|Benjamin Franklin: An austere sort.|
Like those you know who thrive on misery and drama in their lives, educational thinkers and engaged practitioners seem to thrive on conflict for its own sake. Maybe it sells books or earns you Twitter followers. Maybe it makes you feel vindicated in the face of your hearltess and misguided leadership team. If you're a leader, maybe it helps you feel your policies are validated. One thing's for sure, it doesn't lead anywhere nice. There is an austerity of outcomes.
It's no good blaming Gove's legacy. He only exploited what was already latent in the education community, what we began to accept the moment performativity became the yardstick of school improvement - namely that we are all in competition with each other. Teacher has turned against teacher for performance pay, school against school for parent choice, local authority against academy trust for real estate, and thinker against thinker for mastery over the pedagogical realm. The latter's rank-and-file foot soldiers are battle-ready in every classroom to defend to the death their right to teach this way or that, poised to invade their neighbouring classrooms to impose their practice upon others.
No, it's no good blaming Gove. We really only have ourselves to blame for this situation. Sure, he exacerbated things. Granted, he was divisive. True, his language was of the cheapest type of rhetoric. But boy, did we lap it up. By we, I mean everyone in the educational community, those who were insulted by and those who found solace in his assaults. Frankly, if anyone believes any of it was for the betterment of teaching and learning, of schooling and education, they need to question their level of critical reflection.
Was there a dominant 'progressive' culture before Gove? Perhaps. Was education best served by reversing that imbalance by incentivising a dominant 'traditionalist' culture? No. Did the policies serve an economic and political ideology? Yes, yes, and yes again.
With school budgets set to shrink by up to 12% over the course of this parliament (BBC News), it is little wonder that a progressive culture finds itself out of favour with the authorities. To explore, to try and to make errors, to experiment and to research are expensive, especially when they entail investing in technologies, in training, in staff and pupils.
Imagine Nicky Morgan saying this: "I believe in adapting education to a changing society, but we just can't afford it. As a result, we will have to return to a more traditional curriculum and pedagogy, knowing that this will be damaging to the prospects of this young generation's future." Well, of course not. If you believe in something, you fund it. And if you can't fund it, you don't believe in it. That's politics, baby. Politics for winners, in any case.
This may suit you. Like me, you may have always looked on with deep scepticism at some of the measures brought into your school by an over-zealous leadership team. Few teachers haven't. Like me, you may have always felt more comfortable with chalk-and-talk than with cooperative learning. Few teachers don't. Like me, you may resent being left to deal with the behavioural consequences of poor leadership. Again, you are not alone. Does this make you and me traditionalists and others progressives. Like Hell it does.
Is education perfect? No. Does it need reform? Yes. Should that reform be focused on improving schools for all teachers and students? Yes. Should reform be based on research? Yes. Should it abandon the lessons of the past? No.
If you agree, and I've met very few who don't, then by any definition of progressive, you are one.
To continue to be divided along the lines of trads vs progs is to continue to lose the argument for investment in schools. And if you work for a school, then to continue to be divided along these lines is to continue to lose the argument for investment in you.
Make no mistake that the reforms of the past six years, just like the six that came before, and the six before that, are not serving you. What we are getting is not a traditionalist education system. What we were on course for before was not a progressive one. So what is it?
It is a marketised system in which your classroom will never again be yours, in which you are a resource, and like any other resource, must bring the most value for the least cost, with no say in what value means or what it looks like.
Your traditionalist practices may afford you some safety at the expense of a freedom to experiment that you neither wanted nor needed, but if just one of your colleagues wanted that freedom, then you have sacrificed it for your safety, and deserve neither.
Your progressive practices may feel undermined by new priorities and pressures, and you may rue a freedom you have lost, but if you blame traditionalists for that rather than realise that you have joined their ranks, then you never deserved yours either.
Austere? Perhaps, but in the words of Franklin Roosevelt: "In the truest sense, freedom can never be bestowed; it must be achieved." Freedom for all teachers can only be achieved by all teachers.