The Reconciliation of The Debate (Is it possible? Is it desirable?)

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about how important debate around the distinct philosophies of teaching has helped me. I’ve had some really positive responses to it, but I thought it particularly pertinent that a large number of people echoed my experiences of watching and taking part in the debate. By way of showing the extent of the debate and how it has helped shape a number of teachers’ understanding of their practice, I thought I’d share some of the tweets where people claim to have undertaken a similar journey to me. I think this shows how important and useful the debate has been.

There have been some really thoughtful blog posts on this topic too:

Can a false choice be an object of research? by Greg Ashman

Varieties of boredom by David Didau

Boredom by Toby French

Dangerous Conjectures by Horatio Speaks

Shutting down debates by Rory Gribbell

The Unexamined Life by Phil Stock

In the last of these links, Phil Stock expertly draws our attention to the importance of the “insights that can emerge from holding two opposing ideas in tension.” Phil also alludes to the way that many teachers who dismiss the debate actually try to reconcile the two philosophies – he notes how people say things like “one day I am traditionalist and another I am progressive”. As Phil points out, this confuses methods and philosophies, but a wider point that we might draw from it is that some see the goal of the debate to reconcile these ideologies. Indeed, if they claim to be bored of the debate and to have moved on, as Anthony Radice points out, the assumption is that they have managed to reconcile them:

If this is the case, I would dearly love to see someone – who positions themselves as having moved on from the debate – write about how they have reconciled these two competing philosophies. At the moment, I follow Phil’s opinion that holding these opposing ideas in tension is where the power of both of them lies, but I’d be incredibly interested to read, from any commentators, about the reconciliation of progressive and traditional education philosophies.

As you can see from the tweets above, I am confirming my own biases that the debate is useful. This is a genuine open request to challenge those biases. Over to you.

4 thoughts on “The Reconciliation of The Debate (Is it possible? Is it desirable?)”

  1. James, has anybody contacted you telling of moving the other way?

    I am in my 50th year of teaching and have kind of renconciled things or perhaps I am just restlessly ambivalent. Judge by my blogs. (

  2. Both posts have been insightful and thought provoking.

    I was late to teaching having been a manager in industry until 1994. I studied teaching in Further and Higher Education full time for a year and then taught in FE. Following a spell in Dubai I took a full time PGCE to teach in secondary which I then did until 2011 at which time I went to Abu Dhabi. My teaching journey has been varied.

    In 2 years of full time teacher education I had never come across the terms “traditional” and “progressive”. I was given access to a number of techniques which would now be classified as being in one or the other camps. I was always told that different approaches would be needed in different situations which still informs my teaching.

    I use direct instruction with as much gusto as an traditional teacher when appropriate. My teaching, which is always informed by detailed learning outcomes is probably 90% knowledge and understanding and using knowledge to solve problems. I use group work when I think it best and focus on analysis and evaluation skills when necessary and this often helps with the acquisition of knowledge.

    I find the “traditional” vs “progressive” debate useful but very limiting. I cannot understand why anyone would sit in one of these camps only but I accept that people say that they do and achieve good results.

    The debate for me is about many many issues, approaches and ideas of which the debate between trad and prog is but a small part. I try to look for evidence whn trying new things and tend to use again those things that I have found to be successful, even if the evidence from experts such as Hattie etc tell me that this method does not work.

    For me getting hung up on trad vs prog is too limited in scope but does throw up the odd opportunity for enlightenment and is therefore useful.

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