In beginning to think about the characteristics of a well-conceived education system, one which may require change to the current system, we first need to begin by reflecting on what education is. This is important as experience suggests that education is a concept which is used to mean different things by different people. An example of this is the relatively frequent argument made by some teachers on twitter that ‘educational research is often a waste of time’ because it doesn’t focus on the concerns of teachers and their practice in the classroom. This demonstrates a particular positioning of both research, and for the purposes of this current reflection, education itself. It suggests that for some, education is synonymous with schooling. In some ways this might not be particularly surprising; successive English education secretaries have decimated wider notions of education, and have focused solely on schools, colleges and universities. This might be due to the purposes successive secretaries of state have assigned to education. Under New Labour the purpose of education became handmaiden to economic growth; under subsequent Conservative administrations, Michael Gove and Nick Gibb (the real power behind the department once Gove had left) both saw education as a generator of social conservatism and traditionalism. In both cases, such aims could only be realised through certain channels within education, hence the defunding of a wider spectrum of activities, such as community education. Over an extended period, politicians successfully narrowed the national perception of education to cover only formal education (i.e. structured, systematic education which is formalised by the state and which covers the core elements of education which take individuals through their learning from perhaps 3 or 4 years old, to graduation or completion of training through apprenticeships).
However, this is a very narrow description of education. An alternative is to see education as encompassing a range of activities and processes which stretch from the cradle to the grave; it sees education as a tangle of processes through which we learn in a wide range of contexts. An example of this might be community-led learning through informal projects such as allotment societies or groups who teach each other how to repair and upcycle old furniture. Here, those taking part are doing so because they have a keen interest and motivation to learn a particular skill, or develop an area of understanding and expertise beyond the core process of schooling and FE/HE. Where learning activities are provided to help people grow beyond the formalised structure of schooling/FE/HE it is described as non-formal education.
Beyond both formal and non-formal education occurs the ongoing emersion we experience through being part of a family, a community and a society. In the contact we have with other people, and even other species, we learn from conversations, dialogues and experiences which all add to our learning. This might include the insights a child gains from listening to the life experiences of a grandparent, or the way in which a child shows their grandparent how to use an app on their mobile phone. In these cases, learning is spontaneous and is not focused on but is the by-product of interaction and experience.
These different ways of defining the contexts and processes of learning are important in aiding us to begin to think about how widely or narrowly we wish to define education as a concept. If we wish to keep it narrow, and only include formal education, what are the processes which occur outside of this narrow sphere? If we include these wider processes what implications are there for the processes and position of formal education in relation to this more holistic context? I’ll reflect on these questions in my next post.
There is a quote in a book I read a few years ago which has stayed with me a long time and which I think about often. The book is called The Neoliberal Subject: Resilience, Adaptation and Vulnerability (Chandler and Reid, 2016) and considers a critical exploration of resilience – it’s a fantastic book, and no doubt at some point I’ll add a review of it to this site. The quote which I have mulled over time and again is this
‘Dominic Colas has shown how the liberal war on humanity’s psychic powers of imagination has effectively entailed the will to pathologize all political utilizations of the imagination as fanatical and mad (Colas, 1997).’ (Reid, 2016:19).
The reason I have turned this quote over in my mind so many times is the result of what I have observed, and at times been involved in debating (and at times arguing), on social media when discussing education. Since the rise of the Conservative party to power in 2010 there has been a radical and often vitriolic shift in the education system. In my opinion this has been a shift from a very imperfect system developed under New Labour, to a different imperfect system, one which at times is both incoherent and detrimental to the well-being of some of the children who are a part of it.
No political party has ever created a perfect system, and there will always be debate and disagreement, but the last decade or so in England has been characterised by a period where anyone who suggests education might look different to the State sanctioned narrative have been presented as either fanatics who want to see children fail, or as generally just mad, unable to see the common sense and evidence before their eyes that the government’s view of how education should be micromanaged is patently wrong. And much of the vilification, sometimes dressed up as ‘banter’, has come from a loose confederation of teachers, turned consultants (for the most part) who suggest that any deviation from a narrowly defined set of cognitive perspectives, aligned with a particular way of seeing things like curriculum, are by definition selling children short, are lacking in any evidential base, and are generally to be sneered at.
This blog, as it emerges over time, is a space I want to use to pursue an imaginative process, one which asks lots of questions, perhaps begins to answer some of them, but hopefully opens up new ways of seeing, imagining and thinking, for myself if no one else!
As the static pages on this website suggest, I am coming at this process from a particular perspective, one based on a mixture of process philosophy and complexity theories and will mix evidence and insight from lots of different directions, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, economics, education, organisational sciences and even cognitive sciences to name but some. The blog will also cross paths with the other two blogs I’ve started on this same site – one on general musings about change, and the other summaries of things I’m reading or watching/listening to which I think are interesting. The blog will hopefully have a general direction, but will meander along the way as I try to navigate the ideas and interests which will emerge as I think through this main question - if I imagine change in education and navigate that imagination, what might my idea of education end up looking like?
This is a blog which hopes to explore and navigate a different way of doing education