This paper aims to provide a critical discussion and re-evaluation of the Personal Growth (PG) model of English, noting that the summer of 2016 marks 50 years since the Dartmouth Conference and the publication of John Dixon’s seminal response to the conference in Growth Through English (1967). The influence of the London School of English was reaching its height at the time with its emphasis on the development of the individual student, the importance of identity, the fundamental role of talk and the rejection of the importance of studying only the traditional literary canon. Dixon argued that PG needed to replace the previous “models” of English, one being “skills”, and the other “cultural heritage”. So strong was that influence that in 1988, the model of “Personal Growth” was one of the five identified by the authors of the first National Curriculum for English in England; it was placed first in the list, but the authors argued the five models were “equal” (the other four were “Adult Needs”, “Cultural Heritage”, “Cross-curricular” (CC) and “Cultural Analysis”.
Survey-style research begun in 1990, then throughout the next 25 years, mostly in England but also in the USA. It has investigated the views principally of the classroom teachers of English about their beliefs about the subject and also their views of official versions.
These investigations have demonstrated the importance of all the models (except CC, considered by English teachers to be a model for all teachers), but always the primacy of PG as the key model that matches English teachers’ beliefs about the purpose and value of English as a school subject and argues for the demonstrable, yet problematic, centrality of PG.
Any survey has limitations in terms of the sample, the number of returns and in the constraining nature of questionnaires. However, these surveys provide consistent results over nearly 30 years and have always encouraged respondents to offer qualitative comments. Surveys always have a value in providing an overview of attitudes and feelings.
English teachers remain convinced that student-centred progressive education offers the most valuable form of English for all students and they find themselves profoundly at odds with official prescriptions. This unquestionably has a damaging effect on teachers’ motivations and can lead them to leave their profession.
The paper provides a careful rereading of Growth Through English, so often simply taken for granted, and represents its key, neglected arguments in the more balanced 1975 edition. It provides research-based evidence of why the PG model remains central to English teachers and how the international discussions of the Dartmouth seminar still stimulate new thinking, for example, at the 2015 International Federation for the Teaching of English (IFTE) conference. The paper outlines why PG has been so resilient, and also, partly based on data from the 2015 IFTE conference, argues for a future model of English, which is based on PG but with a more critical and social dimension.
Goodwyn, A. (2016), "Still growing after all these years? The resilience of the “Personal Growth model of English” in England and also internationally", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 7-21. https://doi.org/10.1108/ETPC-12-2015-0111Download as .RIS
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