Education is like football.
People of differing opinions, philosophies and experience prefer the game to be played in different ways. But, there are two very important distinctions here: style and code.
Style, is the way it should be played. The differences in the style of football could be a dogged display of determination (think, long ball highly effective football, e.g. Stoke City) or a controlled exhibition of virtuosity (for example, watching a sublime performance from The Arsenal).
Opposing preferences of style can only be tested when there is a universal agreement about the code. The code is how the game should be played, for example Rugby Union, American Football, Australian Rules are different codes of football; they are different games, they have different rules.
There are equally significant differences between codes and styles in education. People of differing views prefer ‘the game’ to be played in different ways (style). While the goal (please excuse the glaringly obvious pun), or code of education falls into mainly two positions. The problem is many people tend to confuse differences between codes of education with differences of style.
Do we spend too much time disagreeing about the style when we should really be focussing on the code? Is this possibly a successful attempt to hide the question of what education is, and importantly, what is it for?
If we take look at a quote from everybody’s favourite go to educationalist, perhaps the code of education is this: “The educational achievement of a country’s population is a key determinant of its economic growth, and so improving educational attainment is an urgent priority for all countries.” How do we prepare students for a world we cannot imagine? Dylan Wiliam, 2011.
Or perhaps it is not; it depends on your view of the educational code.
Back to the game of two halves…
A teacher with a conservative/traditional orientation may see education as a preparation for work. They may seem themselves as a ‘realist’, transmitting knowledge, concepts and facts in order for their students to find a place in society, having the necessary knowledge to fulfil the roles and positions of work.
Where as a liberal/progressive teacher may view education as a preparation for life rather than work. They may see their role as a constructivist, allowing students to build cognitive structures through interaction and experience. Thus allowing their students to have the skills to better themselves as a person.
Wiliam suggests* that the four main reasons why we educate young people are for:
- Preparation for Citizenship
- Preparation for Work
If that is the case, then let’s look at the skills (often described as ‘transferable skills’) being developed by our students in a day-to-day classroom of a progressive teacher or a teacher that believes the purpose of education is either or a culmination of 1, 2 and 3 in the list .
Independent Learning – The skill of following instructions and the skill of applying oneself diligently to tasks without understanding their importance
Collaborative Learning – The skill of ‘fitting in’ and the skill of following the lead of others
Developing Learning Behaviour/Power – The skill of fulfilling the needs of those in power to gain merit/acceptance and the skill of meeting behavioural expectations of a hierarchy
Reciprocal Teaching – The skill of presenting oneself in the mould of what is universally expected
Purposeful Real Life Learning – The skill of completing ‘real life’ scenarios, to further indoctrinate students with the idea that school is not real life.
So even if a style of teaching is seen to be progressive, with ‘admirable’ purposes (Personal Empowerment, Cultural Transmission and Preparation for Citizenship), it is in essence still focussing on the traditional/conservative code of education i.e Preparation for Work. A code that prepares our young people with the necessary skills to become submissive economic fodder to support and enhance a neoliberal society.
These ‘transferable skills’ place a premium on certain skills wanted outside schools for certain purposes that are not in the interest of students themselves but that of their place in work, again more akin to the traditionalist outlook of preparing kids for jobs. In reality they are the skills seen as required and important for success for and by a capitalist society.
My thinking is that perhaps our ‘progressive’ teachers may in fact, through their routines, expectations and strategies in their classroom, be unconsciously preparing students to develop traits of the obedient and meek – the perfect attributes of the submissive and oppressed.
Perhaps the code of education remains the same for both progressive and traditional teachers and only the style changes.
We need to change the code of education.
This idea was inspired from a small passage found in Orientations to Curriculum and Transition: Towards The Socially Critical School. Victorian Institute of Secondary Education 1983.
Since writing this post their have been two artcles in the Telegraph that have direct links (or more accurately, complete opposition) to what I’m banging on about! Thanks to Jack Cassidy (@mrjcassidy) for the heads up on the second one.
* From his Principled Curriculum Design (October 2013) is here: http://www.ssatuk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Dylan-Wiliam-Principled-curriculum-design-chapter-1.pdf thanks to Roo Stenning (@TheRealMrRoo) for pointing me in the direction of this.