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.)

 

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11 Responses to “How to Argue With a Traditionalist – 10 Commandments”

  1. Tedious stuff. The progressive narrative has been dominant and any number of those publications you mention blow it out of the water which is why they will always be the first port of call for anyone challenging progressive orthodoxy. This is not the same as saying that they prove traditionalism, I don’t think any set of education priorities or methods can be the settled and universally accepted consensus on education for all time. What I do know is that traditionalist teachers can work from a logically coherent, honest and evidence-based position. I am yet to see any progressive approach to philosophy of education get anywhere close to that. Nor do I have any reason to think that many progressives even address that sort of thing. Most engagements with progressives tend to be about why we should ignore science; why there is no such thing as the truth; why traditionalists are their moral inferiors; why their experience trumps anyone else’s, and increasingly, why the usual conventions of logical argument, such as the irrelevance of tone compared with content, are unfair when applied to them.

    Feel free to provide this evidence on inquiry learning. Feel free to get disprove cognitive load. But don’t act as if it was up to traditionalists to prove their position to a level of certainty that no progressive would even consider searching for.

  2. I did indeed take this post for what it is, and rather than smile it made me laugh outloud.

    First I smiled but as I read more (well the end of number 1 really) I started to laugh and didn’t stop.

    My only real criticism would be that I feel there were several holes in your analysis. Firstly you didn’t mention the term “strraw man”. You covered the “responding to tone” quite well, but I feel that ignoring the “straw man” was a bit of a faux pas.

    Secondly you did not mention Oakshott. Enough said.

    Thirdly you didn’t make mention of the 7 commandments of Traditionalists (or is it new traditionalists?). One issue is that 10 might have been a better number if one is to rely upon divine inspiration, a trap I see you did not fall into with this post. Secondly I did some research (no RCT I am afraid) and I found another book that had 10 and it seems to have sold more copies and only had to be launched once.

    I did see a similar post to this recently in which the blogger did indeed suggest a number of strategies that could be used to address a “Progressive”. The difference for me was that list was in fact serious and considered to be factually accurate by the author. I think also it may have contained more commandments so you could be in trouble.

    It will be interested to see whether there is a rebuttal of 1-10 above. I can imagine the Tradstremists DMing each other and agreeing to ignore the post so as not to “feed the troll” (another one I just realised you missed) in voices akin to those found in the monty python “French Peasants ” sketch.

    Brilliant post, thanks for making me laugh

  3. Sorry. By the time I pressed the “post comment” button, the rebuttal had already arrived. I must be getting old.

    An interesting initial comment, and who says Tradstemists don’t have a sense of humour.

  4. I am glad that, despite being tedious stuff, you took time to reply, Andrew.
    As far as the “progressives” vs. “traditionalists” debate is concerned, I am not in favor of either – as you must have noticed from my Twitter interactions, I made enemies on *both* sides. The research and books I read over time are simple proof that extremes are not desirable (nor “effective”, to use a buzzword), and those who advocate for “no compromise” between the ends of the spectrum miss the point – education is far too complex to claim a single approach is “best”.This polarization is what Hirsch (a traditionalists’ favorite) called “a caricature”.
    While you admit that criticism of progressive education does *not* prove the power of traditionalism, you fall into a logical fallacy trap (composition/division) in addition to exerting your own biases (see progressives not being “honest” and the sorts), and calling every argument a progressive educator might bring a “straw-man”. From my Twitter experience, both sides have their extremes, and dishonesty, twisting research finds, and ignoring other evidence to prove one’s view are equally employed.
    That being said, I never thought of traditionalism-progressivism in terms of moral standards – just of different epistemological and pedagogical approaches to education. To be honest, it was only through Twitter that I realized people actually fight over this notion of “superiority”.

    • “As far as the “progressives” vs. “traditionalists” debate is concerned, I am not in favor of either – as you must have noticed from my Twitter interactions, I made enemies on *both* sides.”

      Your conclusion does nor seem to flow from that premise. Falling out with some progressives does not make one cease to be a progressive. There may be aspects of progressivism which one adopts with lesser or greater enthusiasm, but that does not put one in some kind of transcendental position, hovering above the debate; it just determines the flavour of progressivism one adopts.

      “The research and books I read over time are simple proof that extremes are not desirable (nor “effective”, to use a buzzword), and those who advocate for “no compromise” between the ends of the spectrum miss the point – education is far too complex to claim a single approach is “best”.This polarization is what Hirsch (a traditionalists’ favorite) called “a caricature”.”

      Neither progressivism or traditionalism are “a single approach”, That’s the caricature.

      “While you admit that criticism of progressive education does *not* prove the power of traditionalism, you fall into a logical fallacy trap (composition/division) in addition to exerting your own biases”

      Ad hominem.

      “(see progressives not being “honest” and the sorts)”

      I didn’t say progressives weren’t honest. I merely said that they seemed less bothered about several important aspects of their position, one of which was honesty. So for instance, which I could twist my position so that it was in the middle between two extremes, I would avoid such a tactic because it serves only to mislead and obscure. However, it is pretty common for progressives to hide the extent to which they’ve taken a side, or for that matter, correctly identify the positions they reject.

      “, and calling every argument a progressive educator might bring a “straw-man”.”

      This is what I meant about how I end up having to deal with progressives ignoring the usual conventions of logical argument. In a logical argument, use of a straw man position is not a valid argument. Progressives, however, seem quite happy to use them and will get angry when their straw men arguments are pointed out. To my knowledge no progressive has ever identified a case where I have been mistaken in pointing out a straw man, but many object to me pointing them out.

      “From my Twitter experience, both sides have their extremes, and dishonesty, twisting research finds, and ignoring other evidence to prove one’s view are equally employed.”

      I find that only one side starts declaring that there is no such thing as the truth, or arguing that it is unfair to point out their fallacious argument. I find that only one side seeks to claim that there is no argument to be had, or that they have not taken sides while attacking one side.

      “That being said, I never thought of traditionalism-progressivism in terms of moral standards – just of different epistemological and pedagogical approaches to education.”

      Regard for the truth is an epistemological issue as much as is it a moral one. However, if people don’t accept the value of reason or truth, then there is no point addressing that through epistemology, and addressing the ethics of indifference to truth is usually the best way forward.

  5. I always enjoy reading your posts and tweets Cristina. You have a crisp and professional precision which I really admire. I am in awe of your capacity to do this in (at least) three languages. The critical lens you apply to education is often unfamiliar to me, either because of your source material or your interpretative response. And our disciplines are very different! As a result you usually make my brain squeak when working out how what I am reading informs, confirms, challenges or realigns my own position on the topic. Woe betide the lazy thinker who engages with you, bandaged by bias or supported by fixed allegiances alone. I can rarely second guess you which is enormously refreshing and I cannot think of another tweep who operates in such an objective, pared down, purely intellectual way. It feels a very European vibe to me but maybe that’s just a stereotype …. meant positively, Thanks for writing this; it’s very funny. Velvet paws with just a glimpse of steel.

  6. There is the issue of Truth; which approach is most valid, is there only the mutual exclusivity of trad vs prog, what else about philosophical underpinnings of pedagogy don’t we yet know….but there is also the issue of Humanity. The human element to this debate is what has solidified the polarisation, but the human element is real and important. If the progressive agenda has been clearly present and enforced in schools and teachers have suffered as a result (and the behaviour of Ofsted in the UK is an example of this) there will be a backlash (and there has been). Is the Truth known in its fullness yet? No. At the moment we have two poles consisting of convinced adherents, and a large continuum of undecideds between them. Both poles would be well advised to remember that persuasion of the undecideds is the aim, and that satire and irony, and insults, do not achieve that.

  7. Re: Andrew Smith (teachingbattlground)

    I think your own post is more relevant than my own reply (see point 24, How to Argue For Progressive Education – Lie.)

    http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/how-to-argue-for-progressive-education/

    No other comment is necessary.

    • Educating about educating inevitably leads to tedium, particularly as so much of it is done by those that were never too good at it.

      Shouldn’t the ongoing whine for evidence begin with some evidence for the ‘traditional approach’ or is ‘this how we’ve always done it’considered sufficient?

  8. Reblogged this on Carol's Learning Curve and commented:
    Cristina got 30,000 hits on this post 😉

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