Heterodoxy:

A “Positive Learning Environment” is Irrelevant

"Teachers should promote a positive and encouraging culture in the classroom." Why?

It can apparently be demonstrated that contented cows yield more and better milk. However, it is by no means as clear that happy students learn more than unhappy ones. Indeed, a recent report suggests that indiscriminate use of praise in the classroom reduces student achievement because it leads them to believe that mediocre work is really excellent and lowers their aspirations.

Lozanov's/Smith's theory of "accelerated learning" argues that relaxed students are more susceptible to learning, but examination of the claim reveals a very impoverished view of learning, principally at the level of memorisation. Hebb (and Apter) among others suggest that there is an optimum level of anxiety which promotes learning: students who are too "laid-back" are just as unlikely to learn as those who are terrified.

At the heart of this assumption is the self-indulgent and individualistic notion of the primacy of personal feelings. Any cursory glance at TV documentaries on military training will show that this is not the only possible position. Many of the most prestigious training institutions also reject it. See Turow's (1977) account of his first year at Harvard Law School. The theory of cognitive dissonance supports what appears to have been a Victorian attitude to schooling—"the tougher it is, the more you will value it."

Hargreaves (1972) includes in his taxonomy of teachers the category of "teacher as entertainer"—the kind of teacher who believes that students will learn as long as you make learning "fun" enough. Learning is not mindless "fun": even Carl Rogers recognises its ambivalence. It is hard work. It does not have to be miserable work, but any denial of the work aspect inevitably compromises standards.

A "positive culture" within a learning group is an epiphenomenon—a spin-off—from the achievement of learning, not a route to it.  

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Doceo; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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