Banishing the Past in Teacher Training

Since I had been aware of the progressive ideology emanating from universities before starting my course, I picked up on the anti-traditional bias from start. During the induction week for new trainee teachers, for example, our course coordinator told us to put aside any preconceived notions we might have about what constitutes a good teacher. She advised us not to fall back on positive impressions of teachers from our own school days. It seemed to me that this was a pre-emptive strike against any inclinations we may have to favour traditional teaching. She knew that Irish education has until recently remained fairly conservative and that we thus may be favourably disposed towards conservative education, having benefited from it ourselves. She was thus subtly priming us to reject this legacy: yes, you may have benefited from traditional teaching, but this style is no longer an option, she seemed to be suggesting.

The coordinator proceeded to get herself into a bit of a muddle, though. She went on to sing the praises of one particular Irish-language teacher of hers who used to do lots of grammar, translation and rote memory work. He even inspired her to go on to study Irish at university. She used his example when speaking of the impact good teachers can have on students. After speaking so glowingly of him, however, she then had to qualify her praise with an an obligatory warning against his conservative style. While his style may have been suited to the era and worked for some students, she said, ‘you could never teach like that nowadays’.

This is a prime example of the kind of cognitive dissonance that exists among progressive educators who have benefited from a conservative, knowledge-rich education themselves. Since their own positive experience doesn’t fit their progressive ideology, they have to reject their own heritage of traditional schooling and seek to deny others the fruits of such an education. They know that the caricature of repressive, authoritarian teaching is largely false and yet they go along with it. Since ‘old-school’ education is closely associated with the Catholic Church in Ireland, progressive educators seem to believe that putting an end to traditional education is a necessary part of the wider process of cleansing country of the Church’s toxic legacy.

Another highly ‘progressive’ reason that our coordinator opposed the traditional educational system is that it is apparently a legacy of British colonialism. She said that the school uniform was a colonial imposition, implying that it should therefore be abolished. But rejecting something based on its ‘imperial’ provenance is ridiculous. By this logic, should we abolish parliamentary democracy and Georgian architecture, since they are both relics of British rule? This scorn for the past also betrays a mistrust of Irish people: did previous generations of Irish people not choose to adopt and maintain school uniforms and the grammar-school curriculum, seeing them as effective educational tools?

While bashing the old system, our coordinator made snide remarks about Irish people being backward and frustratingly resistant to change but that there are ‘signs of hope’ that progressivism is taking hold. She said this self-deprecatingly, but to me, her patronizing attitude towards conservative Irish people along with her promotion of progressive fads from abroad are indicative of an inferiority complex, which is ironically a legacy of the colonial era.

In fact, most Irish secondary schools dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were founded by religious orders, not the British. The religious orders provided a quality education at a time when political leaders were too preoccupied with trying to establish a viable independent state to deal adequately with education. In any case, no matter where it came from, our knowledge-rich and exam-based school system is a valuable part of our heritage and we should do our best to preserve it and not reject it simply because it does not accord with the progressive worldview that sees conservative institutions as inherently bad. Why would we scrap our valuable educational inheritance if it has served previous generations well and has been found to be well above average in international comparisons like PISA?

The edu-blogger Anthony Radice recently tweeted: ‘It’s not so easy for consultants to get away with peddling tripe nowadays. They have to ask themselves how many bloggers are in the audience’. Well, no longer is it easy for educationalists to get away with peddling tripe on teacher training courses. Luckily I can go to the traditional edu-blogospere when I need an antidote to the hyper-progressive ideology being propagated on my course. I have also found some like-minded trainee-teachers with whom I share subversive blogs and who were relieved to discover that they are not alone in their misgivings about what we are being taught.

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