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Are we refusing to learn from lockdown?

By 8th May 2020Blog

I keep seeing observations about what we should be learning from lockdown. I have even been involved in discussions about it and all of them appear to have one thing in common – no one seems to have changed the views that they had before they went into whatever form of quarantine they are currently enjoying/enduring. All of which makes “are we refusing to learn from Lockdown?” a fairly pressing question.

How is this playing out in education?

 My focus is on education where no one seems to be collecting evidence in any balanced and coherent way. What we seem to be doing is collecting supportive anecdotes and confirmatory observations. Everyone’s views seem to be being reinforced, rather than challenged through lockdown. We seem to be in tribes, progressives, traditionalists, techies, whatever and the most important thing appears to be supporting that tribe.

I was part of a really good conversation with a group of generally “progressive”, educational trainers, writers and thinkers. The meeting involved a number of colleagues from other countries or, other systems. There was a very helpful exchange of information. I am sure that everyone involved emerged better informed than we were when the meeting started. Nonetheless, the rough summary of the meeting tended to focus on points that would have been made as a result of a conversation between the same group of participants before, during and, I suspect, after the ravages of Coronavirus have passed, even if only temporarily!

That might be because these colleagues were right before the current situation and were having their views justifiably confirmed by their experience. It could also be partly due to the tendency that many of us have to look first for confirmation, rather than contradiction. It might also involve an element of using the lens of opinion to examine the narrative of what is happening.

Is it only the “progessives”?

 Whatever is happening with my colleagues, it seems to be echoed by a whole range of others. Even a casual visit to Twitter will make clear that people involved in Educational Technology are finding that it is the lifeline for those attempting to learn at home. Indeed, it is such a lifeline that we need to be doing more through educational technology once lockdown is over, because, after all, things will never go back to the way they were. We will all need to do things differently in the new post-Corona world.

Oddly enough, more traditional colleagues are finding their position absolutely reinforced by what is currently happening. Some are convinced that the need for school uniform remains vital in the home and that successful learning will be dependent on the donning of a blazer or, at the very least, a tie. Others seem equally clear that the disciplinary systems of school will need to be an essential element in home education. Presumably all of these views are being reinforced through the lockdown experience, at least for those who hold them.

The same is true for approaches to instruction where the need for direct teaching is being continually reinforced by what is apparently happening in homes across the land. All of this makes me question how we know all of this.

Do we have evidence?

 In my last blog – “Why are we talking about reopening schools?” – I talked about reports, that I had heard from contacts in Home-start, of really positive experiences that some families were having through lockdown. An argument could be built on this that young people and their families might be putting a greater value on learning, that their well-being was likely to be enhanced and they were likely to be better disposed to learning on their return to school. I am pretty sure that, if one were to make such an argument it would be rebutted very quickly by those who are hearing different reports of the lockdown experience. Undoubtedly these reports are there to be made. The massive increase in referrals to Women’s Aid and the increasing incidences of domestic abuse make clear that there is a huge variety of experiences for our young people.

A valid question?

 I think that this validates my question. Why are we not trying to learn systematically from lockdown? Is it impossible for us to have any research that might capture the anecdotes and observations in some more careful way that might translate them into useful evidence? Why is this not the subject of much wider discussion?

I am sure that part of the reason is that too many of us are overly infatuated by certainty. Arguments seem to be for winning, rather than a means of exploring ideas and learning. Too often we seem afraid of curiosity.

Another perspective

 There is a wonderful quote in Johnathan Rowson’s article, “Cultural Indigestion”

“…. the ambient pressure to choose a tribe and say “yay” or “nay” to the issue of the day is the problem that obstructs meaningful progress. We are building division within people that is culturally muted, while amplifying the divisions between people that are reinforced on a daily basis. Broadcast media selects guests with opposing views to get “both sides” of an issue, as if they were coins. Oppositional identities, in which we define who we are by what we are against, become the defining characters in public debate. We are rarely allowed to be curious but disinterested. Instead we must pick a side: Are you left or right, atheist or believer, with us or against us? This kind of ambient divisiveness is part of what Rowan Williams calls “the meta-crisis” of our times; namely how ecological, economic, social, and political crises are compounded by the limited and harmful ways we encounter, conceive, experience, and discuss them

(Williams, 2016).[xxxviii]

In terms of learning from lockdown, perhaps we need to break from our tribes and unite in an effort to learn

Alison Cameron

Author Alison Cameron

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