seem to suggest, it is possible to be be a mixture.

    Few being 100% progressive indicates that either than vast majority are traditional or that some are somewhere in between. Indeed if the prevailing ideology is not traditional then it leads us to believe the majority are somewhere in between.

    For most the debate is around a range of ideas and not trad vs prog only.

    The idea that teachers are only exposed to the progressive side as decsibed in the above comment is for me daft. I qualified to teach in FE in 1995 and the did a Secondary PCGE in 2002. I was exposed to a range of ideas from chalk and talk to student led on the basis that it is horses for courses. My view is just that.

    If you are saying that there shoudlbe a debate as to whether DI or discovery learning is best in alternative contexts I dont think any teacher I have ever met would disagree. If we get into the areas of minimally guided or student led then I think the discussion starts to get somewhat disingenuous.

    “It has also been so denuded of content knowledge such that, for example, history doesn’t exist as a subject prior to Year 7, replaced instead with a Dewey-inspired ‘expanding horizons’ curriculum”

    Why do you imply that this is damaging in some way?

    ‘Feedback, rather than being delivered through whole class teaching, has been envisioned as something that is done, as Dylan Wiliam describes it, “…one student at a time, after they have gone away, and in writing…”’

    … there is little if any doubt that he is correct. The issue of workloads is a red herring. One to one tutoring often succeeds where whole class teaching fails.

    “Probably the worst manifestation of this has been the learning styles theories that simply refuse to die, despite evidence to the contrary and the potential dangers associated with labelling students.”

    What you call labelling students I might call understanding students. Maybe a good many teachers, like myself, ignore the VAK nonsense but still find some issues around learning preferences to be very useful especially when it comes to student motivation.

  7. This is another post that while it has a great deal of interesting points, paints progressivism and traditionalism as unitary entities. This surely denies the very real differences within the progressive approach and the traditional approach as well as the similarities between aspects of the two approaches. These similarities centre around authoritarianism/central control top down versus individualism/bottom up freedom. As this is the exact same fault line that exists within traditionalism as well, it would have far better explanatory power to see trad/progressivism political compass style as having four quadrants 1. Authoritarian Traditional 2. Authoritarian Progressive 3. Libertarian Traditional 4. Authoritarian Traditional rather than two halves.

    To illustrate this, take these two examples seen as the progressive tradition both of which are/were real world applications: The radical free schools of the 70s and the International Baccalaureate programs. Both are clearly progressive and espouse child centred philosophy but there is a clear divide between them on their approach to central authority. The IB being an example of the centrally controlled/authoritarian progressive strand and the radical free schools coming from the libertarian progressive strand. While both progressive, it would be very difficult to make a convincing case that there was not clear water between them on their approach to authority. There are examples of this exact same divide within traditionalism as well.

    • Greg Ashman says:

      “This is another post that while it has a great deal of interesting points, paints progressivism and traditionalism as unitary entities.”

      I didn’t think I’d discussed traditionalism at all.

  8. Thank you Greg, again, for your work. I would like to suggest some additional thinking on behalf of Dewey.

    “As Dewey explains, “To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality.” ”

    This, no doubt, leads to assumptions – for istance implying a construcitvist framework – that whatever and however a techer would “tech”, this would interfere with the “natural” growing of the child. So, the conclusion is not to teach.

    But is this a correct account of Dewey? Can you claim that such teching experiments (well, non-teaching experiments) are grounded in (his) theory?

    I think the answer is “no”. My reasons:

    1. From the excerpt of experience and education: “They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed [,,,]”. The main üpoint here is that a kind of education, which seems to habe been a frequent then, is to be seen as “imposition”, as it does not give the pupil the chance to have an “experience”, i.e. to start making sense of what he/she is said to “learn by heart”.
    2. Deweys social and political philosophy is much about “community”, the discussion of the concepts used in it – that said with discussion of traditions (which should be understood in theor menaing, of course).
    3. Dewey gives the example of a carpenter teaching an apprentice – one time we have to imagine pure “imposition”, which will not make the apprentice an master, the other time the carpenter is giving the apprentice the chance to make “experiences”, which clearly implies thet the apürentice is actively given the chance to have the knowledge needed (conceptual, procedural).

    Dewey leaves open the question, how exactly the “experience” can be organized by the carpenter, and given his definition of “thinking as problem-solving” there is in fact a problem in his theory that it tends to be individualistic – once again it opens the door wide to interprete it like “Children must construct knowledge for themselves”, but this only exploits one of the weak points of Dewey, and again can not be said to be built upon firm theoretical ground.

    • Greg Ashman says:

      Dewey is one strand of progressivism, albeit a highly influential one. He also tends to be ambiguous and he seems to have changed his mind between ‘democracy and education’ and ‘experience and education’.

      • While I absolutely agree with you here about different strands of progressivism (or two distinct strands as I see it) but in opening the door to different strands aren’t you slightly contradicting the thrust of your points above?

        Thank you very much for another thought provoking post,

      • Greg Ashman says:

        Not really. In this post I have identified what I believe to be a common principle shared by any ‘strands’ and I have discussed that. Categories can always be subdivided, just as they can be brought together.

      • But he is far from ambigous when it comes to reject a “progressivism”, which only consists in the negation of “traditionalism” – traditional education is described as a form, where “experiences”, maybe the central concept in his theory, occur as a matter of fact:

        “Traditional education offers a plethora of examples of experiences of the kinds just
        mentioned. It is a great mistake to suppose, even tacitly, that the traditional schoolroom
        was not a place in which pupils had experiences. Yet this is tacitly assumed when
        progressive education as a plan of learning by experience is placed in sharp opposition to
        the old” (also from experience and education)

        This leads me to the following conclusions:
        1. Dewey’s aim was rather, following Hegel to some extent, to develop education by “sublating” extreme opposites, which are themselves neither concrete nor productive at all.
        2. A strand of progressivism, which defines itself as such an opposite, a negation of traditional education, is therefore not in a position to claim that it is following Dewey.
        3. As Dewey sees education itself as a developping concept, with the actually developped parts as the “progressive” moment of the concept, one could argue that the work of Yana Weinstein and others in developping new frameworks for a new understanding and implementation of traditional concepts by introducing “retrieval and spaced practice” is highly progressive.

  9. Your point above was “I disagree with the implication that progressivism is not a consistent philosophy.” Later on you then say that is has different strands. You don’t regard this as contradictory, (although others might) but accepting your stance for now that you are not holding contradictory positions here, can you identify where a strand might become so broad as to make the underlying progressive philosophy inconsistent?

  10. Tempe says:

    If you want some evidence of they way a sample of Australian teachers view education and their attachment to some rather dubious ideas then you only need to click here to see this discussion.

    Although this is just a sample and not necessarily truly representational of the adoption of progressive philosophy overall I believe it is quite alarming and gives us a glimpse into the kind of dogma that has been adopted. We have one primary school teacher seemingly arguing that mathematics is best taught by solving maths problems and having children invent strategies not by teaching them mathematical rules or arithmetic! Other teachers seem to be claiming that critical thinking didn’t exist in the past.

    http://www.essentialkids.com.au/forums/index.php?/topic/1185014-preparing-young-people-for-the-future-of-work/

    • Greg Ashman says:

      Good grief! It’s worth pointing out what the PISA data really do say about maths. https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/pisa-data-contains-a-positive-correlation/

      • Tempe says:

        Yes, I should however I’m a bit reluctant to get involved (though also determined not to be shut down because it’s a large forum with lots of members and readers) because there seems to be one rule for me and a couple of others that agree with my arguments somewhat and the rest, many of whom are progressive teachers.

        I see Andrew Old’s blog about progressives nastiness and in previous posts I have encountered this beyond description. Little if anything was done to stop it. Many of these teachers “liked” posts by people who were abusive in the extreme. It seems it didn’t matter how horrid people became as long as they were on “the right side”. Finally the moderators accused me of being inflammatory and disturbing the other posters and suspended me asking that I reconsider if I want to be a part of the forum.

        I have been told by one member that the mod. team are personal friends of many of these teachers so I believe that their views are being coloured by this possible friendship. Also, the mod. team themselves are progressives…

    • Stan says:

      Also those claiming critical thinking didn’t exist in the past are probably talking about their personal past. The correct response is sympathy and a copy of Socrates dialogues.

      • Tempe says:

        Stan – I find that some of these people are some of the most uncritical thinkers I have ever encountered. It’s like a religion that they will protect at all costs.

        They “screamed” for evidence and when I pointed to PISA as possible evidence that teacher led instruction was better they tried to divert the conversation or simply ignored me. The usual refrain is you haven’t been in a class room so you have no idea/no right to comment on your child’s education or education as a whole.

  11. Fiona says:

    Ideological soup, Greg. I get that you are now positioning yourself as a champion of a particular political perspective but make it your own. Some points here are a bit weak.

  12. Mike says:

    Just on your Point No.1 above, Greg, I’m enjoying your responses to Misty Adoniou’s latest piece of drivel on The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/how-do-we-learn-to-read-76283). I notice that no-one has been able to satisfactorily refute the points you make. Seriously, it’s a bit of a worry when a professor of linguistics (!!) can make statements as fundamentally ignorant as:

    “Without context, words are just letters on a page.”

    Words fail me. A combination of letters only has meaning in context? A six-year-old could spot the fallacy in that.

    “All words in English are polysemic.”

    I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt there and assume that she’s referring to the fact that, given the lack of definite inflectional endings for different parts of speech, English words technically have the capacity to be polysemic, but that’s a world away from the textbook examples of polysemy (and homonymy) that she trots out there. I’d be interested to hear her explain how the words vanish and pomegranate (and, indeed, polysemy) can be polysemic, beyond irrelevant quibbles like “a polysemy class” or “a pomegranate seed”.

    And finally:

    “Our declining results in international tests of literacy show us that our 15 year olds can decode but they can’t comprehend.”

    My God. Which particular orifice has she pulled that from? I’m not expert on the PISA results, but as far as I know they show no such thing…indeed, have no way of showing any such thing.

  13. Excellent article Greg. I wonder if I might ask your opinion on an aspect of your blog that is troubling me. Do you believe that your argument applies to all subject areas across the school?

    I ask this because I teach Art, craft and design. In my subject, knowledge and making skills are two of four core targets that include idea generation and evaluation. However there are such a vast myriad of possible avenues for study that we rarely focus on one area, though I’d say that drawing and painting are the most commonly taught.
    So we usually teach knowledge through projects that explore various artists through time and attempt to improve skills in teacher selected areas to achieve our making targets. But here is the thing, my goal (at all education phases but especially at exam) is to get 25 independent, original outcomes where pupils skilfully employ ideas, knowledge and skills related to their own interests NOT one’s that I as the teacher deem to be appropriate. In fact, teaching all pupils from a top down, teacher approach nullifies the very independent, creative aspect I’m trying to teach. The very epitome of a GCSE A star grade is pupil centred learning!
    Now, I can superficially improve outcomes by teaching in a more authoritive, controlled style (some art teachers do this though it’s generally frowned upon) but what you end up with is whole class sets of students who produce similar things in similar ways, usually realistic, figurative work because they haven’t been taught how to think like an artist. Traditional drawing skills (and pottery) can be improved for many (though not all) by leading from the front in an ‘expert’ manner, but what is usually lost is self expression and in any case there are lots of different ways to draw not just traditional ways and these lend themselves to teaching by less formal methods. In fact, skills themselves are often redundant if (as many do) we follow Duchamps example and take a contemporary approach where conceptual ideas are more important than skill. In art, the trad v prog war has been waging since Impressionism. The Stuckists of the late 90s being the latest example of a traditional revival. But mainly art has moved on from realism into contemporary art where the idea is central to the piece not the skill.
    Teaching students to devise original, creative and non-cliched outcomes for their art independently of the teacher is something I’ve spent twenty years developing. These combine some teacher led techniques with self directed, pupil centred learning and problem solving strategies embedded in a strong scaffolding structure. In my subject they are highly successful but it goes against what you outlined in your blogs and I wondered how you felt about that.

    • Tempe says:

      Obviously not Greg here and certainly no expert on this query but I would think that the same principals apply here in the creative arts as it does anywhere. Children still need to know/learn to paint/draw/sculpt etc. That is, they should be explicitly taught the principals underlying the capacity to be än artist” and practise them over and over.

      They shouldn’t attempt to recreate famous artists work as I have often seen done in art at school but they should perhaps know of these artists/movements/famous works and it is absolutely fine if they draw on them for inspiration. This would be the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants. Only when they are proficient in their domain should they be expected to be creative and perhaps push boundaries.

      I believe that this is the way traditional art schools work. Julian Ashton’s art college in Sydney comes to mind. Pupils were expected to be able to draw to a very high standard before they attempted anything else.

      • Hi Tempe
        Sorry but that is a truly awful way to teach art that ignores the fundamental principles of creativity which a process not a skill.
        Of course we teach skills, they are and will always be important, as is knowledge of artists as you’ve stated, but the real beauty of art is that I can show several ways to draw and paint that don’t involve those skills you’re talking about. Can’t draw realistically? Don’t worry, not everyone can or wants to, I can teach you how to draw or paint in an abstract style, or draw using wire in three dimensions or draw with text or clay or collage or digitally. There are so many fabulously creative ways to represent objects and they don’t all involve representing things in a traditional way. This is my point. I know how to teach art, I consider myself an expert.
        What I’m asking is, my techniques involve the very progressive methodology Greg says has had a detrimental effect on education. I have found them to work extremely well in art. I combine them with rigour and tight skills sessions, but I gradually remove the stabilizers until at GCSE level, they can think and act for themselves, they know what they’re good at and who influences them. This is written into our syllabus and describes our highest students. It isn’t easy and it doesn’t always work for everyone, but it’s a damn sight better than teaching from the front in a strictly controlled ‘follow me’ approach because in that way you get whole classes of representational figurative or landscape outcomes and this is only one kind of art.
        What you’re advocating is a return to the type of art school that Van Gogh stormed out of in frustration at being made to draw torsos all day. We’ve moved on, though as I want to still emphasise, we love and embrace traditional skill, just not all the time for everybody.

      • This illustrates the short-comings of labelling particular instructional approaches under an umbrella (such as progressivism) and saying they are all less effective than other approaches. The context matters. Clearly it makes sense to teach art the way you do and in some ways what you say you do reflects what cognitive science has to say about teaching – give beginners plenty of structure, explicit technique instruction and scaffolding and then remove them as they become more expert like. I think this is particularly important in teaching subjects like art. I teach music and have grappled with the same issues. I use a lot of fully guided instruction with my large junior music classes but with my small senior classes they work a lot more independently on projects, composing etc. I think what research shows is that the semi-guided and minimally guided approaches that you use with success in your art classes is not the most effective way to teach students maths, science etc, particulary in primary schools.

      • Hi education86466
        YES YES YES!!!
        That’s exactly what I was thinking. My whole reason for posting this was to run this by Greg because I follow the trad v prog argument with fascination. I avidly read the science coming out of cognitive research and agree that more formal methods are needed in knowledge based subjects. I taught maths as a secondary subject for twenty years and I taught it in a traditional teacher led way.
        But creative subjects don’t work the same way. You need expression from the outset, you want them to take the core knowledge and skills you’ve taught them then let them improvise with it because teaching that kind of synthesis is crucial. It doesn’t come much later in the learning process as it does in maths or science.
        One more point I’d make is that creativity is really useful tool to help some pupils move knowledge from short-term to long term memory. So when i was teaching maths we might be studying areas and we’d do all the formal classroom work then I’d do a one off lesson where we’d embed the key concepts such as formulas through rhyme, song, dance, music or art. It was silly and fun but it really does help the memory form those vital synapses needed for long term memory. Most don’t need it, but as I used to say to my bottom set groups: ‘one of the differences between you and the brighter kids is that they remember and retain information better than you do, so let’s work on that.”

    • Stan says:

      Isn’t the distinction here that in art more people view it as okay to let students follow their interest. So if they don’t want to be able to do accurate sketches or skip sculpture that is considered okay. Lots of students won’t do any art in later grades.

      So in art they can move from the novice to expert in an art form they are interested in and so also move to more self directed work if they pursue this in later grades.

      In math and other subjects primary and high school don’t offer sufficient time to leave the novice stage and cover the mandated breadth. Whereas art teachers have the luxury of not having to get all students to a level where they can enter the workforce or a tertiary education to study art further.

      You seem to be saying for a group of novices you would do exactly the same thing as Greg does for his math and physics novices.

      • Hi Stan
        Thanks for your observations that I’d like to answer if I may. From my understanding you seem to be implying that art is an easier subject than maths or physics, since students can avoid skills they don’t like by picking and choosing what to study and also that they can reach expert level at a much earlier age than in tougher subjects like maths.

        These are common opinions even among teachers, who often belittle art as an easy subject. I wouldn’t  deny that art is considerably less academic than maths and physics and requires a very different skill set. But I’d also say that there are those who find maths easier than art and vice versa. The ease of a subject is very personal to the individual. However I take your point, maths and physics demand greater intellect. Art however requires high levels of skill, knowledge, creative idea generation and decision making.  Perhaps you’re right but I’ve studied both to A level and found art harder because no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get the right answer!
        I’d also like to point out that I don’t  see many students leave the novice stage in art by 18. Hokusai said that at 100 he was still learning! Art is a bottomless pit of struggle and few artists claim mastery. Don’t be fooled by people who demonstrate high levels of skill, there’s a lot more to art than that.
        As for being able to avoid areas that you don’t like, this is true in all subject disciplines hence some maths students lean toward statistics and some to pure maths for example. We all have to learn the basics, but in art these vary considerably because it is such a vast area. The basics in traditional painting aren’t the same as the basics in abstract expressionism but that doesn’t make one easier than the other. I find realism in drawing and painting a breeze, I can do it without even trying, but I can’t abstract to save my life.

        Lastly I’d argue that the most common maths used in the workplace is achieved by most students by early secondary. This is the age when students opt to take art or drop it in the UK so I’d say they equate nicely.
        Higher GCSE maths and into further education is specialist to certain professions and that regard I don’t see where the difference is between those choosing art for a profession or maths.
        Thank you again.

      • Stan says:

        No I don’t see either vocation as innately harder. I just think based on what was suggested about the freedom for students to pick the art they do it is easier for a teacher to move beyond novice teaching techniques because there is no requirement to cover a wide range of artistic skills.

        There is no equivalent; can’t solve linear equations for x, to compare to your “can’t draw realistically. Don’t worry”. This is not an absolute issue but a matter of degree. Up until the final years of high school there are only degrees of performance in math not choices about what to cover.
        While many don’t use math beyond early secondary those that don’t severely limit their options in terms of further study and whole fields are cut off to them. There are just not as many jobs or post secondary areas that have a requirement for specific artistic skills as there are for upper secondary math skills.

        I don’t think the argument that someone who spent a lifetime on it is still a novice is worthwhile. That is just someone playing at false modesty. And yes compared to someone who dedicates several years to studying nothing else an 18 year old will still be a novice but based on what you have said you are able to spend time on the creative in some areas and I am saying that is because you don’t have to bring them up to a certain standard across a wide range of artistic areas as is required in math.

        I am ambivalent about whether this is good or bad. If math was taught more like art in high school where those that were not interested left it sooner it would be much more enjoyable and interesting for those left teaching and learning it.

        I would like to believe the JumpMath guy John Mighton and the lament guy Lockhart that math could be taught with an aim to make everyone enjoy it and be very good at it and see the creative side of it. But while that is a great goal I don’t see it happening tomorrow.

      • “There is no equivalent; can’t solve linear equations for x, to compare to your “can’t draw realistically. Don’t worry”.

        Agree with you here, however what I’m saying is that I can teach students other ways to get to the solution of drawing the object not just realism, just as there are other ways to solve maths problems.

        “There are just not as many jobs or post secondary areas that have a requirement for specific artistic skills as there are for upper secondary math skills.”

        Not sure I agree here. The creative industries are a huge employment sector worth 86billion to the UK economy and are the second largest employer.

        “I don’t think the argument that someone who spent a lifetime on it is still a novice is worthwhile. That is just someone playing at false modesty. ”

        No it isn’t false modesty. It’s saying that they didn’t feel they’d mastered it because it was out of their reach. Many artists feel this way. It’s part of the struggle of the creative process.

        “I am saying that is because you don’t have to bring them up to a certain standard across a wide range of artistic areas as is required in math.”

        But they do have to come up to a certain standard! That one area they’ve chosen is still broad enough and will still have many intrinsic values that can be measured and guaged. There are many levels of accomplishment in art and in order to attain any kind of qualification students must evidence them in their full range of areas from application of knowledge to, development of original ideas, skill of execution, metacognitive evaluation, synthesis and experimentation with different materials.

      • Typo error that should read 8.6 billion

      • Stan says:

        You are missing the point – whatever other ways you have for solving linear equations high school requires expertise in a very specific way and it does this for a whole range of areas you can’t not try to teach these because the student feels they have no talent for it.

        The large creative industry point would be a valid point if 100% of that money was going to people creating new and novel art but I am guessing it includes everyone associated with it.

        It also seems like you have a very narrow view of what a creative person looks like. – Works in the film industry = creative. Andrew Wiles not creative. A creative engineer, lawyer or accountant – you tell me.

        And imposter syndrome is common for experts in all fields. The people you are referring to are not novices by any definition of high school art knowledge or ability. The word is just not being used in the same way as you would for someone starting to learn drawing or sculpting.

  14. Robert Craigen says:

    There is a further problem with educational progressivism in education which you have hardly touched upon, Greg: its complicating and in ways unclear relationship with political progressivism.

    Witness, for example, the Kohn essay you cite, in which he lists (political) progressivist staples such as “social justice” as canonical characteristics of what is valued in progressive education, and later his warning that it is possible for a school to display hard-left politics while maintaining “traditional” methods — in which it seems by way of “counterexample” he reinforces the notion that educational progressivism OUGHT to display the external characteristics of political progressivism, that they are somehow natural go-togethers. In warning that this doesn’t always happen he seems to labour under the assumption that one should expect it to happen.

    Of course, the birth of the use of the modifier “progressive” for both education and politics took place over exactly the same period, reflects largely the same impulses in society and often involved the same individuals as progenitors. It would be impossible to point canonically to individual sources for this nomenclature (I’ve never seen any one or two individuals singled out as the originator, and don’t expert there to be), but it’s hard to ignore that both Dewey and Kilpatrick were not only considered fathers of educational progressivism (in North America at any rate) and also (Dewey especially) very prominent in the early days of the progressive movement as embodied in the Democratic Socialists of America — both being very active members and Dewey in particular involved in the larger socialist international movement to the point of stepping in personally when Trotsky famously ran afoul of the Leninists, hoping to heal a rift in the larger movement.

    It seems clear, at any rate, that many of the founders of educational progressivism saw it as a natural offshoot of (if not identical to) the political progressive movement, and that umbilical chord has never been entirely severed.

    Fast forward to today — and I can endlessly list teachers and resources who seem to take this connection for granted, many of whom appear to have little “theoretical” understanding of the underpinning principles of either. A series of lessons on (let us say) gender roles in society or sustainable aquaculture is described as “progressive education” without reference to any teaching methodology or classroom organization. Or, commonly, you see both “politically progressive” subject matter and “progressive” methods in a resource but with little self-awareness that there is a distinction between these or that one does not necessitate or imply the other. At least on this point, Kohn appears to understand that they are distinct.

    This presents a problem for those of you (I believe you are in this category, as are many I admire in education) who profess to adhere to progressive political ideas but maintain a heavy skepticism of progressive educational ideas. Namely, you find yourself battling with others who cannot comfortably make that distinction and regard you as inconsistent, or worse, as political apostates.

    It presents another problem for those of us who are of the opinion that it is not appropriate to make over education in the large according to a single, partisan, political worldview. For it is apparent that many teachers who resonate with and welcome educational progressive ideas, find themselves swimming in an environment where the working assumption is that “of course” this means school is about infusing politically progressive ideas in children — they may have difficulty separating these political ideas from the educational ones. On the other side of things, many political progressives, finding themselves in a teaching career, are continually bombarded with the idea, as a working assumption, promoted by most of the “experts” charged with helping them develop professionally, that political progressivism inexorably implies or necessitates the adoption of progressive educational ideas.

    • Greg Ashman says:

      As I understand it, Dewey bears some responsibility for creating this association although, as you can see above, any discussion of what Dewey meant, intended or even whether he was progressive tends to be contested due to his ambiguous prose and the fact that he changed his mind later in life.

      I see no such obvious connection. Indeed, progressivism’s focus on individualism is quite at odds with socialism and places students as proto-consumers. This has not gone unnoticed by large IT corporations seeking to profit from personalised learning.

      It is also worth mentioning that progressivism existed before Dewey and was pursued by people like Herbert Spencer who do not seem politically progressives and that it’s first manifestations were in elite private schools. In contrast, Gramsci the Marxist saw the need for the working class to gain knowledge in order to obtain power and was an educational traditionalist.

      • Ryan Campbell says:

        Good points, although there does seem to be a strain of individualism in traditionalism as well. This is why I see the split as divided into four not two. Speaking of a practical example of this, where would deliberate practice fit in? I ask because it would seem to be an example of traditional/individual.

        And I’ve just realised I’ve slipped into talking about traditionalism again so I’ll ask you on twitter instead.

  15. Stan says:

    Many of the comments here highlight the problem with a poor choice of names for the two sides of this debate.
    Progress is associated with a lot of good things and education has a role in creating equal opportunity. So simply running under that banner is good PR for something like project based learning that as Greg has pointed out is quite bad for that.

    Similarly while tradition appeals to some others can simply point out that not all was rosy in the good old days and it is only progress that changed that.

    Direct and explicit instruction are also poor choices to describe a teaching approach. You see the comment here about how DI relates to deliberate practice. The word instruction in these names really get in the way. Better would be explicit teaching. This would cover both explicit instruction and explicit questioning in the name. Although the word explicit has another usage that may still get in the way. There is always going the whole way as Jumpmath did and call their explicit instruction approach guided discovery. Even on a fully guided tour you will be discovering stuff you didn’t know.

    Those that really believe that what falls under progressive teaching approaches is a relative harm when it displaces what falls under traditional approaches shouldn’t let those arguing for the progressive side have an easy PR win.

  16. Tempe says:

    Paulcarneyarts – We will have to agree to disagree then. I don’t believe that is the best way to teach art ie “let’s get creative by being all hands on and experimenting with everything and anything goes and that produces creative artist””. I’d argue that more often than not it may produce rubbish.

    Art is a discipline like any other subject. You need to know the fundamental techniques that are peculiar to each task and you need to be good at them. What you seem to be teaching is not what I’d consider to be art. Yes, we can all put some squiggles on a canvas and call that art and say it’s ground-breaking and creative but I think a true artist is able to achieve/arrive at true creativity by being very secure in the skills/knowledge that traditional artists had.

    Van Gogh broke the rules because he had some basic training in artistic skills he didn’t just emerged from the womb as a genius. All art movements that broke with tradition did so on the basis on their being a lot of traditional training. A think a true fine artist does know how to draw/paint and the techniques involved. I think by obscuring that you are not really teaching art.

    • Tempe says:

      PS: My great aunt was a well known Aust. artist. She started out sketching and doing water colours. Her talent was recognised and she moved to Sydney and studied under Julian Ashton. After her years there she went and studied in Paris and became familiar with Cubism and abstraction. Her later paintings were in this style. She was able to grow as an artist and experiment with her techniques precisely because she was so familiar with them.

      I think telling a student that it doesn’t matter if they can’t draw/paint because there’s this thing called abstract art which means everyone’s capable of being an artist is misleading.

      We can’t expect everyone who studies art to become artists just as we wouldn’t expect everyone who writs in English to become a novelist or a student of maths to become a mathematician. However they are entitled to know/understand the ideas/techniques etc that are the components of these subjects.

    • What you’ve outlined is exactly the trad v prog argument that has waged in art since Impressionism. I’ve said right through these posts that I teach knowledge and skill like any teacher but what I’m saying is that there are lots of different ways to represent the same thing. Abstraction is an enormously complex discipline and very difficult to do well and no less valid than traditional painting. Contemporary techniques are also much more than putting squiggles on pages as you say though some art teachers would agree with you.

      Most modern art movements occurred irrespective of art training. Picasso and Klee tried to undo their conscious control and paint like a child. Abstract expressionism came out of a rejection of physical form and Duchamp turned a toilet into art. It’s hard to understand why this is iconic art, but it is and it and it for a reason.

      And to answer your point, Van Gogh had no training he was self taught because he hated being taught in a traditional way.

      • Stan says:

        Van Gogh would be a really terrible example for your point.
        While he had no formal training at school it was because he had no interest. It was only someone else pushing him that made him take up art in his twenties. This is exactly the opposite of what you are suggesting with students where you say not to worry about not be good at some form because they can do something else.
        He started training as an artist at 27 with a one on one expert tutor. How is that not formal training?

      • Stan
        We must be reading different biographies of Van Gogh’s life. In my versions his mother taught him a little as a child, he walked out of art school after a few months and fell out with his personal tutor after one month also. He had a friend and fellow painter Gauguin but this was hardly a one on one tutor they were merely fellow artists. He was already well into his own painting style by that time.

      • Stan says:

        We could compare notes using this site
        https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/vincents-life-and-work/van-goghs-life-1853-1890/young-vincent
        and
        https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/vincents-life-and-work/van-goghs-life-1853-1890/looking-for-a-direction

        No mention of dropping out of art school – just regular secondary school.

        The are explicit that it was only at 27 with the advice of his brother that he changed tack and decided to pursue art as a vocation.

        The he seems to have spent a year or two studying under Anton Mauve and before this was not considered good enough to produce art that would sell. In this time he was doing nothing but study under a celebrated artist of the day and practice. Looking at his initial work it looks quite traditional. So it seems he became expert at traditional skills under an expert tutor before moving on to innovate and he never would have done any of this if his brother had not suggested it.

  17. He was under Mauve’s tuition from late 1881 to March 1882 where he rebelled against Mauve’s instruction to paint traditionally from plaster casts. He also attended an academy for a few months before that that he also dropped out of. Most of his style and technique was developed himself from copying Japanese painting and pointillism and also from plein air painting that he Self taught after he had split with Mauve. He most certainly did NOT become an expert under expert tuteledge. In fact the traditional instruction was the very thing he hated.

  18. He also left the Academy at Antwerp in 1886 after two months again for refusing to obey his teachers and draw in the classical style. He took himself to galleries to study Rubens paintings. In 1887 he met Gauguin. Dunno what you’re reading but I’d get a better source.

    • Stan says:

      I am reading Van Gogh’s letters to his brother. Here is a relevant one.

      http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let202/letter.html
      and another
      http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let258/letter.html

      He clearly has respect for Mauve and the lessons he is getting and he is being told by his brother what forms to try (watercolours here).

      This one clearly suggests it was not Van Gogh who ended the relationship with Mauve
      http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let221/letter.html

      Again that’s his words albeit I am reading a translation. But I really don’t know how the author you read missed this.

      Following the chronology of his letters here
      http://vangoghletters.org/vg/chronology.html#

      He decides to become an artist I 1881 at age 27 and spends the next few years getting lessons from various experts, studying the works of experts and listening to others as he seeks to make a living from it.

      • He did NOT get the years of expert one to one tuition you claimed and none of your references prove this.
        He was largely self taught as I’ve stated and rejected traditional classical art teaching.
        You say he only took up art at 27 because his brother made him and showed no interest before that. This is factually incorrect. He had a strong interest in art through his mother. He worked at an art dealers for six years before being fired.
        He did get some formal training but this was sporadic. For example:
        Tutor 1 Nov 1880 to April 1881 – 5 months
        Theo and an artist persuade him to join an Academy despite his dislike of formal classical methods. He lasts 5 months.

        Tutor 2 lasted one month 1882 (not the year or two you claim):
        “Mauve took Van Gogh on as a student and introduced him to watercolour, which he worked on for the next month before returning home for Christmas. Within a month Van Gogh and Mauve fell out, possibly over the viability of drawing from plaster casts.”

        He then resorts to teaching himself by studying other artists work (as I said).

        Tutor 3 lasted less than two months in 1886:
        “Despite his antipathy towards academic teaching, he took the higher-level admission exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He quickly got into trouble with Charles Verlat, the director of the Academy and teacher of a painting class, because of his unconventional painting style. Van Gogh had also clashed with the instructor of the drawing class Franz Vinck. Van Gogh finally started to attend the drawing classes after antique plaster models given by Eugène Siberdt. Soon Siberdt and van Gogh came into conflict. Van Gogh then flew into a violent rage and shouted at Siberdt. According to some accounts this was the last time van Gogh attended classes at the Academy and he left later for Paris.
        So despite your claim he DID drop out of art school – twice!

        His lack of technical expertise is clearly borne out in his paintings. He work shows a lack of technical understanding about modelling form, light and shade, anatomy, depth of field and perspective. As beautiful as his work is it is fairly naive and relies on his own unique brush style and intense use of colour. If he’d been classicly trained he would have been much more technically accomplished (and not as good).
        But hey what do I know? You know everything, you’ve read an internet page whereas I only have forty years of painting practice and art teaching experience.

      • Stan says:

        Hey Paul, I agree I overstated how long he was tutored by Mauve, I hadn’t checked the timeline carefully enough and confused a later tutor with Mauve. But his own letters show it is clear he was seeking tutoring and advice from experts through the first couple of years he was actively trying to become a commercially successful artist. That is my claim and I think it is contrary to your point.

        You seem to be selectively skipping items here. You state he parted with Mauve because of his objection to painting from plaster casts yet clearly based his own words the split was not his choice and he attempted to get further help from Mauve.

        You state he had “had no training”. Clearly that doesn’t agree with what he wrote to his brother. You can’t have it both ways – your words don’t need to be accurate but those that disagree with you are wrong because of one slip. On dropping out of art school I was pretty careful with my words in that I hadn’t seen anything about that. As you point out he did drop out but he then goes off seeking expert tutors. It seems clear to me that he was seeking the advice of experts in those first years of starting his vocation.

        Sure there are poor sources online but unless you claim the website with his letters is not a valid source of accurate information then why not just agree that we can use them to determine how right either of our views are? I would love to know the book you are reading if you care to share the author’s name.

  19. Tempe says:

    You state that Van Gogh studied the works of Ruben’s who was a pretty traditional painting (realist tradition). I think if you trace the background of many of the Master’s there will be a starting point when they learnt traditional techniques. They didn’t bypass them.

    There is no doubt that VG he could sketch extremely well in the traditional sense. Van Gogh could draw and paint very well before he began experimenting and eventually finding his own style. He didn’t just happen upon it from the start, he “grew into it.

    It’s a mistake to say all students are artists “waiting to be uncovered we just need to let them know that they don’t necessarily need to be able to draw/paint/sculpt because anything goes. The same is true of creative writing. There are reasons why some writing is much better than other writing and I think it’s because some writers have a sound understanding of the rules which they then play with. Other writing is simply sloppy because this is lacking.

    There are some subjects which naturally require more hands on work than others, such as art and woodwork and cooking over history or science. However I don’t believe this precludes teaching from the front at all. Then the student practises the techniques taught via the teacher in a practical way. It is the knowledge that precedes everything else a it should be in any subject.

  20. […] is it with fake Einstein quotes? I recently read an amusing blog where the author set out a quintessentially progressive argument for abandoning traditional exams, setting kids project work and focusing on generic […]

  21. […] to critically review these initiatives when they are up and running. In the 2000s in England we saw educational progressivism take the lead. I had to attend training on the “Four Deeps”, we had to build […]

  22. […] write a lot about teaching methods and research, yet I recently argued that educational progressivism is not actually a set of methods as much as it is a set of […]

  23. […] The detail is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, some of the points from the suggested list of ‘effective’ strategies look like they originate in progressive education ideology: […]

  24. […] that is just one example of how bad ideas hamper effective teaching. In my recent blog post on progressivism, I listed many more; the Australian Curriculum, L3 in New South Wales, the framing of discussions […]

  25. […] the teaching of knowledge has been degraded. Under the ideology of educational progressivism, curricula have been denuded of dry facts in favour of supposedly transferable skills. Rather […]

  26. Fiona says:

    Greg, you are coming from an upper secondary specialist science perspective and, may I say, are not particularly qualified to put primary in the same basket. Unless you have earned your stripes, actually in the classroom, at different phases of development, please restrict provocative generalisations to your field of expertise and where you have taught in the schooling system. Your arguments lack authentic experience and so smack of the bandwagon. By all means share your knowledge and beliefs about the high school science context. This is interesting.

    • Greg Ashman says:

      Thanks for your feedback. I will continue to write about whatever I please.

    • So only someone who has taught in a primary school has the right to comment on teaching and learning in that situation? Following this idea no academic in the field of educational psychology, cognitive science or educational theorist has the right to do so either….at least until they have earned their stripes in the classroom? Interestingly this article addresses broad issues in educational history and research without touching on primary schools at all, except for maybe a mention of research findings for early reading.

  27. […] the 1930s, progressive education started to gain traction in American public schools. One manifestation of this was the […]

  28. […] principles of progressive education lead to practices that increase your workload as a teacher without making you more […]


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