Core Content for ITT – The Fightback
One of the best thing about being human is the ability to distinguish between good and bad ideas and to abandon the bad ones.
Not for progressives in education, though. No idea, no matter how bad, discredited or lacking in evidence can ever be let go off. That’s why progressivism is so toxic in the field of education; it’s become an ideology that places itself above people, and it’s advocates adhere to this no matter what damage it causes to children’s education .
This post should be seen for what it is, an attempt to try to regain control by education departments, so that their discredited ideas and practices still have pride of place in any specific ITT content.
The author is “provisionally in favour of a core content.” which is rather naive given the white paper. I wouldn’t give ITT providers a blind bit of choice on this. The best thing the government can do is be specific and insist on it if you want to train teachers. You are training someone for a role that impacts on thousands of children, not that you would recognise the enormity of this responsibility in the way some lecturers conduct themselves.
I find claims that the independence of university education departments is so that they can conduct “world-class research” a bit far fetched and borders on delusional. The author seems to be living in some parallel universe where Professor Robert Coe and the EEF don’t exist.
To state that “some ITE…reflect the philosophies of lecturers” which were “carried too far” is a bit of an understatement. As is the evaluation that the problem with SD alliances and SCITTs is that they are “less outward-looking” (I laughed at that one) and could end up too “narrowly-focused on a few teachers’ personal experience, or deliver training based on vague and distant memories of education theory.” True no indoctrination programme worth its salt would tolerate a weak link. It seems that determining ITT content would give progressives an in on the alternative routes.
The author goes on to state that some in ITT may have “fallen into the trap of following limited research threads and then happily confirming these within our own echo chambers, or possibly challenged to address gaps we weren’t aware of in our own work.”
It is my experience studying for my MPhil in Political Science that makes me fume at the quote above.
One of my lecturers was Michael Laver, whose specialism was the application of Rational Choice Theory to the field of politics. He wrote seminal works including Private Desires, Political Actions. Also he was the Vice-Provost of Trinity College Dublin at the time. A role model to other lecturers in the department as well as us students.
He managed to have a clear overview of the field of politics but then, unlike education, there is a great diversity of thought in politics. There isn’t one ideology to rule them all.
It’s hard to exist in an echo chamber when attending conferences where one is regularly challenged and articles/books are published by those who have alternative explanations and theories to yours. Once a year we would have to present our thesis proposal. All the lecturers and students would attend and we experienced what it would be like to give a talk at the conference with discussion and challenge of our presentation. Ending up in an academic echo chamber is a choice.
Laver knew better than anyone the gaps in his work – namely that rational choice theory could not explain voting behaviour. If there was a critique of rational choice theory or its application in politics, then he was the first to read it. It’s part of an academic’s job to keep up to date in their field, not a side issue.
He never hid the criticisms of Rational Choice Theory, dismiss critiques out of hand or ignore them. He put the strongest critiques of his work on the reading list. He didn’t smear those with opposing arguments.
It doesn’t take away from the usefulness of the theory in explaining how parties and coalitions work. But it’s a falsifiable theory and does not explain everything. He accepted that all theories, no matter how great, are challenged, revised, useful in some ways and not others.
He wanted us to challenge him and his ideas as that is part and parcel of improving ones own thinking. I remember challenging him on the issue of party behaviour because of the introduction of universal suffrage. He just encouraged me to go on but I became quickly aware of the limitations of my argument as this kind of event is rare and does not affect party political behaviour during the majority of elections. But that was part of what we were expected to do.
I saw academic integrity and intellectual giantry first hand. It sets a standard.
One of the greatest issues that progressives have is that they advocate for something they neither possess or understand – namely critical thinking which is reduced to an art of how many adjectives with negative connotations you can attach to an idea you don’t like.
Critical thinking means to me that I know, and seek to know, the strengths and weaknesses of the ideas that I agree and disagree with. Off the top of my head here’s a few issues with some of the ideas I advocate for:
a) What is the threshold between novice and expert? How do/can we know?
b) Is there a grey area leading from novice to expertise? In which case should teaching adjust to this? In what ways?
c) What to do about children who can not cope in any type of school or even 1:1 tuition? How rare is this? Are some children just unreachable?
d) How can we evaluate the effectiveness of no excuses? Who doesn’t it work for and why?
e) Is moving from handwriting to touch typing similar or different to the move from not writing to writing in the first place or quill to pen? Relevant/Irrelevant?
f) Is my experience of nurture groups mirrored by other teachers? To what extent? In what ways have they found it positive? Is it a bad practice or a practice that needs to be more standardised?
Can those who support progressive education come up with a similar list of questions? I doubt it and I am including the academics in this.
Instead I would fully expect to be met with an ‘aha your theory is not perfect, that means progressivism rules’ response. Immaturity and insecurity being prerequisites for current progressive thinkers.
The rest of the post is a call to try to ensure as many progressives develop ITT content (been here before with the 1988 National Curriculum Committees – one can only hope that the DfE does not repeat this mistake).
I don’t buy the call for “inspirational mavericks” even with a nod to Katharine Birbalsingh. It’s only because the system is so skewed that she could be considered a maverick for wanting to teach the best that has been thought and said. But she’s had to become one. No, I believe it is more about ensuring that the likes of Phil Beadle, who is also mentioned, get a greater say in the matter. As for inviting Nick Gibb along with Michael Rosen….who is calling the shots here?
The author goes on to state the fear that teaching about different ideas, theories and philosophies will lead to “some tick-box exercise that forces compliance on the surface and antagonism and “we have to tell you this” attitudes underneath.” If this is genuine then this merely underlies how much ITT at universities is about indoctrination and not actually training teachers to do their job.
Also, am I to understand that we can’t have range of ideas and methods discussed, critiqued and evaluated because it might upset some educationalists? And they might have a tantrum? Let them, there’s an indication of who should not be allowed to carry out teacher training right there. I can’t imagine a similar argument being made in the fields of history and politics which I studied. You’re feelings as a lecturer don’t come into it.
It’s an act of total dishonesty and intellectual cowardice to pretend that there are not competing ideas and theories out there. How is it that you missed Project Follow Through? Why is it that I have trained, worked with and mentored NQTs who did not learn a single criticism of Piaget when I was expected to write essays about it as a 16-year-old in her first year of A-Level? The debates and ideas are hardly new – I studied for A-Levels in 1993. I can’t think of a single good reason why it’s important I learnt to critique Piaget, but a trainee teacher doesn’t need to. They are the ones applying this to real life; I was nowhere near a position where I might do so.
Regarding being out of date – well how much more can you be if you still think that Finland is a high performing country while it has been slipping steadily as a result of its progressive reforms? Again the hypocrisy that is displayed has to be seen to be believed. PISA rankings are not important except when they suit you. With intellectually slippery teachers it is not difficult to understand why some of their charges become snake oil salesmen/women one day.
“We are the ones with the world-leading universities” the author cries, but unfortunately, the description that the author lays bare about ITT in university education departments demonstrates that there is no attempt to match the departments that make those institutions world leading.
If the authors view is typical of educational researchers and departments, then it only serves to demonstrate the mountain that needs to be climbed for education departments to ever deliver ITT that is not merely a one-sided indoctrination of failed ideas and ideals. The first step to dealing with a problem is to face up to the reality of it – progressivism is at odds with reality, so can it ever do this?