Tag Archives: debate

What’s the purpose? What are our values?

I was delighted to discover Pedagoo. Scotland badly needs a dose of teacher activism. CfE is a golden opportunity to transform classroom practices in Scotland’s schools, but it is threatening to become a damp squib, as many teachers worry about the risks of innovation and play safe. Developing more active forms of pedagogy is a major part of CfE, and it is really good to see teachers seizing the initiative and helping each other to develop and share new practices.

However, I also worry slightly about the potential for narrowness – a reduction of education to pedagogical techniques. History shows us that great ideas can quickly become reduced to formulaic practices. AifL is a case in point. The early work of this programme was about process – teachers working together with key principles to produce new practices. A lot of the practices that emerged from AifL and its counterpart south of the border (e.g. sharing intentions, traffic lighting, show me boards) started life as techniques designed to achieve particular purposes. In phase two of AifL (the national roll out), they morphed into ‘required’ techniques to be utilised in every lesson. In the process they became disconnected from purpose.

So my view is that Pedagoo is a really worthwhile initiative – it is great that pedagogy is at the heart of new educational practices. But let us also keep in mind a number of associated issues:

  • First, pedagogy should always serve an educational purpose – a key criterion should always be fitness for purpose. Thus, for example while cooperative learning might be excellent for sense-making and developing social skills, it is perhaps less well suited for getting over new concepts. Here, didactic teaching may be better suited.
  • Too much of the modern discourse about learning – what my colleague Gert Biesta calls the ‘learnification of education’ – focuses on learning in a decontextualized way. We also need to ask ‘what are we learning?’ and ‘why are we learning it?’. Pedagogical techniques may be useful for developing skills, but knowledge – what the educational sociologist Michael Young calls ‘powerful knowledge’ – remains important. We need to be clear about what knowledge young people will need to become effective citizens in a complex world, and make sure that we teach it.
  • Let us not forget values here. Education is a value ridden enterprise. My view is that teacher activism should be firmly underpinned by a strong sense of values. My own preference (and this is of course contestable) is for values based upon social justice (e.g. closing the achievement gap in secondary school identified by the 2007 OECD report on Scottish education) and democracy. The adoption of such values will determine how we develop pedagogy – for example, a desire to enhance democratic participation by young people will inevitably involve pedagogy that encourages genuine decision-making by students. It will preclude classroom practices based upon authoritarian power by teachers.

It is my firm view that, by articulating clear values about education and by having a good sense of educational purpose, organisations like Pedagoo will be well placed to challenge predominant and narrow discourses based upon attainment, effectiveness and accountability – discourses that are currently proving to be so damaging to education in the UK and elsewhere.

So let’s keep the focus on pedagogy, but strengthen the message through clarity of value and purpose. Let’s have a debate about these issues. And let’s position Pedagoo as a Scottish equivalent of the influential US group, Rethinking Schools (http://www.rethinkingschools.org).