War of words

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I have a book out soon, The Truth About Teaching: An Evidence-informed Guide for New Teachers. It’s already available for preorder if you, or someone you know, might like to read it. The first chapter is a brief history of education and then the second chapter, the first time I discuss the art of actually teaching, is about classroom management. Classroom management is that important. It is certainly not sufficient to make good teaching, but without it, all other efforts are hampered, at best, and futile, at worst.

I was therefore dismayed to stumble upon a Twitter thread where a number of people objected to the term ‘classroom management’, apparently on the basis that children are humans rather than problems and so we shouldn’t seek to manage them.

It’s absurd. Nobody objects to the idea that Gareth Southgate is the England football ‘manager’ on the basis that footballers are humans. And we have whole years of professionals who we call ‘managers’ precisely because we expect them to manage human beings. You don’t have to disrespect people in order to manage them; a lot of it is about predicting and responding to their needs.

If it fails to make any logical sense then there must be another reason for the objection. When people attack the term, ‘classroom management’, it is because they object to the idea that it represents. This is a clear manifestation of the progressivist tradition in education that view learning as natural, children as innately good and therefore any unnatural attempt to direct or control them as suspect.

By attacking words, the aim is to take these words away, or at least make them taboo. Once we lack words to describe a thing, it becomes much harder promote it, focus on it, or insist that teachers are educated about it.


10 thoughts on “War of words

  1. I actually don’t like the term either, but for a completely different reason: it strikes me as another incursion by the world of corporate language into education. I’m not entirely sure of the history of it but I certainly don’t think the phrase “classroom management” was common currency before, say, the 80s (possibly even the early 90s). “Discipline” is still the proper term in my opinion, but unfortunately that carries all sorts of nasty connotations, which it doesn’t deserve to carry.

    • Yes, it appears that some kind of lexical arms race is going on. A term becomes taboo and so a new term is invented which, in due course, becomes taboo. Repeat.

      • Definitely. Reminds me a bit of that old (almost certainly apocryphal) quote from an American hillbilly, which went something like “Ah used ta be poor, then they called me needy, then ah wuz disadvantaged, then underprivileged. Ah dunno wut all them words mean, but ah still ain’t got no money.”

  2. You are quite correct Greg. There are plenty of roles in schools that are equivalent to managers in other jobs so it is odd that anyone would feel uncomfortable saying that department head managed the department really well or a teacher manages their classes really well.

    I am pretty sure there are managers in say the civil service so I don’t quite get Mike’s concern. Yes you might get some bad jargon from anywhere but there is seldom a reason to object to useful words because of their origin. You should object to jargon when it doesn’t do the job. See http://www.cityam.com/1414547256/steven-pinker-how-banish-business-jargon
    (I don’t even get why anything from corporations is automatically bad, crappy jargon aside, most of my favorite things to buy come via corporations.)

    • I have no quarrel with corporations, I simply have a problem with schools (and universities) being run like them and adopting their language and mores. Education is a very different enterprise.

      • Up north Universities are like corporations: high executive pay, units of resource (ie students), etc etc – FE & to a greater extent Schools (with their lower remuneration) are different Education particularly at Primary with focus on whole person development etc

  3. There has been a worry since at least the 30s that corporate management would be introduced to universities. And this has to a large extent happened. Where once universities were run by their members (i.e. the professors, readers and lecturers) now they are run by a management board. This has not made them better places.

  4. Just a thought – the NHS has suffered the same fate, though in that case the cause is more sinister: creeping privatization leaving at the end a service only the poor will use, like the US system. Unfortunately most of us are going to be ‘the poor’ because insurance premiums will be high.

  5. Tunya Audain says:

    I am delighted to see a buzz starting about this forthcoming book of Greg’s!

    I have seen the Contents, Preface, 6 pages of the History and 4 pages of Index provided as preview by Amazon — and am impressed. I think the book will add substantially to the “game-changer” momentum starting to build because of Daisy, researchEd and other factors — not the least being the Janus legal ruling (USA), which some claim will shift influences away from teacher-union politicization to greater teacher professionalism.

    So far, this small critiquing about classroom management (discipline, leadership . . .) indicates thoughtful understandings of what school experiences should be. From my POV as parent/grandparent I was particularly glad to see Thomas Baseboll’s comment: “Yes, lots of parents are thinking: Please don’t look at my kids as though they are yours. But do manage your classroom so my kids can learn something.”

    I’m really hoping that this book will inject a welcome breath of fresh air and good spirit so that many in the education realm will benefit, especially students. Particularly, I hope, that as Greg signals, “knowledge of the evidence will allow you to spot bad ideas and avoid the embrace of snake-oil salesmen, of whom there are far too many.”

    Hoping there is a bibliography as a lot of the references to books and articles I have seen so far in the preview should be readily discoverable. I have pre-ordered the book and hope that it reaches us soon.

  6. Pingback: Preview pages from my new book are now available – Filling the pail

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