Riffing on MacLennan: The Two Solitudes of Education

After participating in today’s Twitter conversation (#bcedplan) with the Minister of Education, I’m more convinced than ever of the two solitudes in modern education.

The ascendant group is made up of the so-called progressives. They seem naturally drawn to modern technologies, and, as a result, are over-represented on Twitter. The other group, what we might call the traditionalists, are very under-represented on Twitter.* And there were very few traditionalists participating in today’s discussion.

This is a shame, because most of the changes in the Ministry of Education’s EdPlan are currently geared towards the secondary level. In my experience, most of the teachers at the secondary level believe in the importance of direct instruction, and therefore might loosely be described as quasi-traditionalists. They also tend to ascribe to the liberal arts ideal, an ideal that is at odds with much of the “21st century” rhetoric . Yet I don’t think these teachers realize the severity of the changes that appear to be coming.

I see the two groups as solitudes because, whenever I talk to people in either camp, they react with incredulity as I describe the other side. There is, shall I say, a certain incommensurability between the two sides. Showing documents and dialogue (from official documents, Twitter or blogs, for example) doesn’t change things. Surely these people aren’t representative? When I suggested today that the average mid-adolescent is not driven by an innate love of learning, many progressives were incredulous. How could you disrespect kids so much? Of course, I believe I see these adolescents – who are very different from seven year-olds – in a realistic light. That is respectful.

But I digress.

My chief point is this: we better get past the point of incredulity, or education reform will be wrecked on the rocks. We need to get past the vacuous slogans that seem to dominate education reform, and understand that people in the trenches care deeply about kids. However, that care, especially at the secondary level, is based upon a very different perception of human nature and society.

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*[I’ve commented before about my strange identity as an education “traditionalist”, given I normally list to port!]
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