Why the traditional/progressive debate won’t go away.

A lot of people claim the traditional/progressive debate is boring and worth putting to bed. Most teachers, it is said, use a mixture of methods. I would probably agree with this. I describe myself as broadly traditional, but this does not mean I never do any group/pairwork, even project work occasionally. I am a great believer in school trips and I see nothing wrong with building on any prior knowledge or skill a pupil brings to my lesson. So you would expect me to be on the side of those wishing to deny the debate.

However, when I think I might do so, I come across a parody of “traditional” education. See the following link:


I fully accept the author’s right  to draw up a humorous parody. Anything which raises a smile is worth doing. Yet, however amusing, it makes me reflect that for every parody of traditional education, a similar parody can be drawn up of progressive education. Here is my version:

Another hole in the wall

Welcome to the Smiley and Fun Centre. You are about to embark on a Voyage of Discovery – leave your desire to be taught things at the door. Understand that your teachers (learning facilitators) are learners like you and this is a learning journey together.

We have drawn up a list of guidelines. Perhaps you could help us by drawing pictures to illustrate them?

1. Collaborative working is at the heart of the Smiley and Fun Centre. Any attempt to work quietly as an individual will be gently admonished. You will be encouraged to value anything, provided it is not mere knowledge, which after all will soon be out of date. Your progress in terms of friendship and being nice to each other will be measured at all times so that data can be produced and gold stars given in “celebration of niceness” assemblies.

2. Your teachers will use only child centred methods. These methods, originally tested at William Tyndale Primary School in the 1970s and since brought up to date for the 21st century, have been scientifically tested for maximum innovation in a play-based system. Any leaning facilitator (teacher) caught using alternative methods will be retrained before academic contamination occurs.

3. We gently discourage use of the following words: academic, serious, rigorous, knowledge, practice, thorough, educated.

4. You will spend part of your day talking about your feelings. Any feelings other than total happiness are unacceptable – simply feeling OK will not do. Should you not feel 100% happy at any point, trained counsellors will be available to give support and guidance.

5. We feel that reading is only acceptable if the book is judged to have a sufficient number of pictures. The maintenance of creativity is essential. Creativity is usually only achieved when the author has used as few words as possible.

6. Synthetic phonics is not encouraged. There is no time for that kind of thing. If we were to allow such things, before we know it, children  from ordinary backgrounds would actually be learning to decode words and reading what others have thought and said. Remember: imagination is more important than knowledge.

7. Anyone suggesting that seating children in rows  might be an efficient seating arrangement will be subject to an intensive pedagogical retraining programme. Any suggestion of this kind falls below our expectations and the person making it will be excluded from the Smiley and Fun Centre until they show sufficient remorse.

8. You will decide what, if anything, you want to learn. Should you express a desire to be taught something via direct instruction, it will be made clear that this is a poor choice and you will be gently steered to play based learning. The Lead Facilitator of Learning and Innovation, who is up to date with the latest techniques, will decide how you learn. Only child centred methods are acceptable (see Rules 2 and 7).

9. Your learning facilitators will spend a lot of time decorating the classroom to ensure that your attention does not become fixed on something for too long. After all, that would be boring!

10. In the Smiley and Fun Centre we are interested in where you came from and what you want. Your context and background are important to us and will determine your learning pathway. We understand that certain subjects and topics are irrelevant to people from certain backgrounds. 

You may now enter.

If it raises a smile, it’s worth doing!

This entry was posted in Pedagogy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why the traditional/progressive debate won’t go away.

  1. suecowley says:

    Thanks for the mention.

    (Although just to point out that this 3 year old blog post wasn’t actually about the trad/prog thing – I don’t think I’d even heard of the trad/prog thing 3 years ago as I hadn’t long been on Twitter back then. It was actually about government education policy.) But in any case, happy half term! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s