Archive for June, 2014

June 14, 2014

How to Argue With a Traditionalist – 10 Commandments

*Take this piece exactly for what it is – and smile.


  1. Before you even attempt to engage in dialogue, anticipate the first “solid evidence-based” argument: Project Follow Through. (Sure, you will wonder why there was a conspiracy theory in place for so many years and traditionalists wouldn’t apply its methodology.)
  2. When that (predictably) comes, make sure you do not ask a traditionalist why they don’t use Engelmann’s Direct Instruction if it was so effective – they will fail to give you an answer. (Wait. It was a packaged program, with scripted lessons, where everything was determined – from tasks and timing *from 3 to 12 minutes for each task!*, to teacher talk  and student “signals”.)
  3.  While you are still wondering, brace yourself for the next leap: knowledge. Of course, as a progressive that you are, you endorse ignorance and promote student inequality. (You know, that is why you became a teacher in the first place.) 
  4. Don’t give up – they now revert to cognitive psychology! You feel relieved – there might be a common ground. No, wait: they keep mentioning Cognitive Load Theory ad nauseam. (Of course, the theory has both conceptual and methodological flaws but, hey, whatever the means to achieve the ends.)
  5. Somewhat amused, somewhat confused about their tactics, you smile – they bring up Hattie! The meta-analysis means you can actually discuss the effect-size of direct instruction (0.59) vs., say, classroom discussion (0.82). Bad luck. They cherry pick from his work again. (At this point, you are less and less surprised. It looks like a denial of critical thinking they praise so much.)
  6. Less enthusiastic about the possibility of a real dialogue (one in which people actually share to understand not persuade) you bring other research. Tsk, tsk – it is not conclusive (despite being a 500-page research book). (But of course. A two-decade meta-analysis shows that inquiry can have a great effect- size , ranging from an average of 0.65 to a high 0.80 -see page 317, and it was successful – it so NOT traditional.)
  7. You raise your eyebrow. Hm. Evidence is not enough. Odd. You thought they would *rely* on evidence at all times. Let’s move on. Maybe educational psychology would help bridge this discussion? No, too “fuzzy” for a traditionalist. (In time, though, you see blog posts on “grit” or “motivation”, for instance, that was earlier dismissed as irrelevant, as engagement was. Begin to smile – this *is* amusing.)
  8. If you try to bring other arguments be prepared to be dismissed – everything that falls outside direct instruction, obedience, and teacher talk is rendered as ruining children’s education. (Large smile. Huxley was one of your favorites. You feel it is time to remind them that “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”. Successful schools that do not use the three genius ideas above exist.)
  9. If they use sarcasm to cover for their lack of perspective and critical thinking, make note of that. Wait. 1,2,3. “Tone does not matter.” (Except when it does and they feel victimized. Implicit insults are poured about blog posts of progressives without actually commenting on them – too much of an effort to make your argument clear.)
  10. How could I forget??? Kirschner, Sweller and Clark!*The* piece that is the backbone of a traditionalist?  The one that, you, too, had tweeted and referenced (because you think research should be disseminated so that people are informed)? KSC might undermine any attempt to try out anything but direct instruction…except it doesn’t. Keep calm…and smile. (The paper has been criticized on several points. Sure, a pure traditionalist will argue even against the arguments of other researchers. A pure traditionalist has the research expertise and the wisdom, unlike those who actually…work in the research field.  Amen.)