I recently had the interesting experience of diligently ploughing through a whole book with which I disagreed on almost every level (Pring and Roberts’ A Generation of Radical Change). I should probably do this more often. It’s intellectually invigorating; it sharpens one’s own thought to scrape it against the thoughts of one’s opponents.
I could have wished, however, that there had been more substance to the thoughts of those who insistently claimed such expertise. I kept waiting in anticipation for the moment when they would really begin to justify their deep seated beliefs, so I could find out whether there was anything convincing in their arguments.
But for the most part, that moment never came. These truths were held to be self-evident. It was so self evident that education must be child centred and based on natural development, not the adult imposition of authority and knowledge, that Wendy Scott, for example, could only throw her hands up in horror at the narrow minded insistence of the government meanies that synthetic phonics be used. Her argument against phonics? She didn’t offer one. She just referred to the ‘complexities’ of teaching reading, but did not deign to offer any examples. And heaven forbid that anyone should try to teach the little lambs anything! She lamented the increase of ‘teacher-led instruction’ and how this was crushing ‘spontaneous’ learning, but neglected to explain why teachers actually teaching was such an evil thing. It just self-evidently was.
Because progressive approaches were just so obviously right, it could not be admitted that the government’s reforms were aimed at improving learning. Thus other motives had to be sought. This is very easy to do, if you work on the assumption that the Conservatives are elitist capitalists who want to oppress the people, and turn them into efficient units of production for their profit making economic machine. Thus Wendy Scott claimed that using phonics was one part of a ‘standards agenda’ based on a ‘simplistic economic model’.
When the Conservatives weren’t turning tender children into units of production for their capitalist friends in the City, they were being ‘reactionaries’. This is a word without substantial content. It is used by those who favour a particular change to attack those who oppose it. But it says nothing about whether the change is a good one; nor does it give any arguments proving why it is good. It just assumes it is good, and assumes that those who oppose it are wandering in the darkness of benighted ignorance, or obstructing reform for self-interested reasons. It is usually attached to accusations of being ‘right wing’, another morally loaded but vacuous label pinned by the progressives onto their enemies. Apparently it is ‘right wing’ to insist that children learn about important events in the history of Britain. It couldn’t possibly be that those who propose this think it will promote learning more effectively than doing projects on the Wild West. That is unthinkable.
This is why progressivists don’t want a debate. Progressivism has never been based on reason. It has emerged in a culture that has rejected reason, because it rejects anything that is not material, while at the same time, in self-contradiction, it has promoted a Romantic view of sacred and pure childhood. The materialistic and the sentimental have marched together, united in their condemnation of an academic curriculum that values knowledge for its own sake. Child worshippers and sociologists have agreed that drilling the three Rs and liberal knowledge into young children is wrong, either because it is an horrendous act of child abuse, or because children need to engage with current social life, not the dead facts of the past.
Therefore, those who promote liberal knowledge and simple, traditional methods cannot possibly be doing so in order to help children grow up knowledgeable and self-disciplined. They must be doing so because they are right-wing-reactionary-crypto-fascist-child-hating MEANIES!