The danger of Pseudo-Traditionalist Teachers

Edu-Twitter has become quite a dark place in recent times. There are a vociferous minority of, predominantly UK, teachers who exalt a particular brand of right wing ideology that sits uncomfortably with the more enlightened majority in the profession. These neo-traditionalists, or pseudo-trads, take their inspiration from Michael Gove and have a very narrow view of the purpose of education. Their over-zealous evangelizing, tendency to “troll” those who disagree with them, and to “hunt in packs,” is akin to the methodologies adopted by Nigel Farage, and his far right UKIP, during the BREXIT referendum. Fortunately, the pseudo-trads remain something of a non-entity in the real world but that does not mean we should under-estimate them. After all most liberal-minded people underestimated the dangerous fascists Nigel Farage, and more recently Donald Trump. Most worrying is the fact that some of the pseudo-trads seemingly have the ear of the Schools Minister Nick Gibb, and although their influence within the teaching profession is negligible in staff rooms across the UK, it is growing at ministerial level. We should not forget that whoever controls education shapes the world.

Fortunately, the the pseudo-trad nonsense seems to the exclusive domain of the far-right in the UK, and hasn’t permeated into the international sector where there is a consensus that more progressive teaching methodologies are most beneficial for students. Of course, those on the progressive end of the spectrum don’t dismiss the importance of knowledge as many neo-trads claim. Those who have the ability and skill to use a variety of teaching methodologies are not oblivious to cognitive science and are aware that knowledge underpins learning, but the imparting of knowledge, without understanding, or being taught to evaluate or synthesise, only prepares students to win pub quizzes in their adult lives. I concede that much of the 21st century learning rhetoric is cliched but that in no way undermines the importance of the skills that are advocated. The skills of working collaboratively, thinking critically, communicating effectively, problem solving and working creatively are not revolutionary ideas, but they underpin good pedagogical practice today as they have done for decades. Throughout my career, spanning more than two decades, I have observed that those who “can,” teach through a variety of methodologies, and seek to inspire students to a love of lifelong learning, whilst those who “can’t,” dictate! Moreover, those who teach with methods advocated by pseudo-trads almost always have the most discipline problems in class and always blame the students. Perhaps they might be rather more reflective, and then they might realise that they bore their poor students and thus they are the cause of their misbehaviour!

As a Headteacher I am more than happy to see teachers utilising a variety of pedagogical styles. There is room for more the more traditional methodologies and progressive. The most versatile teacher can use an array of methodologies to ensure that the needs of all students are met. It seems ludicrous to argue that there is a “best way” to teach. Often the way a teacher plans a lesson depends upon the subject being taught, or the particular content being delivered. Students are empowered by being exposed to a variety of methodologies and exposed to life’s rich tapestry. The pseudo-trad agenda has led to a false dichotomy on edu-twitter. By being more evangelical than Ben Carson, those on the far right, are shutting down debate and stifling creativity. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to education and the sooner these people wake up to that reality the better.

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