Editorial: Taking no prisoners in teaching's guerrilla war

12th September 2014 at 01:00

"Why does the guerrilla fighter fight? The guerrilla fighter is a social reformer.he takes up arms responding to the angry protest of the people against their oppressors, and that he fights in order to change the social system." Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare (1961)

There is an insurgency in our midst. And like many of the most successful, it started with guerrilla tactics.

The movement is grass-roots, passionate, determined to achieve change. It is an umbrella group unified by one certainty: that the status quo isn't good enough. Even now, as the agitators stand on the cusp of greatness, the ruling classes don't really take this group of activists seriously.

I talk not of Alex Salmond's Yes campaign but of another band of plucky campaigners headed by a passionate Scot: ResearchED, which held its second annual gathering in East London last Saturday.

Designed to wrestle the education debate into the possession of classroom practitioners and to place discussion of pedagogy within a scientific framework, Tom Bennett and his merry band of comrades have moved with the lightning speed of the Viet Cong to challenge the entire structure of the established educational order.

Born less than two years ago, the movement has fed on a need that few education "experts" recognised. In its use of social media to build critical mass, its proponents bear comparison with the young idealists of Tahrir Square.

It has been amazing to watch it blossom and - while retaining a degree of journalistic neutrality - to gently encourage it. For these are teachers not cowed by authority; these are teachers with opinions they want to be heard.

Part of the beauty of such revolutionary movements is their atomised nature. Their urgency doesn't allow for structure or elections. No one voted for Tom Bennett or his comrades, just as no one cast a ballot for Charles De Gaulle until long after the last collaborator had been tarred and feathered. Not for Tom or Charles the dogma of protocol or consultations.

Hooray for ResearchED and the Twitterati. Action this day!

There is, of course, a "but". History gives us a few pointers on traps that these change-agents need to avoid. The most significant is to resist the urge to formalise your structures and, ultimately, govern formally. That way leads either to tyranny or defeat dressed up as pragmatism. Just ask Fidel Castro or Gerry Adams. Influencing the powers-that-be is much more effective than being the powers-that-be.

They must also avoid the trap of infighting. It was refreshing to watch at ResearchED as neo-trad teacher-blogger Andrew Old and progressive teacher-blogger Francis Gilbert chatted amiably. I don't want to look on in a year or two and see these two scrapping over the metaphorical Libyan oilfields.

Ultimately, and most importantly, ResearchED must avoid becoming a cult or an echo-chamber - it must remain open to new ideas and people. Nobody wants ResearchED to become the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. And I don't want to have to write an editorial comparing Tom to Kim Il Sung.



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