Why you should stop labelling yourself a Trad or a Prog.


Labels are a useful way of identifying things, particularly if you want to find them again. At school, you beg children to label their clothing to avoid the huge pile of smelly articles that need sorting at the end of each term. However, they are far less useful when used to describe yourself or others. 

Back in your box

Labels put people in boxes. Once they are in a box you tend not to look too closely at them, they are mixed in with all the other people in that box and you assume that they are all alike. Your interest in them is limited, you think you know them already and you stop being curious about them, you stop connecting. When they say something or write something, you dismiss it because it is from a person in a box that you don’t agree with.

Alternatively, you assume that everyone who labels themselves the same as you do is on the side of the angels and you should listen to everything they say and nod and agree. This is dangerous because it encourages group think and limits your personal growth and development.

Labels convey absolutes, things that are difficult to remove once a decision about that label has been made.

Labels are messy

Labels become self-fulfilling. You have all taught children who think that they are terrible at something. Because they have labelled themselves in this way they struggle to overcome the challenges they face. They expect failure and as a result, often do.

This is true for adults, you become more fixed in your behaviours. Your brain tells you that something either is or isn’t an appropriate way of behaving or doing something according to the label that you have. It can be quite stressful trying to behave in a manner that is consistent with this internal view of yourself and limits growth potential as a  result. You have a comfort zone created around this label and you stay firmly within it. Stepping outside to try something that doesn’t fit with this label is hard. I can’t do that, that’s what a Prog/Trad would do.

Labels create division

Labels are often given to those who are “not like us”. It is a form of othering and often used to unite groups of people to do battle against others. They are the enemy, they must be fought and resisted. It is often used by leaders of groups to unite people in a common vision and direct them towards the purpose of achieving that vision. This can be useful in the short term, but when directed towards people rather than ideas is damaging. It entrenches positions and prevents effective dialogue, both sides of the battle line stop listening to each other and focus on nit-picking, and one-upmanship.

There is an “I am better than you” approach to these kinds of arguments as a result and they descend into a competitive farce as everyone scrabbles for ‘evidence’ that proves their point. Labels become words of derision to use against each other.

The effect of this division is potentially far more damaging that many of you are willing to acknowledge. While you argue pedagogy and semantics, you are divided against real threats to the education system, which come from a range of directions. The architects of those threats certainly delight at the divisive nature of the dialogues that happen. What really matters?

The Truth is out there...

Instead of trying to outperform each other and put each other down, put aside the striving for dominance. Work on a project bigger than yourself. Listen to others without judgement, without politics and reflect. The true power to change education for the better comes not from the knowledge that you have but from the connections and networks you develop. There should only be one tribe in education. That of educators.

Twitter isn't real life

It really shouldn’t need stating, especially after all the work teachers do in school around social media use. There are a tiny minority of teachers using the EduTwitter space and many of those are gathered into tiny echo-chambers that just reflect their views back at them emphasising the “rightness” of their personal views. The Cult of the Trad/Prog.

Take a break, walk away, have a conversation away from the 280 character limit, it might surprise you how much you have in common with each other. Even now in these Covid limited times, you can communicate face to face (Zoom is pretty good for this). You are all looking for the most effective way to teach the individuals in your class.

Just be a teacher.