I’ve been on Twitter a while, but only been actively involved in the various “great education debates” over the last few months. I’ve learnt a lot and had many fantastic, constructive dialogues with people from all over the spectrum. Obviously though, things have not always been pleasant or rosy.

One of the things which really irritates me has been the consistent and widespread conflation of traditional education with right wing politics. Sometimes it is simply an innocent misconception. Other times it is outright rude and on one occasion I was informed that Michael Gove was my father (which came as quite a surprise). Last night, I had a discussion with someone who thought it was “funny” that people who wrote teaching and learning blogposts about the most effective ways to educate people from low socio-economic status never spoke about about the current cuts to education. The conflation of educational and political philosophy is rife.

Does traditional teaching necessitate right wing politics and vice versa?

I am a traditional teacher – and proud to be so. I am also a proud lefty. I should not need to prove my credentials but in recent elections I have voted Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat. Hardly a Tory shill.

Most importantly, I like to think that I am a traditional teacher because I am a lefty. I believe that everyone, regardless of their background, should be able to access society at any level. I believe that a highly effective way to achieve that is by transmitting the cultural goods of society; its finest discourse and mores. I also believe that our cultural and intellectual goods are the right of all citizens, whatever their backgrounds.

I do not believe that rich people were born rich because their parents somehow worked harder; earned their wealth. I do not believe that poor people should be philosophically or practically bound to a cycle of poverty. And, once again, I believe that the most effective way to level the field and to pass on society’s goods is through traditional teaching.

But traditional teaching is the darling of the Right!

This is true. Gove and Gibb certainly favour a particular style. But I don’t see how this is connected at all to economic, foreign or health policies. Some Conservative education policies are clearly particular to RW politics, such as academisation (free market engines) and grammar schools. Gove’s war with the unions was certainly characteristic of a RW mindset. But a person who wants students to have knowledge of “the best of that which has been thought and said”? I don’t see the connection between that and RW politics.

I could be wrong

I could be wrong; both about methods and philosophy. I certainly used to have very different ideas about the purpose of education and the best methods by which to achieve that purpose. But even whilst I was running whizz-bang group exercises featuring inquiry, discovery and higher order thinking skills my politics were still left wing. The two are not related, and if I ever went back to my halcyon days as a progressive NQT I don’t see how my political beliefs would change.

The worst from of whataboutery

The accusation levelled at those who have not been seen to condemn the cuts is, in my opinion, outrageous for a number of reasons:

  1. It is ad hominem; it addresses the person making the argument rather than the argument itself.
  2. It is ignorant; just because you haven’t seen someone do something doesn’t mean they don’t. For example, I spend a lot of time on Facebook arguing economic policy with my RW friends. I don’t do much of that on Twitter.
  3. It ignores the fact that individuals are entitled to focus on one issue at the extent of others. No-one can be involved in everything. When I post about what I think are good ways to teach, I am also not posting about an infinite number of other issues. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about them or think they are important, it just means that my particular focus is elsewhere.

You aren’t poor, so you have no right to an opinion

It was also argued (and I have seen before) that traditional teachers argue their case from a fundamentally middle class perspective which invalidates their position. Even if it were the case that all traditional teachers grew up wealthy (they didn’t) I do not see how the conclusion follows the premise.

I doubt your motivations!

During the discussion on Twitter, the original poster said that they doubted the motivations of people who do not write about cuts. This is grossly unfair and logically unjustified. Absence of evidence is far from evidence of absence, and it is not for you to judge my or anyone’s motivations in such a wilfully unfavourable light.

Hanlon’s Razor and judging favourably

As an Orthodox Jew, I carry many of our ancient teachings into my daily life. One is dan et kol adam l’chaf zechut: to judge everyone favourably. If you see someone doing something which you wouldn’t normally approve of, assume that there is some context which explains it. Always assume the best, not the worst, in people. The more witty version of this is Hanlon’s Razor; to never attribute to malevolence that which can be adequately attributed to ignorance.

In short, stop assuming the worst in people. I can choose to assume that we are all here with the same aim; to do right by our students. I assume that, because we all want the same thing, our dialogues can be fruitful and mutually beneficial. Until someone conclusively proves to me that they are more interested in self-promotion and aggrandisement, then that will continue to be my assumption.

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