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what government can do for education - part one

much of politics is about getting elected, some of it is about doing something worthwhile - and then there’s the show-biz

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Bill Law
15 January 2014

Bill Law
the career-learning café

asked to suggest a university mission statement, a philosophy
   professor suggested ‘analysing concepts for our region’

urban myth?

Philosophy poses the most basic of questions - ‘what’s going on?’, ‘how do we know?’, and ‘why does it matter?’.  They often-enough need some kind of answer before anybody does anything about something.  The trouble is that they rarely get quick-and-easy answers; they get what the professor calls ‘concepts’. 

My shot at seeing how educators work on such questions is set out in an account of what educators can do.  It shows a lot going on, much of it is based on little more than opinion, and all of it is fiercely contested. 

Politicians also lay claim to similar what-how-why questions - they need to say what they’re doing, how they go about it, and why it’s a good idea.  This blog takes a look at the opportunities they grasp, the connections they make, the options they find, the complexities they navigate, and the gains they make.

It can’t be a quick and easy read; nobody can deal with it in one take.  But nobody needs to.  So scan the pages to find what your work can act on.  Skip what looks as though it can safely be ignored.  Then figure what sort of political support education on your particular patch needs.  No two are the same.

But mark this: one of the reason why proposals don’t deliver is because something else needed to be done first.  And that sometimes means recovering the at-first-ignored and making it the now-reconsidered.

I somehow doubt that the philosophy professor’s suggestion galvanised those bosses into reconsidering the organisation’s mission statement.  But educators don’t need a script; this is a range of starting points for thought and action.  

Like earlier blogs, each step suggests action by students working with their educators, and by the stakeholder groups representing local interests in education.


on mood

Phrases like ‘sea-change’, ‘its time has come’, and ‘cometh the hour’ reflect a belief in the importance of political timing.  It’s an ability to shape and catch a nation’s mood.  It’s still about what, how and why to make a move - but it's also about when.

Good timing can be no more than piggyback opportunism - today’s headline becomes tomorrow’s ‘what teachers must do!’.  Politicians quickly learn not to waste a crisis.  Managed well, good timing can transform a minority myth into a majority belief.  This is not recommending that.

But clever political timing sees education as a happy hunting ground for claims that politics can improve electorate's lives.  And the claims often turn out to be ignorance of what has already been tried and discredited.  Doesn't this mean that educators must get involved in understanding the mood they're dealing with?

But it can't mean following any socio-political consensus.  The search here is for durable springs for sustainable action.  Like philosophy it's searching for underlying realities, for their reliability, and for their value.  So how do we attract a contrary mood's interested attention in that?  The way things are changing makes that an interesting question for educators and their studetns - and vital to how they learn from each other.

  • 1.    starting points

Globalization and the transformation of the national political space... - research-based, detailed and challenging account of a root-and-branch political mood-change - it points to a failure of dominantly bi-partisan politics - in Europe that win-or-lose mentality takes too little account of diversifying political priorities - first-past-the-post systems neglect the experience and interests of a wider and growing range of interests - this research identifies emerging fissure in political thinking - it shows how proportional representation makes that diversity of interests more visible - the UK system is argued to be inadequate in this respect - the changing mood requires the repositioning of political parties and the reshaping of political processes - it would mean that what have been dominant ideas might not now necessarily prevail

local stakeholders can give voice to neglected interests because those needs are most visible in the locations where they are most experienced 

Neoliberalism - sociologist’s account of a prevailing economic ideas - it attracts support for an image of a person who is free-standing in a market place, where the individual must accept responsibility for the choices she or he makes - such thinking is widely embraced by global commerce, which is in a position to get agreement and compliance on a world-wide basis – the thinking feeds not just into commerce and policy but into the organisation of all helping activity - education is increasingly becoming market driven - this account tracks the neo-lib history, sets out its theory and examines its philosophical underpinning

if educators and their stakeholders find no way around neo-liberal controls then few progressive educational gains can be made 

Why Politics Fails - journalist’s fully documented, referenced and linked account of the strength of global corporate power - it shows how that power has rendered national politics vulnerable - and how the weakening of central government is breeding detachment and cynicism on the part of both the electorate and the elected 

informed and organised educators with their stakeholders can develop local electoral hope where central cynicism fails

The Great Transformation - left-wing review of a probing account of economic history - the account sets out a detailed understanding of the timing and dynamics of massive shifts in political attitudes - the review points to contemporary parallels

educators and their stakeholders seeing progressive education thwarted need to find the levers for reversing that trend

Work after Globalisation - refereed-journal review of trade-union thinking showing how 'transformation' theory explains changing national moods - it applies the theory particularly to the politics of globalisation - it shows politicians redefining citizen as consumers - and, as a trade-union perspective, it reasserts the place of work-life in enabling people to recover their claim on citizenship

students working with educators need to probe their own alignments to life as consumers, as citizens and as workers

‘Education for the good society’ - left-leaning account of a philosophy of ‘the good society’ - it invites people to recognise the timeliness for now working on restoring fairness, democracy, sustainability and well-being - the discussion links philosophical thought to political action

students working with educators and voicing their stand on 'the good society' is a necessary starting point for learning-for-living

  • 2.    opposition

‘...the new curriculum is faulty...’ - education journalist’s report of a university-based argument that the UK government curriculum reform misunderstands global trends - it characterises those trends as the product of ‘who shouts loudest’, driven by clout rather than wisdom - the argument is for evidence-based reform

students working with educators can figure out what is credible political action and what is whim or popularity or partisan interest

‘...the wild west...’ - directly experienced social-democrat leader argues that ‘free-school’ innovation is damaging - he argues that the trend is now being shown to disappoint its former supporters - the argument is in part informed by the experience of running a strong, flexible and effective trade union

education stakeholders must be part of a conversation on relationships between freedom from control and progressive reform 

‘...UK reforms will fail...’ - education journalist’s report on an expert education adviser who has significantly influenced UK education policy - but the expert doubts that the UK government’s centralisation of policy-making systems can deliver what it promises - this is shown to be largely because current policy fails to deal adequately with the complexities of education and its reform

education stakeholders need to face up to the complexity of overlapping claims which are sometimes irreconcilable and may be nonsensical

‘Academics back student protest…’ - journalist’s account of a successful partnership between students and their economics tutors in resisting the doctrinaire imposition of neo-lib theory on their programme

progressive educators understand that learning is a partnership where students and tutors share responsibility for framing the uses of learning

  • 3.    opportunity

...the "Great Reset" - economist’s review of a range of accounts of how the uses of technology have damaged programmes in what has been welcomed by neo-lib thinking as ‘creative destruction’ - the process is seen by its supporters as replacing the low-value-old with the high-value-new - but the review also suggests what it argues is a more constructive account of ‘creative replacement’ - it removes the merely-new in order to make way for the discernably-better - there are insights here for informing the constructive reform of education 

education’s stakeholders need creative thinking that responds to demonstrable needs rather than to mere novelty 

‘...the people’s assembly...’ - journalistic polemic against the neo-lib consensus that welfare can be sacrificed in the interests of wealth - it envisages a coalition of journalists, politicians and trade-unionists to organise opposition

education’s stakeholders need to use credible evidence to end the pointless claim and counter-claim of the plausible and popular

Speaking up for Public Services - informed and systematic account of a locally situated way in which work-life and well-being outfits can share administrative services - local education would be a natural part of such an arrangement

a stakeholding position on education can link to shared services enabling local voices in shaping how they work

‘Peace on the streets...’ - journalist’s report of unexpected and courageous thinking by young men to bring an end to street-gang brutality - educators in that area will know some of the affected families and can be part of the recovery 

eyes-open local stakeholders can be alert to the unexpected and give voice and support to progressive action for local hope

‘...a return to “stakeholder governance” by “blue labour”...’ - education-commentator’s account of a cross-party debate on the future of policy - it contrasts plausible but cynical word-play with demanding but hard-to-formulate credibility - it's a left-leaning plea but it fails to mention the strength of neo-lib interests in privatisation by global commerce

stakeholders must probe what is shared and what is self-interested in the claims of family of community of agency of commercie and of government


on connections

If other peoples' timing can damage education then educators' timing can progress it.  Timing takes hold of connections in the comings-and-goings of what’s going on.  It may link to the unfamiliar, and that may be unwanted by some.  An exploratory brit careers-work programme was significantly entitled ‘Connexions’.  But influential professional voices chose to canvas its imperfections.  Might such resistance be habits-of-mind dressed up as professionalism?

Changed connectedness moves professionalism on, reframing conversations about what needs to be done.  It pushes the questions beyond ‘what to do?’ and ‘when to do it’.  They are now about ‘whom do we listen to?’ and ‘who do we need to listen to us?’  These are questions of trust.

The slowest reader of political economy will soon come across complaints that ‘nobody’s listening!’.  But is it possible to listen to everybody?  And what if the cry ‘listening is what it’s all about!’ turns out to be the right-foot left-foot politics of the hokey-cokey?  

And so connectedness is complexity: customers are not always right; deals are struck both over the counter and under it; wanting is not the same as needing; claims are not invariably justified.  All may demand a hearing.  But not all can be heeded; or should be.

Shaping the connectedness of progressive education is the work of its stakeholder groups.  Their links range from local-and-informal communities to established-and-institutionalised organisations.  It means not just allowing things to take their course; it needs a tough-minded deliberate positioning of communities and organisations.  It reaches outward to the experience it serves, and inward to the expertise it offers.  At it's best it is a nicely-timed and appropriately-connected conversation.

  • 4.    stakeholders

Learning from Experience - evidence-based and illustrated account of how contacts with both informal experience and established expertise are interleaved in all learning - learners do not come to educators empty-handed - indeed, the account argues that expertise is not necessarily more authoritative than experience, each speaks of what it knows best - and experience can be a good teacher - stakeholding connects to both expertise and experience - it enables them to learn from each other, which builds a stronger base for sustainable action

each stakeholder group is in a unique position to work with the complementary voices of both local expertise and local experience

Strong Leadership Undermines Performance - report of business-world research showing that so-called strong leadership is likely to lead to compliance, docility and quietism - a non-hierarchical organisation with an egalitarian culture is more likely to develop a stakeholder base for vigorous programme development - frequent claims that education needs strong senior management seem to be questionable  

educators and their stakeholders may make more exciting progress by taking the ‘great-man’ theory of leadership with a pinch of salt

‘Focus on the Middleman Will Really Shift Things’ - education journalist’s report of a UK programme supporting ‘middle leaders’ in navigating change and developing educational responses - their ‘on-the-ground’ positions are well placed to engage staff and community in mutually comprehending examination of programme-development possibilities - this relocation of stakeholding connections has proven effective enough to attract world-wide attention

education programme reformers need links to a role that can make comprehending contact with all levels of the people to be involved 

Cooperative Problem-Solving - fully-document and referenced rationale for a programme based on teacher-student shared searching - university-based, it sets out a philosophy, a theory and a specification for practice - its focus is on the quality of learning achieved through students’ active engagement with educators - it positions educators, and not politicians, as the primary stakeholders for identifying what needs to be done

few are better positioned than stakeholders to recognise educators' commitment with understanding and temperament for enabling interactive learning

‘ for school improvement...’ - education journalist’s account of the many ways in which worker representatives are relocating the origination of useful programme ideas - it suggests a stakeholder focus moving away from centralised scripts and towards local conversations

stakeholder groups need to be able to voice local action struggling to deal with arbitrary control by powerful interest 

‘Reconnecting “big” and “small” Issues’ - fully-referenced invitation to share in an enquiry into how ‘big’ political trends have no meaning until they are understood as ‘small’ lived experience - ironically it invites abstract conceptualisations rather than concrete proposals - but the underlying ideas have implications for education and stakeholder practice

educators working with their stakeholders can transform good but academic abstractions into better because operational programmes

  • 5.  society

‘What role for sociology in the urban age?’ - refereed-journal critique of how social sciences are marginalised by governments wary of critical examination - it points to a range of social research-and-development activity not permitted to influence government planning - the critique is followed by an account of how sociology can be re-instated as a policy tool capable of critical thinking - education needs a social as well as an individual perspective on how people learn

educators with their students and stakeholders must deal with how commerce and politics use the media to neutralise unwanted criticism 

‘...In search of ordinary people...’ - refereed-journal account of how politicians claim to listen to ‘ordinary people’ - but it shows how such talk weakens constituents' voice by skillfully appealing to an arbitrary concept of what is ‘reasonable’ - the effect is to muffle unwanted voices on contentious issues - the account claims that this is a cause of docile compliance with government action - it is also anti-educational

there can be no more important challenges to educators and their stakeholders than the curtailment of thinking and the neutralising of voice

 ‘...arguments for a sociology of work...’ - refereed-journal account of the need, in the sociology of work, to move beyond the ethnographies which are framed and interpreted by experts - it argues for direct representation of action in society, independently of expert constructs - it claims that this must come from unmediated reports of work-life experience - the point is that data is not what is happening but what researchers think to ask about and attend to - this proposal increases the likelihood of conversations about social events 

educators and their stakeholders need to understand work-life experience in workers' own terms and as a basis for informing work-life action 

‘...from social constructivism to social realism‘ - academic review of a refereed-journal critique of the appeal to individual interpretations of social experience - the trend is argued to be displacing an understanding of what is actually happening in the wider social world - drawing on several learning theorists, it shows how this concentration on the individual pushes social-and-political inequalities out of sight - students are themselves parties to this trend

education stakeholders can usefully ask why it’s left to academic publications which few see to argue for a vigorous social commentary

The Public Value of the Social Sciences - review of a professorial account of the uses of the social sciences - it maps a loss of influence for sociology and other social sciences, and argues for their reinstatement - the decline is attributed to the claims of psychology and economics to scientific status, claims argued here to be of doubtful validity - this argument seeks to rebalance attention with a fully-documented, detailed and illustrated account of what social sciences can show – it also shows how this can be done, not as a detached and abstract analyses, but as ethically involved accounts of what is happening - the outcome is argued to be a basis for how culture, market and state can work together in support of lived experience - such a vigorous, creative and life-relevant social narrative has appeal to students 

educationists can find the roots of social sciences in existing curriculum but need stakeholder support for asserting its importance and scope in learning

  • 6.    settings

‘...what is civil society worth?...’ - self-questioning think-tank reflecting on civil society in its relationship with professionals and markets - it reluctantly accepts that the welfare state’s commitment to universal rights is to be replaced by charity - and it calls for a renewal of local initiatives - although with no mention of education

all but the commercial and political links that educators make are by definition civil society and notably include families and schools 

‘Connecting citizens is the way forward...’ - local-authority spokesperson’s account of how, in the wake of central government’s dismantling of local government, new coalitions are needed - the coalitions are to sponsor local public-service innovation, which is thought of as ‘the stuff of everyday life’ - it urges basing action on communities rather institutions - raising a question about how far education is part of an institution and how far part of a community

educators' and their stakeholders' commitment to local voice need to be part of the defence and renewal of local communities

‘The missing middle’ - neo-lib think-tank account of how the UK government’s free-schools policy, and the reduction of local education authorities, has left local people unrepresented - it proposes middle-tier organisations with largely logistical, administrative and legal responsibilities - it leads to the monitoring of performance, particularly of ‘failing schools’  

central attempts to initiate local action would do better to stand aside for education’s programme developers working with local stakeholders 

‘Crowd-funding helps community projects...’ - social entrepreneur sets out how local initiatives can be funded by the internet-based negotiation of pledges on funding for local projects - any trend to locate education outside of commerce and politics will encounter funding issues - and there are many sources of charitable funding for worthwhile projects, not least for broadly-informed educational reform

stakeholders’ commitment brings a fulfillment that is motive and reward enough but sustained and effective organisation needs money

What are Charities For? - podcast commentary looking into whether not-for-profit help needs to recover its non-political standing - charities are said particularly to need to escape from ‘big-player’ competition - the commentary looks at their altruistic history, but sees them as now being taken over by commercial interests - but it also reports signs of an independent progressive movement seeking to take charities out of political and commercial control - the argument is between being on the one hand a service provider getting results, and on the other an association wanting to contribute - the commentary shows this conflict to be between required efficiency and moral obligation - this is a complex field, and the commentary has little to say about values and interests, and fails say much about education, not mentioning private schools as charities

stakeholders organise for independence of the damaging effects of arbitrary political and commercial thinking 

Saving the city - collective low-budget organising and urban practice - fully-referenced invitation to share in an enquiry into cities - cities experience some of the most damaged conditions and display some of the most radical forms of recovery - there is no reference to education - but this is part of a series of invitations to broaden the thinking by submitting articles notes and reviews

stakeholders understand as well as anybody how varied is the challenge to learning for city-living and how tenuous is the hold of local authorities

If Mayors Ruled the World - interview with a scholarly advocate of the city as the best location for dealing with contemporary change - it is based on an analysis of state governments’ failure to deal with world-wide economic, predatory and natural forces - the interview outlines the unique qualities of cities as pragmatism, civic trust, participation and power - and it points to their capacity for creativity, innovation and cooperation - it also offers an illustrated account of how city mayors are responding to change - the claims are that a city is strong enough and well-enough linked to deal with climate change and terrorism - It would certainly, then, be similarly equipped to shape policy for education

a world-wide development of reform based on urban networks could lift educators and their stakeholders above capture by state or commerce


on complexity 

Policy should be informed by expertise.  In education it’s hard to avoid the claims of psychology and economics.  But there are also the social sciences and cultural theory.  All of this is complicated enough, but it is further complicated by doubtful claims, maneuvering for position and as-yet unresolved issues.  Whatever you want to urge on politics, Google can inform a plausible but bogus opponent.

The journey is as much a literary as a scientific one.  Null hypotheses are hard to formulate; there is too much going on in learning for anybody to be able to say what is never the case.  And, anyway, education is a search for what might be so as much as an account of what might not.  There is no last word on education.

For most people the need to make sense of education is urgent.  And complexity confuses.  This attempt to say something useful about education is not inventing complexity where there is none, it is recognising the complexity that is out there. 

As a species we need to make sense of things, and confusion gets in the way.  For some it can mean caving in to what appears to be chaos.  That surrender doesn’t say that education can be anything we want it to be; it says that education may be nothing at all.  Some students agree - and some of them have a point.

But facing complexity means you're still interested, and if you’re not confused then you’re just not paying attention.  Enabling people to tell the difference between which of this is plausible and which is credible is what educators do.  

And there is also this: the more anybody can take account of complexity, then the more ways that person has of figuring out what to do about it.  It's a repertoire which can say 'if this won’t work, what about that?'.  Repertoires have survival value; they make complexity a solution, not a problem.  They mean that nothing is inevitable.  Taking some complexity on board could keep you and your work afloat.  

All of this makes complexity a starting point, not a place to jump ship.  Actually the discomfort of saying ‘I don’t know where this is going!’ energises the pursuit of meaning, and finding meaning gives purpose to action.  But all of this comes while dealing with complexity, not while evading it.

  • 7.         facing conflict

The Enigma of Capital... - professorial account of how capitalism has become the dominant way of regulating and distributing resources and activity - and its technology has transformed capital flows with split-second on-line algorithms - they arbitrarily change everybody’s life chances, including their access to education - the account therefore argues that the system must be changed - but, the professor says, don't count any chickens: capitalism will not fall, it must be pushed; it never relents, it must be stopped; and it does not surrender, it must be dismantled

capitalist competition is optional not compulsory for education stakeholder groups organising progressive action on curriculum

‘Futures of capitalism’ - fully-referenced invitation to share in an enquiry into the relationship between financial and social capital - social capital comprises the gains which come from a person's membership of a commuity - this enquiry acknowledges the possibility that the power of financial capital is damaging social capital, because improving well-being is sacrificed to improving cash-flow - the enquiry asks whether the future of capitalism can be guaranteed - and social capital is a major focus for education

students need all the programmes ranging from the social to the technological in order to manage their own search for fulfillment

‘...are we being fixed by “an inside job?”...’ - expert analysis of the self-serving distortions that can be perpetrated by the powerful - claims are falsely presented as economic credibility - skillful news management hides the reality - and popular media deliver the message - false claims are a threat to education; dealing with them is its reason to exist

who is better placed than educators to work with students on finding what is true and what is false in political and media claims?

‘...developing nations are organising...’ - global trade agreements have been based on a settled and exclusive neo-lib valuing of what makes things work well for economic and commercial gain - but developing nations are now increasingly disturbing that limited economic thinking by insisting on the inclusion of social, community and educational gains

for educators familiar and settled monocultures may be more comfortable than unexpected and challenging ones but they are less interesting 

The Hidden Wealth of Nations - policy think-tank research director illustrating how wealth does not increase well-being - indeed the cited research shows how it penalises the vulnerable - the account shows how there is also a ‘hidden wealth’ in how people relate socially, in the way they look after both family and strangers - it shows that economic benefits are as much a result as a cause of those gains - the argument is that education is necessary to both hidden social gains as well as visible economic gains

progressive stakeholders are not calling for what has been tried and found wanting but for what has been found difficult and not yet tried

‘Economic forecasters are in deep voodoo’ - professorial argument that economics is a poor forecaster and therefore not reliable enough to qualify as a science - the argument is shrewdly predictive and it has been largely confirmed - the professor’s concerns are mostly for damage done to social and communitarian interests - neighbourhoods are damaged by the failure of economics to appreciate the social consequences of its recommended action - education is among the social casualties

stakeholders need to be able to chart the damage done by narrowly-conceived economics if it is to help establish an inclusive society

‘...Britain’s new problem - segregation...’ - think-tank leader’s journal article surveying reports of social trends, including the governments census - the reports show how, in some parts of the UK, the indigenous population is outnumbered by migrants and immigrants - this is a post-imperial phenomenon, ‘the empire strikes back’ - and it provokes ‘white flight’, which means that the indigenous and the migrants are segregating into monocultural enclaves - the moving apart is reflected in admissions to education

progressive education needs its stakeholders to resist monocultures where they thwart education’s mind-expanding dynamics

 ‘...politicians in flight...’ - social commentator critically examining the rhetoric of cultural mix - this is the idea that one culture flows into another, and produces something different from both, and better than either - a problem with the idea is that UK politicians are failing to understand the fears of people who have a long-standing rootedness in their neighbourhoods - culture mix can feel to them as if what seem like their own natural beliefs are being ignored - they have claims on belonging to the neighbourhood which are felt to be dismissed and overtaken - this is not about race, it’s about an indigenous minority culture expressing its beliefs, its values and its expectations - those expectations are being negated where local services are overloaded and lost to these people - places of education are among the losses - people who mean no harm to anyone are suffering - too many politicians seem to have little interest in supporting them - and the affected people are likely to lack the middle-class apparatus for effective representation of their own interests

few are better placed than educators and their stakeholders to understand and give voice to local fears of displacement among vulnerable groups

‘English education policy is based on a nasty little theory’ - professorial polemic against the neo-lib belief that low achievers are intrinsically inferior, and achievers are innately worthwhile - the polemic argues that the future stability of society depends on facing and rejecting this version of neoliberalism, though little evidence is cited - such evidence as there is shows aspirations denied to people by how the education system works, and how some have aspiration squeezed out of them by background cultural expectations - but for some people high aspiration is out of reach - there are no easy-to-sell political generalities here

low aspiration is a complex and urgent and locally-rooted challenge to informed and caring educators demanding respect for all humanity

The Price of Inequality - economics professor’s examination of political mythologies - it argues that they are used deliberately to complicate things with a rhetoric that camouflages hard realities - part of this deceit is embedded in the way education is characterised and made available in localities - but the way it is done only ever serves the interests of some people, making life harder for others - and, this examination argues, that unfairness destabilises both the economy and society

if political partisanship shapes local education then local stakeholders are needed to expose and contest it and enable people to see through it

‘A new comprehensive vision for education’ - political commentator’s insistence on the importance of ideas in establishing a contemporary political platform for education - the argument is that education is not just a list of things to do, it needs a rational - the commentary illustrates how few political proposals have consensual support, or can be shown to be effective - they do not rest on robust theoretical or ethical assumptions - the commentary argues for a strategy which can be agreed by politicians, by worker representatives, by business interests, by families and by professional educators

educators and their stakeholders need a rational for action but the point is to make a change and can any change be in everybody’s interests? 

A New Approach to Education - an account, as full as any, of what a democratic education means - it is addressed to national politics, both the elected and their electors - it is voiced as ideas rooted in history and framed to pose key questions to the political process - its argument needs optimistically to assume that honouring historically-rooted answers will win present votes and resolve future conflicts - the extremes of that conflict are between privilege and exclusion

national democratic education needs local organisations to manage it and local stakeholder groups are well placed for that role 

‘Britain can no longer afford the rich...’ - illustrated journalistic collation of evidence showing how favouring the already rich is, world-wide, seen by the poor to be undermining progressive hopes - the rich are seen as maneuvering national governments into protecting wealth - features of all this are the observable differences between education opportunities accessible to the rich and to the poor

education and their stakeholders need to be visible enough to both rich and poor if they are convincingly to contest maneuvering by either

  • 8.   working with conflict

'...a sociologist on “liquid modernity”...’ - on-line and  continuously unfolding professorial commentary, based on a sociology - it unconventionally draws on news events concerning youth, education and economics - all are fields in which globalisation, and its on-line technologies, have created ‘liquid modernity’ - that term refers to the shifting, unpredictable and unsettling ways people see things, and are volatile in their responses - modern liquidity makes channels for how people go about their lives and it has, in particular, eroded deference to political, professional and educational claims to authority

what can be more important to education than enabling people for the navigation of the changing dynamics in the cross-flows of experience? 

The Righteous Mind - Why Good People Are Divided... - political commentator’s research-based analysis of complexity in politics - detailed and illustrated, it explains conservatives’ and progressives’ failure to communicate with each other - the confusion rests on political conservative’s valuing of order-and-stability - their spectrum of priorities ranges from ‘loyalty’, ‘authority’ and ‘sanctity’ to ‘care’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘fairness’ - but progressives are likely to have a tighter focus - they value the part of the spectrum which represents ‘care’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘fairness’ - and all of this range of orientations readily transpose into educational purposes - but this analysis shows that, in such contested situations, the conservatives have an advantage because, if one argument fails to attract approval, then they can readily find more ways of appealing for support

progressive stakeholders need to articulate authentic and broadly-based values and interests that refute the sheer scope of reactionary resistance

Back where we started - informed review of an account of deeply-embedded convictions underpinning political attitudes - it illustrates the earlier account of loyalty and fairness in the ‘The Righteous Mind’ - but it shows how that spectrum is more basically reflected in sexual behaviour which moves between seeking safety and taking risks - like the earlier argument this account describes stances and alliances which educators will readily recognise – for example it shows how a concern for what a person is prepared to take on is expressed in the variable needs for tribes, for trust and for relationships - the review’s illustrations stretch from the Ku Klux Klan to the Occupy movement – but they also touch on the education politics of the right and the left

the more acquainted progressive education is with what underlies political preferences then the greater its grasp on developing its own credible narratives

‘The failure of politics won't be solved by single-issue campaigners’ - political commentators outline of the complexity of the challenges facing education - it points to the danger of special interests dominating what must be general reform - the identity politics of gender and race feature in such trends - future planning needs a breadth-of-mind which can unify single-issues by joining forces, in order to tackle the root causes of damage to life chances - those causes are rooted in free global markets taking over weak national politics - the effects are the neglect of people treated as though they don’t matter, of whatever race or gender

local stakeholder groups will not deal with the challenges of contemporary reform using a patchwork of locally-favoured priorities 

The Art of Philosophy - Wisdom as Practice - academic’s review of a philosophical examination of how people come to believe in anything, and why they find it worthwhile - it reviews an age-by-age and increasingly complex history of self-interest, maneuvering, populism, distractibility and impulse - and it contrasts that with a reflective way of living - the argument is for drawing on a pragmatic philosophy to underpin change - it is extended in a review of the various influences on reform, and of the valuing of wealth with which they are greeted - it seems to this philosopher that any escape from that position will be painful for ‘the pampered capital of capitalism’ (he means London) - that culture is argued to be unready to take on any change in the way its people live - this philosophical probing raises pressing issues for both educators and the culture they inhabit - and whether or not anyone believes all of it, it poses pertinent questions

students have a natural interest in subversive questioning by philosophy and they have a right to educators who can engage with them in it


on beliefs

Complexity and confusion are troublesome.  Is it so hard to understand why people are more likely to spend their energy on dealing with the urgent simplicities of day-on-day survival?  The contemplation of the complexities of long-term hope gets squeezed out.   

But education needs to be convincing about hope.  It’s a promise, and to break it is to invite rejection.  And that turning away can be to where people find their simplest beliefs confirmed.  Among the simplest of beliefs are to be quick in instinct, fierce in competition, and strong in retaliation.  They may not feel like aberrations to avoid; they’re as likely feel like models to emulate.  It’s education that can feel like the aberration.

The signs of turning away include classroom phenomena: fidgeting with devices, camouflaging comics, gazing out of windows.  And there be media giants out there.  Media distractions can feel more real than lessons.  They include the adoration of the famous, which can breed dependence.  And there is also the rage against everything else, and that can breed fear.  The media have a strong narrative; it recounts how ‘we bring you closer to what you hope for, and we defend you from what you hate’.  

That may be the story, but there is an undeclared back-story.  It's about people becoming believers in what politics and commerce want them to believe.  It's the backstory which has the greater impact on their chances in life: anybody who can capture beliefs is well on the way to being in charge.  

The backstory is both complicated and inconvenient to dominant interests.  So it gets little attention in the media.  It can exasperate people attending to filleted versions of the news.  And it’s not too hard to label anyone who tries to draw attention to that as the true outsiders.  Informed educators may qualify for the label.  Wear it with pride.

But few educators can be surprised to find cynicism among their students.  So, is there a way forward?  There's no shortcut; the evidence here is that students need to be drawn into a conversation, and that it must start from what they believe.  And that may mean working with impulse, suspicion and hate.

So, let's ask ourselves, ‘is academic learning any good at thinking about such things?' and 'do its exams measure how well people are getting on with it?’.   On the first, our brains discard redundant learning.  People quickly forget what they do not get a chance to use.  You may have noticed that.  On the second, the disappointed are entitled to their doubts about exams.  We have not evolved to waste energy on pointless striving.  That too?

All of this leaves academic educators holding an awkward student question: ‘but miss, why are we doing this?’.  Making ‘because it’s in the exam’ the end of the matter positions educators as running the most expensive selection system ever devised.  Worse than that, it cops out of the promise. 

The needed conversation may start cynically.  But it's actually about finding personal fulfillment, claiming social membership, earning economic independence, and counting on planetary well-being.  And all of that makes the interest of the ‘shirkers’ and ‘strivers’ as one - indivisible. 

Evading the issues insulates education from all but commercial and political concerns.  It makes learning a closed system.  And it makes what people will wind up believing a foregone conclusion.  Some people like that idea.  Not progressive educators.

Any understanding of democracy demands that everybody involved in education is clear about where it stands on working with belief.  ‘Everybody involved’ is commerce and politics, it’s education and it’s stakeholders, and - most of all - it's students.  ‘Being clear’ means declaring what beliefs are worth airing and whether any doubts should be suppressed.  The more genuinely inclusive is that appeal then the stronger its narrative.  And that narrative determines who gets into bed with whom, and who gets kicked out.

  • 9.         persuaders

‘...the enemy of promise’ - senior educationist’s systematic catalogue of a UK education minister’s misleading claims, broken promises, distortions of reality and lies

educators' stakeholders believing in constructive programmes must deal with destructive influences

‘on the spectrum of deceit...’ - a journalist explains how and why politicians abuse statistics, exaggerate claims and lie - all of this can mean ignoring informed advice on education - the account portrays politicians who are so convinced by their own beliefs that they see the end as justifying any means - and all shades of political thinking are shown to be capable of such behaviour

only fully and recently-informed stakeholder networks can resist the power-play of power-playing politicians

‘Puppetmaster lobbyist’s boast...’ - fully-documented journalistic account of how unrepresentative rogue lobbyists distort the political process - they arbitrarily influence politicians whom they know can be easily won over and whose declared beliefs can readily be manipulated? - no mention of this compromising education, but can we be sure?

stakeholders may find that tainted-motives and the concealed defence of vested interests is as likely to be found in local as in national politics 

  • 10.      doubters

‘Big ideas can be bad ideas’ - professorial account of the history of the political thirst for ‘big ideas’, and how those ideas get distorted - a common reason is that, typically, they are worked up by politically-commissioned consultancies, or by think tanks seeing themselves as engaging with bold and wide-ranging ideas - the account shows how both sources too-often produce ill-conceived proposals -this can place education out-of-touch with local experience, and therefore doubted and rejected by local people

where politics becomes over-optimistically speculative stakeholders need to be specialists in what is actually going on 

‘...What the public think...’ - think-tank account of how the idea of ‘the big society’ has been rejected - there is no widespread belief in its usefulness or its practicability - what stakeholders make of local conditions calls for helpers who can stand entirely independently of central scripting for purposes the government approves - and this independence develops a bigger and stronger idea of ‘civil society’ - in education it would take account of the community’s beliefs about what’s going on and what needs to be done about it

educators are part of civil society as a form of stakeholding which brings trained expertise into conversation with local experience

‘Has democracy had its day?’ - professorial account of how democracy itself breeds doubt and cynicism - the account shows how disappointment with politics is damaging, and how the trend has developed to the point where, for most people, the tangible benefits of democracy are far from obvious - a result is reported to be that ‘middle classes’ have been able to command much of the political discourse in their interests - and their gaining of favourable positioning for education is an example of that - the argument runs that nations may be able to survive this kind of limiting of democracy - but, it argues, the increasing activity of corruption, cronyism and special interests is more dangerous - and, it asks, if that is so, what would be left of democracy for the disappointed to believe in?

are stakeholders at their democratic best when thinking-for-themselves as representatives or when doing-as-people-demand in plebiscite? 

‘Critiquing corruption...’ - fully-referenced invitation to share in an enquiry into questions worth asking about corruption - it asks whether the damage done is about corrupt people with influence, or corrupt systems in place - understanding is needed of what damage is done by the politicisation of influencing educators and of designing institutions - and a question underlying this is 'are the causes of damage we now face all too familiar, or are their features of the way corruption is now operating which are new?'

stakeholders, educators and students need to talk about about corruption in politics because doubting a democracy is not anti-democratic


    find the good news in part two

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