What is tradition?

Despite all my reservations I decided to “do Twitter” some time ago. I am totally surprised that it provides such a great virtual community both professionally and personally. Though the two often merge. As in real life. That is not to say that I agree with everyone and everything and they certainly do not always agree with me. But that is life and freedom of speech and freedom of belief are at the heart of life. As long as we all have the right to disagree and challenge and to make our voices heard and to be kind and tolerant and respectful.

Starting a blog has been a great surprise  – so many people reading it in the first place, agreeing and disagreeing but actually whichever way you look at it, giving me the time of day.

The thing that has surprised me most is that I sometimes upset people. I do not set out to do this and I never post anything that I would not talk to someone about face to face – ideally over a cup of tea and a piece of Victoria sponge. Of course 140 characters is limiting and it is easy to inadvertently get things wrong. If that happens I am quick to apologise. Sometimes with humour – youngest child syndrome never goes away!

But last weekend I posted a tweet that lead to a bit of a Twitter spat involving quite a number of people. My instincts, because I can also be a bit of a wimp and I was full of birthday Victoria sponge, was to let it go. But the writer of the original blog and some of her followers seemed genuinely interested in what I had objected to.

Here is the original blog


So I waited, thought and reflected. Knee jerk is not good.

The original blog seemed to me to imply that many, many schools – and I suspect state schools though to be fair these are not actually mentioned – were the focus here but I may be wrong – are more or less devoid of tradition/s. I assumed state schools only because 93% of our children are educated in them…..And that this parlous state of affairs has been brought about by left wing radicals who do not want our children to enjoy the richness of fantastic traditions. This are the quotations that lead me to my judgements about this article.

“Left wingers railed against privilege while stripping schools of those very features that gave richness and worth to school communities.

“There is open rejection of the wisdom that led to the teaching of subject disciplines, valuing knowledge for its own sake, handing on the thoughts and ideas that make us civilised, make us human.”

“Educationalists in their ivory towers casually dismiss rigorous academic teaching as well as the sports days and prize-givings as elitist.”

I am surprised that any one really thinks that left wing radicals whoever they are ( I have never met one but I do know lots of deeply caring, sensible and traditional left wing people – and lots of deeply caring, sensible and right wing people should anyone be interested)  have that much influence in how schools run their traditions. So I thought that I would just point out what I know to happen in thousands of schools across the country in terms of traditions. The things that give children pride in themselves, their school, their families and the whole community. The things that are open to everyone and often involve everyone and go way beyond the taught curriculum. it may be an eclectic mixture but here are some:

Choir, orchestra, debating society, gospel choir, swing band, clubs of all sorts from chess to fishing, too many to list, annual Eisteddfod (from Wales despite having an  Irish name!) sports clubs, teams, school productions, the Christmas plays, nativity and otherwise, PTA activities, reading groups, brass bands, carol concerts, November 11th two minutes silence, hockey, cricket, football, netball, rugby tournaments…

I could go on and on but I just want to maybe get people to think about we mean by “tradition” and that we have to embrace new traditions as these are all part of our society. When I was an LA adviser I loved being invited to Diwali celebrations, nativity plays, world culture and Language events TAFAL (Teach a Friend A Language) one of the best new traditions EVER bar none. Contact me if you want to know more! I had no idea of the voting patterns of staff in these schools and would not have wanted too. But they were all immensely  decent people and visionary leaders. I use the term leaders for all teachers in this case. Leading by example not by political whim or education fashion of the season.

Actually I rather liked the opening paragraphs of Heather’s blog and was completely taken aback when what had started as a description of a seemingly very lovely tradition turned into an attack on “left wing educationalists in ivory towers” wanting to destroy young people’s aspirations and deny them great experiences.

So what I objected to was what I perceived to be a somewhat accusatory tone and that the writer was making assertions that in my experience are simply not true. What was the evidence base for all of this? I know where and how I have seen all that things that I mention actually happening – from my own school days to now.

I, and I suspect most of us love traditions. Although there are some we don’t like and don’t want to or do not have the capacity or in my case the talent to take part in personally – I really don’t like Bonfire night and I cannot do Irish dancing as I am so clumsy.

I hope this answers some questions. If it does – great. If not we will have to agree to differ but at least we have had an open and I hope courteous exchange.


4 thoughts on “What is tradition?

  1. There’s definitely no shortage of tradition here. It was the annual Camp last week, and it is Harvest Festival tomorrow. Next week there is a Halloween Party to raise funds. At Christmas there will be the regular very traditional Nativity Play (to be fair, I could do with a bit less Baby Jesus, shepherds, etc. but I appreciate that they like to recycle the costumes and respect their choice to go down the traditional route). I don’t know if you saw this blog where I tried to explain how traditions can be celebrated and developed at the same time: https://suecowley.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/era-uma-vez/

    I have to admit I’m quite enjoying my break from the hurly burly of Twitter. After a while I find the ‘I’m right therefore you are wrong’ arguments get a bit wearing. 🙂 xx

  2. Hi Carmel,
    Thanks for taking the time to explain your thoughts in a blog post.
    I could perhaps begin with a clarification. It was interesting that so many people assumed I was explicitly criticising the state sector compared to private when I wasn’t. I see many heads in the private sector currently ripping out traditions and to me these seem like acts of indefensible vandalism. Your tweets suggested you thought I would disagree that there is any value placed on tradition in the state sector and again that is not so. You will probably find the MOST traditional education in our school system offered in SOME independent schools but there is enormous variation in both state and private.
    The ideologies of liberalism and conservatism offer opposing positions on tradition and community. The left/right continuum is well understood but those, like myself, more interested in a debate along the conservative/liberal continuum can be easily misunderstood. Those who have a vision of how society can be transformed for the better and believe this can be achieved through schooling are expressing a liberal perspective which is by definition opposed to tradition. Those educationalists that, when abolishing grammar schools, also abolished the traditions that went with them, believing they could do better from scratch, had a faith in human reason that runs entirely contrary to the conservative instinct. A belief in the importance of tradition from a conservative perspective means much more than ‘doing a harvest festival’. It is the deep set disposition to prefer the tried and tested to the unknown, to prefer evolution over revolution and to distrust grand blueprints for change as these may do more harm than good. It is grounded in an acceptance of human weakness which runs counter the liberal faith in human reason.
    While I have no doubt that many schools have some ‘lovely customs’ I think this tends to be quite superficial window dressing in a school system much more influenced by the liberal instinct to tear down and build new and better. I can no more prove that there is ‘not enough’ tradition than you can prove there is an adequate amount because this is subjective/ideological. I think Sue (and possibly you) would share my dislike of school managements that ignore the fact schools are institutions made up of humans, not pawns to be manipulated in some great design. Such an instinct is (small c) conservative. Such conservatism has been found in the Labour and Conservative Party historically but it is because I see Labour as now dominated by the liberal left that I find myself unable to support them. I am supportive of the communitarian ideas articulated by the Blue Labour movement.
    I recently heard of a school, a Sports College, that had hired a proper track for their sports day for a few years. Last year they decided a financial saving needed to be made and the sports day was held on the school field. This meant none of the previous school records could be continued. Perhaps the management thought that they ticked the tradition box in other ways (no doubt they would vociferously claim they ‘do tradition’) but no management that actually values tradition in the full meaning of that word could have made such a decision. You don’t ‘do’ tradition it is something that evolves. If that SLT appreciated just how wrong that decision was but genuinely had to make cuts they could almost certainly have raised funds to allow the practice to continue.

    1. Hi Heather – I am sure there is much we agree on. I am certainly in the left rather than the right but I realise these days that politics and values are sometimes difficult to extricate from each other. That is – I am fairly sure I do not share the politics/voting patterns of my neighbours and yet these people living in our street and with whom we get on fantastically well share so may of the same values as us. And these are all founded in fairness and courtesy and freedom. Now as a reasonably affluent and educated person it is probably easy for me to take this stance. But what I am saying is that the older you get the more you realise there are “good” Righties and “bad” Lefties and unless we talk to each other and listen then all we do is alienate each other. Does that make sense? I hate the tick box culture, the clip board and sharp suits approach to running a school, the acronyms that now jump out from every corner and the let’s measure anything approach!

      Thank you for taking the time to engage so fully. The 140 characters may have started us on the wrong foot but were it not for Twitter we would never have had the luxury of exploring these issues informally.We may not agree but I am sure we would defend each other’s right to express ourselves publicly and honestly – and of course to expect challenge!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s