Queen Mary made the doleful prediction that, after her death, you would find the words ‘Philip’ and ‘Calais’ engraved upon heart. In a similar vein, the historians of futurity might observe that, in the early years of the 21st century, the dread letters “R.I.” were burned indelibly on the hearts of many of the teachers of Britain.
In a characteristically iconoclastic post, blogger Requires Improvement ruminates on those very same words that he adopted as his nom de guerre: R.I. or “requires improvement”.
He argues convincingly that the Requirement to Improve was, in reality, nothing more than than a Requirement to Conform: the best way to teach had been jolly well sorted out by your elders* and betters and arranged in a comprehensive and canonical checklist. And woe betide you if any single item on this lexicon of pedagogical virtue was left unchecked during a lesson observation!
[*Or “youngers”, in many cases.]
But what were we being asked to confirm to? Requires Improvement writes:
It was (and to an extent, still is) a strange mixture of pedagogies which probably didn’t really please anyone.
It wasn’t (and isn’t) prog; if a lesson has a clear (and teacher-defined) success criterion, it can’t really be progressive. Comparing my experience as a pupil in the 1980’s with that of the pupils I teach now, they are much better trained in what to write to pass exams, and their whole school experience is much more closely managed than mine was.
Equally, it wasn’t (and isn’t) trad; if the lesson model is about pupil talk, or putting generic skills above learning a canon of content, it can’t really be traditional teaching.
I think that Requires Improvement has hit the nail squarely on the head here. What we were being asked (and in many schools, are still are being asked) to do is teach a weird hybrid Frankenstein’s monster of a pedagogy that combines seemingly random elements of both PRogressive and trADitional pedagogies: PRAD, if you will.
As C. P. Scott said of the word television that no good could come of a word that’s half Latin and half Greek, I feel that no good has come of the PRAD experiment.
While many proponents of PRAD counted themselves kings of infinite pedagogic space, congratulating themselves on combining the best of progressive and traditionalist ideologies, the resulting unhappy chimera in actuality reflected the poverty of mainstream educational thought.
But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted.
— David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
Rather than a magical wingèd lion that breathes fire, PRAD is a stubby-winged mishmash that can’t fly, can’t lay golden eggs, and that spends its miserable days hacking up furballs. It is time to put it out of its misery.