Enquiring Minds – what is
Education for and how do
school libraries and librarians
By Francis Gilbert
Enquiring Minds – what is Education
for and how do school libraries and
librarians contribute ?
An outline of what I will cover
What is Education for?
Ideals: eudemonia (human flourishing), Independent
learners, creators, motivated, happy, imaginative, moral.
My brief: “We would like you to base your talk on how school
libraries and librarians can contribute to these ideals.”
Education as social control
Social control: this is possibly was the Victorian intention
The school system preserves the class system:
Secondary moderns (holding pens for children)
Grammar schools (educating the “middle tier”)
Elite “public schools”, educating the elite: politicians,
Social cohesion Prison
Social control – positives/negatives
Schools are about social
Different social groups can
Teaching is about nurturing
dialogue between people
Assessment of abilities
rooted in meritocratic
Blind obedience to arbitrary
Social, ethnic, gender
School is about learning to
be lectured to
The “social control” library
A clear hierarchy of books which mirrors the social class
Simple texts for the “less able”, for the poor, socially
deprived, or a policy of exclusion: you’re not welcome here…
More advanced texts for the elite, the rich, the advantaged
A strong emphasis on social control: silence, the librarian as
the custodian of the social/literary hierarchy
Key thinkers: F.R. Leavis, ‘The Great Tradition’
Education as “emancipation”
Education as a utopian project to change society for the better;
to enrich everyone’s lives both materially, creatively,
Political agenda has changed: “education, education, education”
“Closing the attainment gap” is a key policy agenda for left and
Non-selective academies and free schools replace grammar
schools as the “elite” state schools in the eyes of Conservative
Focus upon FSM children.
Universities change their entrance requirements to attract
students from diverse backgrounds.
But what is “emancipation”?
Traditional: Teacher-centred, authoritarian, rote-learning,
drilling for exams, higher attainment in the traditional
academic subjects: Progress 8, English, Maths, Science,
MfL, Humanities (Gove/E.D. Hirsch)
Creativity: a “holistic approach”; child-centred, problem-
solving, creating art, drama, poetry (Montessori, Steiner,
A middle ground which teaches the “traditional” subjects in
creative ways, mediating between traditional and more child-
centred ways of teaching (most state school teachers)
Education as liberation and emancipation
The starting point is people’s lives: your own life, your students’ lives.
Education has to be relevant to its context (s)
Paulo Freire writes in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
“The banking concept (with its tendency to dichotomize everything)
distinguishes two stages in the action of the educator. During the first,
he cognizes a cognizable object while he prepares his lessons in his
study or his laboratory.” (Freire, p.61)
“Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice
upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed
to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness.” (Freire,
Principles: choice/disclosure is voluntary/ autobiographical
What are your first reading experiences?
What are your childhood memories of libraries?
What are your positive experiences of books as a child?
Can any of your experiences be possibly generalised to other
The Freirean librarian: dialogue
Emphasis on “dialogue” and listening.
The librarian listens to students’ interests, draws out from
them what they like and enters a dialogue with them about
the texts they want to see in the library.
This is an on-going dialectical process; the librarian “leads”
students to other texts that enable an “opening out” of
thought (Freire, Bakhtin, Robin Alexander)
The Freirean librarian: praxis
The librarian takes necessary social actions to change
oppressive conditions: re-arranging furniture, thinking about
displays, considering oppressive students and teachers
within the library context.
Ownership: the library is a “shared” communal space, not
“my library”, the use of pronouns is important.
The library is a venue for social justice: talks, council
meetings, group work encouraged there.
The Freirean librarian:
The library is a place where consciousness both collective
and individual is developed.
Constantly evolving: new words, texts, approaches are
CPD shelf for teachers; get them into the library!
New ideas in the school are promoted there;
New texts are highlighted, interrogated, celebrated
New technology show-cased and questioned, celebrated…
The Freirean library: lived
The lived “experiences” of the members of the library are
celebrated and show-cased:
Work is displayed
Books are published (self-publishing)
Students/teachers are celebrated
Links are made between lived experience and text
Cartoon bubbles for students talking about books they like…
Cards where students/teachers write about favourite books
The “emancipatory” library
Every librarian needs to ask continually:
What is the library for?
What are its aims/purposes?
Who is it for?
The Post-modern condition
The “School Matrix”…
The rigid military hierarchies in schools and state education
generally (Sennett/Weber) Librarian is placed at the bottom.
Michel Foucault/Lacan: discourses of power. The hierarchy of
the school, Ofsted, the demands of the curriculum, the
advent of new technology “renames” the library as a
“Learning Zone” or “Learning Resources Centre” (LRC)
“Resistance”: the librarian can experience the brunt of this…
Highly problematic: surely the whole of school is a “learning
Often an imposition; questions the centrality of the “book”
What are your thoughts/feelings about the key names that
What “language games” are played around the concept of
What are the connotations of the words “library” and “learning
zone”, “LRC” for you? Do you think this affect how people
behave in libraries?
The Enlightenment and the library
The library emerged as a fundamental tool of the
“Enlightenment”, a storehouse for key texts, for rational
explanations of everything; the rationale sureties of John
Locke, Emmanuel Kant,
The “post-modern” condition questions the Enlightenment
project: there is no “objective body of knowledge”; no vital
canon; only multiple discourses; multiple forms of
representation; everything is potentially a “text”; the internet
questions the very existence of a storehouse for the “physical
Re-thinking key concepts
Gender concepts (Judith Butler, Laura Mulvey) girls and boys as
cultural concepts (George, “Girls in the Goldfish Bowl”)
Sexuality (Stonewall), gay people can get married.
Age; we are all learners (Claxton “The Learning Powered
Instruction versus dialogue; learning is a dialectical process, a
dialogue with teacher and student, and it starts with what the
students knows and builds upon that (Vygotsky ZPD), as
opposed what the teacher knows and what the student doesn’t
The librarian is in a unique position to listen to
students/teachers, and uses his/her position to respond
creatively to students/teachers
The post-modern library
A radical “contextualisation” of books; find students’
passions, create “book bowers”, e.g. football section which
has magazines, videos of matches, Nick Hornby, 19th century
history which reveals the emergence of football.
A section called “Pink” which explores and contextualises
“pink”, e.g. Pink “girly” books, Spare Rib, Attitude magazine,
Don’t be frightened of “non-fiction”
Accelerated Reader & similar programmes; it can have its
place in the “post-modern” library which is, by its nature, a
“mixed-up” place, but it needs to be “contextualised”, and
abandoned if necessary. The problem is the “point score”
becomes the “point”.
The crying pupil…”that ain’t no good, George…”
Teachers/librarians need to trust their instincts in the
moment, learn to assess in “real-time”; assess the emotional
state of a student; their “life trajectory”; look at the “big
picture”; describe rather “prescribe”…
Reclaiming the name of “library”
The primacy of the physical book as a marvel of human technology:
Reclaim the name by reclaiming the concept of “Libra”; of the book; the
physicality of the book is important; its smell, text, pages.
The library as an “affective” space: a place which generates a specific
atmosphere, a specific emotional climate. There are or could be
possibly “silent times/places”, “talking times/places”, “game times”,
“bring a friend time”.
Reinvigorate the idea of “browsing” in a physical space; children
needed to be guided as to how to do this; teachers to model?? The
pleasure of the browser in physical space as opposed to digital space??
Exploring and deconstructing this process is actually a complex subject:
many students see an intimidating shelf of books; a reminder of what
they don’t know; their reaction is negative; they are “frightened” to
explore & teachers too!
The pleasures of reading
To get these things right requires a great deal of thought and
dialogue (Robin Alexander/Bahktin)
It is an acknowledgement of the ambivalent position of
libraries within the “post-modern” age
Ultimately, though it is about establishing the “pleasure of
reading” in all its facets; affective, bodily, intellectual.
The library is a magical, mystical space; a rare space for
people to fall in love with books.
The shift from social control to emancipation
The “Freirean” approach which starts with the “learner” and
acts in a profound, political way to nurture and enrich
The “post-modern” condition; adapting to this; thinking
creatively; reclaiming the name of “library”; establishing the
primacy of the book.
Summing up questions
Is there anything you didn’t understand?
What do you think of my points? Agree/disagree!
How do you think libraries can become places of
Is social control a big issue for you in your library? If so, why?
What’s going on?
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