“The important thing, from the point of view of libertarian education, is for the people to come to feel like masters of their thinking by discussing the thinking and views of the world explicitly…” Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970.
Schools have radiators in them. They also have drains. As everybody knows, the radiators overheat the place and are full of noxious oils; whereas the drains remove unwanted effluence. As teachers go, I see myself as more of a high-tech Japanese toilet. From time to time, I will remove unwanted ideas, but I will endeavour to sing to you whilst doing so, squirting lavender scent into the air and thanking you for your business.
I will not make a straw man of current CPD and INSET: more and more teachers are getting involved with collaborative projects and TeachMeets, not to mention using social networks such as Twitter and the excellent @Staffrm to share resources, ideas and research.
That said, there are still times when I find myself sitting through presentations, arms folded, legs crossed; the body language of an aloof cynic; thumbing my nose (cocking my snook) at what I feel to be the next, short-lived thing that will take up much of my time with the simple act of changing.
I understand that there are times when party lines need to be towed; and in busy working environments, there is often little time for genuine dialogue on deeper matters; but wouldn’t it be glorious if, from time to time, in the tradition of great democracy, we could actually debate the fundamentals of our pedagogy?
What if, once in a while, instead of scheduling SMT-mandated INSET, we presented staff with a motion (‘This house believes…’) and gave members of staff debating positions (proposition/opposition), access to research resources, and time to develop an argument? It might sound like a frivolous act, for which we have little time, and to which clear outcomes could not be attributed. But, by God, it would be fun! The chance to get to the heart of the matter; to get closer to the truth of something together, rather than by reading the words of others (or watching televised debates between politicos with interests that often conflict with our own).
You might go to see debates at TeachMeets and at various excellent conferences, but there’s nothing like preparing and conducting your own debate. In our English classrooms, debate is often the pinnacle of purposeful communication and the application of deep thinking. Why not apply it to our own practice?
Between two dichotomies (two positions) lie nuance. Arguing between the two we get closer, collectively to this nuance. And I believe that nuance is truth.
So, let’s debate:
- This house believes that (THBT) critical thinking is not possible without knowledge.
- THBT phonics is the best approach to teaching reading.
- THBT inference is not a skill.
- THBT teaching assistants are under-utilised.
- THBT an ill-informed promotion of Growth Mindset does more harm than good.
You might choose to use the Education Endowment Foundation Teaching & Learning Toolkit to form the basis of your debate topics. I would also recommend IDEA as an excellent web resource for getting started with debating as a discipline. Finally, if you need a quick and simple template for framing your speeches (thereby substantially reducing your colleagues’ fear of public speaking, here you are.)
By airing these often difficult arguments (in an organised fashion) we give ourselves the rare privilege of grappling with the very issues that balkanise professionals and sometimes dehumanise our processes. Put simply, through debate we may come to articulate the complexity of compromise, coming to live more easily with the ambiguities that rest between two fundamental(ist) positions.
Thank you for your business. I hope that you enjoyed your time in my cubicle. You will find quilted paper to your left.
Now wash your hands.