The siren call of progressive ideas

I decided to dip my toes into the world of ITT one more time by going to an interview today. I’m still not convinced it’s what I want to do at this point, but I thought it was worth exploring. Part of the process involved a group discussion with other potential trainees, and I was struck yet again by just how much traction progressive ideas about education still seem to have among the young generation of people entering teaching.

When asked ‘Which is more important, skills or knowledge?’ the youthful candidates without exception opted for skills. Another popular idea was to ditch stand alone subjects and have cross-curricular teaching. It all had the whiff of ‘21st century skills education’.

What is it about these ideas that make them so alluring? I should confess that, before ever thinking about becoming a teacher, I watched a Ken Robinson TED talk that was shared by a Facebook friend, and was taken in by the apparent optimism of his vision. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t buy in to the idea that education can be fun, not boring, that it can have a futuristic element to it that sets you apart from the old fuddy duddies, and that by learning transferrable skills, you can be equipped to face any challenge that comes your way. It’s a potent brew.

Nobody really wants to hear that mastering your subjects at school involves hours of deliberate practice. There’s nothing particularly appealing about arguing that regular tests, lots of reading and writing, and (God forbid) some memorisation are key to academic success. How boring is that? Explicit teaching sounds very old hat. And as for sitting quietly in class, what an infringement on our students’ individuality and self expression! Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some magic pill that assured our success without having to toil as many of our forbears did at school? How lovely if our school day could be sprinkled with Glee club moments of singing and dancing. If 21st century skills education could deliver the desired outcomes so painlessly, I’d want that magic pill for myself!

The truth is, there are no magic short cuts. And it’s time we realists preached that message a little more forcefully.

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