Tag: Ignacio Martín-Baró

The new neoliberal witch prickers and Academics Anonymous

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In February 2015, the characteristically intemperate David Cameron said that the Conservatives are waging an all-out war on mediocrity” in schools. In higher education, there is a drive to quantify the humanities and make them achievement-oriented instead of collaborative and intellectual.

This is a government that has already proposed a retrogressive, enforced segregation of pupils based on ability, setting inclusion policy back at least 30 years. This is also an attack on the very principle of inclusion. Conservative policies have always tended to establish and perpetuate social hierarchies, ranking and outgrouping. 

Neoliberalism has turned our society into one that seems to value only reductionist, deterministic, technocratic and instrumental modes of thought and methods that simply entail quantification and reduction of the diversity of human experiences. The humanities, social sciences and arts have been politically sidelined. Funding is being cut in universities. 

This jeopardises public awareness, stifles debate about issues of social justice and other important sociocultural concerns in education. It devalues subjective experiences, meaning, insight, understanding, interpretation, intention and a wide range of other qualities that make up what it is to be human. It’s a profoundly dehumanising economic framework.

In May, the government’s Higher Education White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, set out a rigidly economistic perspective, stating that “progress is found via choice and competition”, indicating the political aim to complete the process of neoliberalising our universities.

Will Davies describes the awful jargon in the document as “empty sloganeering” and “euphemisms for destruction” in his excellent article for The Sociological Review, in July. He also quotes Andrew McGettigan, who says: 

“This is a document that bristles with resentment towards the established university sector. One wants to ask: why do you hate universities so much? What exactly is the problem? It is sad to imagine the task faced by its anonymous Whitehall authors, almost certainly university-educated, perhaps in their late 20s or 30s with memories of university life still relatively clear.

Perhaps they chose a civil service career over more lucrative alternatives because they’d long been interested in politics or were attracted to the quirks and traditions of public office. The authors of this document would know that what they’ve written is bullshit.”

There’s more than a whiff of technocratic idealism peppered throughout the paper, with phrases like: “perfectly calibrated ‘satisfaction’ and fees, where every ‘incentive’ is ‘aligned’.”

As Stefan Collini has observed:

“It is the application of this [neoliberal market] model to universities that produces the curious spectacle of a right-wing government championing students. Traditionally, of course, students have been understood by such governments, at least from the 1960s onwards, as part of the problem. They “sponged off” society when they weren’t “disrupting” it.

But now, students have come to be regarded as a disruptive force in a different sense, the shock-troops of market forces, storming those bastions of pre-commercial values, the universities. If students will set aside vague, old-fashioned notions of getting an education, and focus instead on finding the least expensive course that will get them the highest-paying job, then the government wants them to know that it will go to bat for them.”

You can see clearly that the government regards universities as some sort of neoliberal sorting mechanism. It’s all part of the regressive positivist service: relentless measurement, rating and monitoring.

As Davies points out, “teaching” has been reduced: it’s just one more euphemism, like “provider” or “stakeholder.” He’s right. “Knowledge” is reduced to the status of commodity. Intelligence becomes private equity. Students are reduced to consumers. They are buying a neoliberal outcome: a possibility of more a comfortable place in a social Darwinist food chain. Pedagogy has been replaced by econometrics. In the government white paper, the word “competition” makes 47 appearances, “critical thinking” just the  one (and only as a “soft skill attractive to employers.”) It seems the humanities, arts and social sciences are missing in action.

The White Paper outlines that “we need to confront the possibility of some institutions choosing (or needing) to exit the market. This is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market.” Every institution will need “a student protection plan in place to prepare for the event of closure. In other words, it’s a Conservative neoliberal utopia of “creative destruction” through competition, nudging the exit of the “underperforming.” In other words, the Conservatives are telling us here that some universities will have to go. 

Anti-intellectualism

Michael Gove’s assertion that “people in this country have had enough of experts” indicates a virulent authoritarian strain of anti-intellectualism, marking the triumph of the irrational over the rational, prejudice over theoretical framework and hypothesis, and techniques of persuasion over empirical evidence. It’s prevalent in political discourse. Reactionary anti-expert sentiments arise most often whenever political dogma is exposed and challenged by experts and research evidence. What we are left with is the tyranny of ideology and the political anecdote. In this context the only objective truths that matters are the (almost supernatural) “market forces,” power and money. 

It’s crucial that there is an organised challenge to the corporate managerialists who have seized universities and subverted their purpose, transforming them into homogenous, subdued, and above all, controversy-free, managed enclosures.

Intellectuals should play a role in informing opinion and shaping debate, but those who have the most to contribute, especially to political debates and to shaping policy, come from those departments that are now on the danger list in many universities. This is partly because they don’t bring in huge amounts of money in research grants.

The government prefers a technocratic approach to public policy, founded on a pseudo-intellectualism that is concerned only with the escalating illogic of neoliberalism and narrow, dehumanising economic outcomes. Social psychology and public policy are replaced with private, cost-effective, experience-shrinking nudge, the diversity of the social sciences and any democratic dialogue with the public are increasingly submerged because of a prejudice for Conservative neo-positivism in social research and a narrow instrumentalist approach to economic outcomes, for example. These simply serve to fuel the circulatory, self-confirming neoliberal idiom of belief from within.

“Fascism combats […] not intelligence, but intellectualism  which is  a sickness of the intellect […] not a consequence of its abuse, because the intellect cannot be used too much. It derives from the false belief that one can segregate oneself from life.” – Giovanni Gentile, addressing a Congress of Fascist Culture, Bologna, 30 March 1925

Authoritarians (including fascists) often use anti-intellectual propaganda and public sentiment to oppress political dissent. It’s used to maintain political stability and a rigid social order. During the 1970s in Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, people were killed simply for being academics or even for merely wearing glasses (as it suggested literacy) in the Killing Fields.

In the Spanish Civil War and the following dictatorship, General Francisco Franco’s civilian repression, the White Terror campaign, killed an estimated 200,000 civilians, heavily targeting writers, artists, teachers and professors. In Brazil, the liberational and radical educator, Paulo Freire, was first imprisoned, then exiled for “being ignorant”,  he was an “international subversive” and a “traitor to Christ and the people of Brazil” according to the organisers of the coup d’ Etat.

O
n 16 November, 1989, the Jesuit rector of the Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and shot point-blank in his garden by an elite military squad. Five other Jesuit priests and educators, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were ordered to lie face down on the lawn and were brutally executed.

The Rev. Ignacio Martín-Baró was a liberational social psychologist whose research focused on the psychic conditions of living in a context of structural violence. The Rev. Segundo Montes taught anthropology with a view to the effects of social stratification and the displaced victims of the civil war. The Rev. Amando López Quintana was the chairman of the philosophy department but worked weekends as a parish priest and championed a mass-literacy campaign, like Paulo Freire. This is because literacy was a prerequisite for voting. These were rare heroes, champions of liberation, equality and social justice, who died because their beliefs and practices challenged the established order and power structure.

Those who value education really should read Freire’s Pedagogy Of The Oppressed.

Here in the UK, we are witnessing a different, much less directly brutal kind of political silencing. It’s more of a psychic war. There is a diminishment of critical thought and counter-narrative, involving the undermining of intellectual standards within learning and public discourse which tends to trivialise meaningful information, culture and academic standards. Such a “dumbing down” disguises the intellectual complexity of issues, controversies, perspectives in a debate and arguments presented, reducing controversy to oversimplistic soundbites, at the expense of factual accuracy, meaningful depth and rationality.

It’s difficult to see how the government can make any claim to “extending choices” for students in such a repressive and ever-shrinking context.

There is diminishing political support for the arts, cultural studies, literature, social sciences, politics, philosophy and history in a neoliberal context. Yet many of these subjects incubate fertile and radical critique and conceptually frame crucial public debates. Radical voices are being silenced, alternative narratives are being erased, intellectuals are being ostracised. In a functioning democracy, scrutiny, critique and debate regarding the state is essential. Without these, we become at best a managed democracy; its mechanisms and processes a mere facade.

Being Conservative with the truth

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'”.  Issac Asimov 

 Anti-intellectualism has always performed a strategic Conservative ideological function – which is to shield the status quo from systematic criticism. 

Edmund Burke, the philosophical founder of modern Conservatism, favoured an anti-intellectualism which succeeded as a strategy of deterrence against radicalism; it became  the basis of a hegemonic strategy for the British elite establishment to strengthen and maintain their position. It’s been on the Conservative ideological cheat sheet ever since.

Burke’s ideology of anti-theory and “common sense” has been enormously successful. It’s become somewhat ingrained in our national character, yet his plea and his deep suspicion of theory and the abstract was nothing more than part of his philosophical defence of the ruling order. If anything, the last five years ought to have taught those of us with a commitment to progressive politics that we should steer well clear of sloganised rhetoric and the discourse of “common sense,” with its empty but glittering generalities. 

Of course Burke was a leading skeptic with respect to democracy. Although he admitted that theoretically, in “some cases” it might be desirable, he insisted a democratic government in Britain in his day would not only be inept, but also (strangely) oppressive. He opposed democracy for a couple of basic reasons. Firstly, he believed that government required a degree of intelligence, skill and knowledge of the sort that occurred rarely among the public. So, he was certainly an elitist on more than one level.

Secondly, he thought that if they had the vote, common people had “dangerous and angry passions” that could be aroused easily by demagoguery; he feared that the authoritarian impulses that could be harnessed by these passions would undermine the cherished traditions of Conservatism and established religion, leading to revolution and confiscation of property. Historically, the Conservatives have managed to make political dissent seem alien to the national psyche. The steep power and privilege structure in the UK is almost invisible to us, and difficult to question, precisely because it has become so normalised. Similarly, more recently, neoliberalism has become a doxa; it’s presented as a fait accompli – as common sense; the only possible way of political, social and economic organisation.

Justine Greening meet Paulo Friere. You know you really should.

Freire recognised that emphasis on individual characteristics are a result of social relations, and to view such individualistically de-emphasises the role of social structure and is responsible for the incorrect attribution of sociopolitical problems to the individual. Liberation education and psychology address this by re-orienting the focus from an individualistic to a social one. Using this framework, the behaviour of oppressed people is conceptualised not through intra-psychic processes, but as a result of an alienating environment.

Freire advocated authentic dialogue-based learning, where the role of the student shifts from object to active, critical subject. Freire heavily endorsed students’ ability to think critically about their education situation, this way of thinking allows them to recognise connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.

Realising one’s consciousness is the first step of praxis, which is defined as the power and know-how to take action against oppression, whilst stressing the importance of liberating education. Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then referring back to theory. Social transformation is possible through praxis at the collective level.

The key concept of liberation education and psychology is concientización: critical consciousness – a recognition of the intrinsic connectedness of the person’s experience and the sociopolitical structure. Freire believed education to be a political act that could not be divorced from pedagogy. Freire defined this as a main tenet of his critical “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Teachers and students must become aware of the politics that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers themselves have political notions that they bring into the classroom.

Freire attacked what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as a passive participant – empty accounts to be “filled” by the teacher. He notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.” 

In 1999, PAULO, a National Training Organisation named in honour of Freire, was established in the United Kingdom. This agency was approved by the New Labour Government to represent some 300,000 community-based education practitioners working across the UK (myself included). It was a platform also, perhaps surprisingly, for Blair’s re-democratising democracy programme, based on a dialogic democracy, and a recognition of the centrality of life politics.

PAULO was given formal responsibility for setting the occupational training standards for people working in this field, and was based on a revolutionary anarchist/Marxist model of critical education. Even outside of that political context, Freire’s collective works, and especially Pedagogy of the Oppressedhas huge value and merit as a direction for an approach to teaching which is based on self awareness, community awareness, political awareness, responsibility, critical thinking, creativity, dialogue and social solidarity, and not on manipulation and oppression.

The Tories, however, are unrelentingly authoritarian, and this is reflected in their notions of “education”, which are: “Raising standards (through “setting” and taking those segregated off record: the “disappeared”)… and restoring discipline – so our children can compete with the world’s best and enjoy a better future.”

So nothing at all there about developing human potential, personal development, social development or even building the fundamental capacity for critical thinking.

A person who has not had opportunities to think critically about social and political reality, but simply accepts it is thereby participating in the world in a way that has been organised and designed for him/her by others.

If being human means exercising choice and freedom, then such uncritical, passive acceptance means being less than human.

But Tories prefer us that way. They don’t like to extend equal opportunities.

Meet the new professional witch prickers

The following letter was originally published in the Guardian on 8 August, 2014. It describes the high and dry wind that blew in metricised competition, a mythology of pure instrumentalism, to be administered by a billowing, neologistic managerial bureaucracy

Dear leaders,

I address you as “leaders” because, for some reason (perhaps manager comes too close to rhyming with janitor for your liking), you’ve increasingly taken to styling yourselves in this way. How grand. How imposing. How spurious.

Leaders are followed. The capacity and willingness to drive people along with the use of the pitchfork of threatened redundancy or the flaming torch of disciplinary action does not make a leader and the mere fact that you so brazenly call yourselves leaders is evidence of the malaise that prompts me to write.

For the record, if you’re not Alexander, Napoleon, Monty or the modern equivalent you’re not really a leader. Be neither managers nor leaders. Be provosts, masters, principals, vice-chancellors, rectors, deans, registrars, bursars. How quaint. How medieval. How refreshing.

Some problems

I know you think I ought to feel insignificant, as a mere teaching and research drone. My saying any of this is, of course, in forlorn hope. You listen to us all, and ignore us all: very egalitarian; very democratic.

Dictators (elected or not) always ignore everyone who’s not a member of the ruling clique. You’re not collegial just because you go around addressing people as colleagues all the time. Actually, there’s an inverse relationship. The more you say it, the more you show that you don’t really believe it. You simply want secure fiefdoms for the members of your cliques at the expense of making others into vassals with even fewer rights than hitherto.

Everything is directed towards that end. You break your own rules and make it up as you go along to suit yourselves. There is no genuine collegiality, no trust, no sense of equality in a republic of ideas.

So, whether you’re elected leaders (as in older universities such as mine) or appointed, your currency is the same: ill-conceived change to entrench the interests of your cliques and for the sake of being seen to do something. It’s a simple truth, but lost on people who “lead”, that all progress requires change but not all change constitutes progress. There is such a thing as change for the worse and that’s what you’re presiding over. Take three examples:

  • Instead of standing up for the idea of the university against the league tablers you prefer riding the tail of that tiger – taking the credit when an institution’s on the up and making sure we catch the blame when it’s falling.
  • Seemingly, there’s never enough money… except when there’s more for new administrative staff: courtiers for the ruling clique.
  • And, of course, there’s money to pay for rebranding. (But don’t you realise that the only thing any branding consultant ever sells is him- or herself? They persuade the shallow-minded to think in their terms and sell the idea that they can unerringly influence others as well.)

Some solutions

1) Defend what we do against governments and other external interests with vigour and courage.

2) Don’t change for the sake of being seen to do something and don’t confuse change with progress.

3) Accept that the university is a community made up of all those who serve it, not your plaything; nobody can be sacrificed in your name.

4) Stay involved, but don’t interfere. (Although there’s more science in scientology than management science.)

5) Trust academics to do good work. (Almost all of them do.)

6) Favour principles, not rules, but follow the rules you have and stop letting power win over truth and reason.

7) Remember that culture trumps system.

8) Stop thinking and speaking in the terms given by the deadly triumvirate: pseudo-intellectuals, neo-liberals and technofuturists.

9) Never again use the word strategy: with whom are you at war?

10) Stop calling people colleagues until you’ve learned to mean it.

Yours,

Homo Academicus

PS. I’m sorry if I’ve written this in something too much like English for your liking, not enough “going forwards”, “high level vision statements” and so forth, but I still use words to reveal, not to obscure.

PPS. Are you remotely troubled that so many academics are resorting to anonymous writing/blogging to say these things?

Ren? Magritte, Golconde, 1953, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009  øðä îàâøéè, âåì÷åðã, 1953, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009

Golconda – René Magritte

This anonymous academic is a professor in the arts and has taught in universities and colleges in Scotland, England and Ireland.

If you’d like to contribute an anonymous piece about the trials and tribulations of university life, contact claire.shaw@theguardian.com.

 —

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Nicky Morgan proposes a retrogressive, enforced segregation of pupils based on ability

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 Every Child Matters, Labour’s flagship child protection and welfare policy, was scrapped in 2010, the day after the Coalition took office

 

As Social Darwinists, the Tories do like ranks, taxonomies, hierarchies, outgrouping and social segregation. Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, proposes to introduce compulsory “setting” according to pupil’s ability in secondary schools. Patrick Wintour reports in the Guardian that it’s expected Morgan will ask the education watchdog, Ofsted, to implement and enforce the measure, probably by making it a condition of receiving an “outstanding” rating. Ofsted is likely to be highly critical of the proposal.

I think this proposal tells us such a lot about Tory ideology. It would turn the clock back on inclusion 30 years, to a time when the idea of segregating children was acceptable, if this becomes policy. This is also an attack on the very principle of inclusion. The foundation of any progressive education policy must be settled on and work towards all schools being willing and able to include, value, support, care for and respect all children, in their diversity, including young people with complex needs that require additional support.

Diversity is a strength and a great learning resource – it shouldn’t ever be the basis for segregation and exclusion.

Schools may currently decide whether to put children into classes according to ability. The proposal to make it compulsory is likely to raise questions as to how the plan is to be enforced legally, since independent state academies were supposedly set up to be free of state control.

Setting according to ability for separate subjects is controversial since it helps those with high ability and tends to leave those with lower ability behind.

And with the Conservative’s emphasis on cutting funding, and their previous form, it’s unlikely that any meaningful support will be put in place for those children with “additional” educational needs.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Ofsted chief inspector, has been a firm supporter of setting, he said in 2012 that “bright teenagers fail to achieve top grades in some comprehensives because teachers insist on mixed-ability classes and concentrate on weaker students. Able children are being held back in some schools that do not tailor teaching, tasks and resources to stretch their best pupils.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “If Nicky Morgan is committed to closing the gap for disadvantaged children the last thing she should do is to divide children into ability sets and to use Ofsted to enforce this.

“This is educationally unjustifiable. The evidence is overwhelming that this practice holds back poor children, denying them access to an appropriately demanding curriculum. Any claim that Ofsted is independent of government ideology will be shot to pieces if the agency is required to enforce ministerial dogma.”

Research has indicated that overall, ability grouping benefits higher attaining pupils and is detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower attaining learners. On average, ability grouping is not regarded to be an effective strategy for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to be assigned to lower groups. Summer born pupils and students from ethnic minority backgrounds are also likely to be adversely affected by ability grouping.

The evidence is fairly consistent and has accumulated over at least 30 years of research. (I know of some studies that date back to the 1960’s.) Although there is some variation depending on methods and research design, conclusions on the impact of ability grouping are relatively consistent. It is therefore difficult to see this proposal as anything but an endorsement of discrimination, in light of consistent findings that those pupils labeled “less able” are being set up to fail.

Morgan fails to recognise that there’s an important distinction to be made: that a measure of “current attainment,” such as a recent curriculum test, is not the same as a measure of a child’s ability or of potential.

Furthermore, a strong body of historical research indicates that the allocation of children to bands and sets is often based upon inaccurate and prejudicial teacher assessments of pupils’ abilities and/or potential.

Working class pupils are disproportionately likely to be allocated to lower bands and sets for reasons unrelated to their educational abilities and potential. Furthermore, the consignment of some pupils to lower bands and sets is likely to affect their self-confidence and therefore to restrict their educational progress.

Social interaction theorists (from the 1960’s onwards) said that the processes of streaming, setting and banding involve the negative and positive labeling respectively of mainly working class pupils in the lower sets and mainly middle class pupils in the higher sets, which has adverse consequences for the educational prospects of the lower set pupils.

Hargreaves study – Deviance in Classrooms – of mainly white working class secondary modern school boys in the 1960s – demonstrated that low stream pupils were denied academic status within the school and that they therefore tried to regain status among their peers by rebelling, misbehaviour and unwillingness to work which led to the development of anti-school subcultures in lower streams. Paul Willis’s study, Learning to Labour, yielded similar conclusions.

Additional criticisms of setting, banding and streaming were made by Nell Keddie in Classroom Knowledge (1970) where she observed that an undifferentiated humanities course was delivered differently according to the sets of the students and that, for example, teachers chose not to teach the more complex, theoretical ideas to mainly working class, lower set students on the unfounded assumption that these students would not understand them.

In the 1950s almost all the schools in the UK were “streamed” – a process by which students are grouped by “ability” in the same class for all subjects. A survey of junior schools in the mid-1960s (Jackson, 1964) found that 96% of teachers taught to streamed ability groups. The same study also revealed the over-representation of working-class students in low streams and the tendency of schools to allocate teachers with less experience and fewer qualifications to such groups.

Students’ experiences of ability grouping have historically been disaffection, polarisation and the construction of failure. Low sets are correlated with low expectations and limited opportunities. It establishes self-fulfilling prophecies.

Labelling theory

“We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.”  Hildegard Von Bingen

Self-fulfilling prophecy is the behavioural confirmation effect, in which behaviour, influenced by expectations causes those expectations to come true. People react, not only to the situations they are in, but also, and often primarily, to the way they perceive the situations and to the meanings they ascribe to their perceptions. Sociologists often use the Pygmalion effect, interchangeably with self-fulfilling prophecy, and the effect is most often cited with regard to educational under-attainment, social class and race.

“When teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways. How we believe the world is and what we honestly think it can become have powerful effects on how things will turn out.”  James Rhem, executive editor for the online National Teaching and Learning Forum.

In the context of race, gender and class, negative labeling is often associated with  socio-political control mechanisms and prejudice. Stereotypes and labels estrange us from our authentic possibilities. The attributions and labels that people exchange on a symbolic level, also have the function of instruction or injunction, this function may be denied, giving rise to one type of “mystification”, rather like hypnotic suggestion.

It is argued that working class pupils are disproportionately likely to be allocated to lower bands and sets for reasons unrelated to their educational abilities and potential and that the consignment of some pupils to lower bands and sets is likely to affect their self-esteem, self-concept, and therefore to restrict their educational progress. So working class young people are written off as incapable of achieving, by the setting up of a frame of reference in which their failings are noticed and their achievements discounted.

Numerous studies have concluded that teachers, who themselves originated mainly from middle-class backgrounds, have often failed to assess their pupils’ academic potential objectively and instead have been very likely to assess students’ academic potential in terms of such variables as their appearance, language, social skills and social class background rather than in terms of their real intellectual abilities, with a bias towards judging working class children as being on average less intelligent than middle class children. It followed that where streaming, setting or banding systems were in operation, working class students were more likely to be consigned to lower streams, sets or bands even when in reality they often had very good academic potential.

Setting establishes an educational elitism which is based largely on class distinctions and not abilities, those labeled negatively are unlikely to progress onto further and higher education. That’s such a blatant repression of potential and opportunities.

It’s strange, isn’t it, that those who value orders and classes are always at the top of both?

Of course I can’t, in good conscience, leave this topic without a Marxist analysis.

Louis Althusser argued that the main role of education in a capitalist society was the reproduction of an efficient and obedient work force. This is achieved through ideological state apparatus – such as schools – used to augment the reproduction of class relations using insidious ideological machinations controlled by the dominant ruling class in the context of a class struggle, to repress, exploit, extort and subjugate the ruled class.

Schools are used for transmitting ideology that capitalism is just and reasonable, schools, for example, encourage competition amongst pupils, school hierarchies of authority train future workers to become submissive to authority.

The Hidden Curriculum

Bowles and Gintis’s research Schooling in Capitalist America (1976) supported Althusser’s ideas that there is a close correspondence between the social relationships in the classroom and those in the workplace, through the hidden curriculum . As a means of social control, the hidden curriculum promotes the acceptance of a social “destiny” without promoting rational and reflective consideration.

The functions of the hidden curriculum include: the inculcation of values, political socialisation, training in obedience and docility, the perpetuation of traditional class structure-functions that may be characterised generally as social control.”  Bowles and Gintis argue schools introduce the long shadow of work because schools create a hard-working disciplined workforce for capitalist societies. This process is essential for social reproduction – the reproduction of a new generation of workers schooled (disciplined) into accepting their role in society.

This occurs because school mirrors the workplace through its hierarchical structures – teachers give orders and pupils obey. Schools are a microcosm of society, too. Pupils have little control over their work – a fact of life in the majority of jobs. Schools reward conformity, punctuality and obedience and are dismissive of independence, critical awareness and creativity – this also mirrors workplace expectations. The hidden curriculum is seen by Bowles and Gintis as instrumental in this process.

Schools reflect and justify social inequality – they legitimate the Conservative myth that everyone has an equal chance – those that work hard deserve the top jobs, these people deserve their superior rewards – this is the myth of meritocracy. It is in this way that inequality becomes normalised and justified. However Bowles and Gintis argue that rewards in education and occupation are based not on ability but on social background. The higher a person’s class or origin the more likely they are to attain higher qualifications and a career.

Besides family background and income differences, other determinants such as race and gender do contribute to differences in educational attainment. Bowles and Gintis conclude that the educational system is a gigantic myth-making machine which serves to create and perpetuate inequality, and by emphasising IQ as the basis for economic success, the educational system legitimises an authoritative, hierarchical, stratified and unequal social system, it manufactures the myth that those in powerful positions in society deserve their positions and financial “rewards”.

IQ testing is an intellectual cul-de-sac that does not reflect skill and talent

IQ testing is culturally specific. It tells us nothing more than how well people perform IQ tests. Traditional studies of “intelligence” based on IQ tests, which have drawn links between intellectual ability, race, gender and social class, have led to highly contentious claims that some groups of people are inherently less intelligent that other groups. But that betrays a thinking of intelligence as a fixed, innate ability, instead of something that develops as a process in a context.

Intelligence isn’t something we have, it’s something we learn to do. 

But this is the kind of government that would have children learning their times tables by rote, which is just so very century before last. This approach is based on a view that students are passive objects, rather than participating subjects, in the learning process. It seems that Conservatives are incapable of learning from historical policy failures. And the many sociological studies that were instrumental in formulating more effective education methods in the late 60s and 70s.

Rote learning is a way of bypassing critical thinking and understanding-based learning. And creativity. It’s founded on a “jugs and mugs principle” – an authoritarian-styled learning process, where teachers “fill” the pupil with facts and it’s not remotely about democratic engagement and participatory, dialogic learning. It turns students off, disengages them, excluding them from the learning process.

Children being ranked and labelled is extremely problematic – each of us is complex, with such varied, developing and ongoing talents, aptitudes and preferences, and it seems that any one number purporting to quantify our intelligence must be grossly misleading in every case, as well as providing nothing more than a snapshot of limited and specific task performance.

The right are obsessed with the taxonomic ranking of human beings based on superficial characteristics. They have no interest in the depth of “who” we are, but only the surface appearance of us – the “what” we are.

IQ testing originally evolved from the eugenics movement. The founding father of eugenics was  Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Over the course of Galton’s varied career, he not only codified the “science of eugenics” but also pioneered psychometry as a tool for measuring people’s “intelligence” and determining whether it would be best for them to breed or not. Galton coined the phrase nature versus nurture and identified the trend of regression towards the mean, though his original term for this was reversion towards mediocrity. So long as “unintelligent” people were allowed to reproduce freely, mankind could never rise above its “native mediocrity”. What a wretched, oppressive, repressive and right-wing view.

Charles Murray’s New Right treatise on the white, male elite supremicism

I read the The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life  (1994) by psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein and American political scientist Charles Murray in the 90’s, and it filled me with utter despair. Funded by Conservatives in the States, the book was simply a neo-eugenic narrative masqueraded as “academic study”. Murray justified the status quo by claiming poor people, and especially ethnic minorities, were of lower intelligence than white middle class citizens, and that this was largely genetically determined.  

Bob Herbert, writing for The New York Times, described the book as: “a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship.Others, including Noam Chomsky, have pulled this cheap right-wing pseudo-scientific catalogue of prejudices apart most thoroughly, ever since.

Challenging what he deemed to be “educational romanticism”, Murray, a darling of Thatcher and Cameron, wrote Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality. His “four simple truths” are:

  • “Ability varies.”
  • “Half of the children are below average.”
  • “Too many people are going to college.”
  • “America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.

In a paper published in 2005 titled Where Are the Female Einsteins?  Murray  the charmer stated, among other things: “no woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions”. 

Murray advocates educational exclusion and social oppression for the majority of pupils. He has been a “academic witness” before United States congressional and senate committees and a consultant to senior Republican government officials in the United States, and of course, Conservative officials in the United Kingdom.

From the ranking, banking model to a democratic, dialogic model

So, is there an alternative education model?

Yes. One I have worked with myself, (as a community worker and informal educator), and it’s based on liberation psychology. It’s far more about critical thinking, egalitarianism, creativity and inspiration than formalised teaching permits.

The genesis of liberation psychology began amongst a body of psychologists in Latin America in the 1970s. Ignacio Martín-Baró is credited as the founder of liberation psychology, and it was further developed by others. Of particular interest here is the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, and one of the key concepts of liberation psychology is concientización: critical consciousness – a recognition of the intrinsic connectedness of the person’s experience and the sociopolitical structure. Freire believed education to be a political act that could not be divorced from pedagogy. Freire defined this as a main tenet of his critical “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

Teachers and students must become aware of the politics that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers themselves have political notions that they bring into the classroom.

Freire attacked what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as a passive participant – empty accounts to be “filled” by the teacher. He notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.” 

Freire recognised that emphasis on individual characteristics are a result of social relations, and to view such individualistically de-emphasizes the role of social structure and  is responsible for the incorrect attribution of sociopolitical problems to the individual. Liberation psychology addresses this by re-orienting the focus from an individualistic to a social one. Using this framework, the behaviour of oppressed people is conceptualised not through intra-psychic processes, but as a result of an alienating environment.

Freire advocated authentic dialogue-based learning, where the role of the student shifts from object to active, critical subject. Freire heavily endorsed students’ ability to think critically about their education situation, this way of thinking allows them to recognise connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.

Realising one’s consciousness is the first step of praxis, which is defined as the power and know-how to take action against oppression, whilst stressing the importance of liberating education. Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then referring back to theory. Social transformation is possible through praxis at the collective level.

In 1999, PAULO, a National Training Organisation named in honour of Freire, was established in the United Kingdom. This agency was approved by the New Labour Government to represent some 300,000 community-based education practitioners working across the UK (myself included). It was a platform also, perhaps surprisingly, for Blair’s re-democratising democracy programme, based on a dialogic democracy, and a recognition of the centrality of life politics.

PAULO was given formal responsibility for setting the occupational training standards for people working in this field, and was based on a revolutionary anarchist/Marxist model of critical education. Even outside of that political context, Freire’s collective works, and especially Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has huge value and merit as a direction for an approach to teaching which is based on self awareness, community awareness, political awareness, responsibility, critical thinking, creativity, dialogue and social solidarity, and not on manipulation and oppression.

The Tories, however, are unrelentingly authoritarian, and this is reflected in their notions of “education”, which are: “Raising standards (through “setting” and taking those segregated off record: the “disappeared”)… and restoring discipline – so our children can compete with the world’s best and enjoy a better future.”

So nothing at all there about developing human potential, personal development, social development or even the fundamental capacity for critical thinking.

A person who has not had opportunities to think critically about social and political reality, but simply accepts it is thereby simply participating in the world in a way that has been organised and designed for him/her by others.

If being human means exercising choice and freedom, then such uncritical, passive acceptance means being less than human.

But Tories prefer us that way. They don’t like to extend equal opportunities.

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Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone


 

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