I’ve written before about how I used to think subconsciously that teaching in a school with poor discipline was a bit cool, and I suggested that maybe other teachers had had the same thought. One reader said they thought this was a poor argument since it attacked the person not the argument. I don’t think that’s right. I’ve read and benefitted from various articles of that nature, including “why I used to wear high heels but don’t any more” and “why I used to think I had to work part-time now I’ve had a baby but don’t any more”. People have many reasons for subscribing to ideas and I think it’s reasonable to discuss these. Anyway lots of people got in touch to say they had had a similar journey so there you go. 
Traditional things

A year ago I hadn’t heard of “traditional teaching ” and if you’d have asked me if I liked the sound of it I’d have said no. That’s because I didn’t like a lot of traditional things. I thought traditional was very uncool. 

Traditional English food: stodge alert! I’ll have sushi please. And I’ll eat it with chopsticks. 

Traditional wedding photos: paying good money to be immortalised standing stiffly next to my in-laws? I think not. 

Traditional decor: lol no chance, I’m going for Scandi/ mid century modern with a hint of Smiths memorabilia. 

Traditional family values: often used against equality so definitely not cool. 

Traditional gender roles: if you tell me to stay at home and cook I WILL DESTROY YOU. Not cool. 

Actually there were some traditional things that I did think were cool: three piece suits, old-fashioned studies lined with books… I don’t think I would have used the word “traditional” though. 

Other traditional things I liked included mulled wine and birthday presents. Still more I wouldn’t say I liked or thought were cool, but certainly saw as important. A good example of this is funerals. 

The Oxford dictionary gives the definition of “tradition” as:

 A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.

And “traditional” as:

Existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established.

In my opinion then, “traditional” is actually a completely value-free term. The goodness or badness, coolness or uncoolness of something being traditional is completely domain-specific. But it is often perceived as uncool

Cool and good

“Cool” is notoriously difficult to define, but I propose I that it is an observer- defined quality. That is to say, a person can consider an object or piece of music cool because they can observe it. But if a person is cool it is because others perceive them to be cool. A person cannot identify their own coolness. That would be uncool. 

“Good”, in comparison, I propose as a participant-defined quality. Thus a person can say their shoes are good, if they know them to be good for walking in. I would define good as something like “in accordance with the participant’s values/interests”. 

(I’m aware that this could lead to moral relativism, which I reject, but I don’t think such a conclusion is inevitable.)

It is thus possible for a thing to be both cool and not-good (bad). We can see this in the example of brutalist architecture, which many, including myself, consider to be cool, but which is by many accounts bloody awful to live in. For an example of good and not-cool, let us take my husband’s Crocs, which he assures me accord very well with his interests of comfort and durability. 

 In areas like policy and culture, we need to ask what is good because there are many participants. Here, cool is at best an irrelevance and at worst a disguise for some very bad things. 

Traditions as good and bad

Some traditions will be good because they have served humans well and lasted the test of time. Funerals come under this category. 

Some traditions will be bad because they have served a group of powerful humans over time. Into this group I put such ideas as “a woman’s place is in the home”. 

Some traditions will be bad because in the past there wasn’t the technology, infrastructure, resources, or ideas to do anything differently. I would put hanging, horse-drawn carriages and homophobia here. 

Some traditions are good simply because they are traditions, and they mark out the passing of our lives, they are familiar, and they are interesting. I class mulled wine in this group. And surprising no one more than myself, now I’ve got kids, Christmas altogether. 

Of course different people will have different views on what counts as good and bad. I read an interesting article by Michael Merrick about family values and it challenged my beliefs a lot. Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind” gives insight into people’s differing approaches to ethics and politics. Spoiler: most people you disagree with are probably not selfish baddies. But what I have learned from thinking about this is: 

1. I don’t like traditional aesthetics and I think they’re uncool

2. In matters that affect people beyond the observer, cool should not be a concern. 

3. There are some traditional activities, policies and values that I think are bad. 

4. Previously I have wrongly believed that uncool and bad map closely onto each other

5. Previously I have wrongly believed that traditional is a value-term, and that because I disliked many traditional things, traditional meant bad and uncool.

6. Some traditions are cool and some are uncool depending on your aesthetic

7. Some traditions are bad and some are good, depending on your values/interests. 

Maybe all of this was always obvious to everyone else, and maybe there are others who’ve had the same thought processes as me. Or maybe I’m wrong. But thinking is how we find new things, so I’ll continue. 

Traditional teaching

In the past I would have thought traditional teaching sounded both uncool and bad, because of the errors listed above. I would have tossed it in the same pile as traditional wedding photos and “get back in the kitchen” comments. 

To class traditional teaching as cool or uncool would be invalid as it affects many participants. So I must ask myself, do I class it as good or bad, in accordance with my values? 

I value equality of opportunity and the comprehensive ideal. I value state education as a means for a child of any background to have the best possible life. I value the marvels of human understanding and creative endeavour. 

So while traditional teaching is not cool, it is definitely, according to my values, good.