I 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 principles. I reject progressivism and so what are my alternative principles? I’ve had a go at drafting them. See what you think.
1. Civilisation is fragile and education sustains it
We live in a unique period of human history where large numbers of people are able to live relatively safe and healthy lives, free from a daily battle for survival. Yet civilisation is constantly under threat from climate change, extreme ideologies and war. Education is the means by which we sustain civilisation and so it is the highest possible calling. Without it, there would be no doctors, no lawyers and no written constitutions to hold despots in check.
2. Education is for all
For much of history, literacy has been the preserve of a priest class. No more. It is for everyone. People are not fundamentally different, they are fundamentally the same. So we should not assume that some people are destined for particular roles in society that don’t ‘need’ education. In fact…
3. Education is not utilitarian, it is emancipatory
I don’t teach children the fruits of our civilisation so that they can get a good job. That is a happy by-product. I teach so that they can stand on the shoulders of giants and see further than they otherwise would have seen.
4. Education is not natural or easy
It is not the natural state of people to be educated. We cannot expect education to just happen like the budding of a flower. It is always going to be like pushing water uphill. Yet once students start to gain facility, they gain confidence and motivation. At this point, education may become self-sustaining.
5. Our best guide to the future is the past
Nobody knows what the future will bring and anyone who claims such knowledge is a charlatan. We don’t know what challenges our civilisations will face so how can we prepare for them? Our best bet is to equip the next generation with that which has endured: The knowledge we have found to sustain our practical, emotional and intellectual needs in the past is our best guide to what will sustain them in the future.