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Working with the shadows

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Working with the shadows: a misplaced attempt to control in education - Presentation exploring some initial thoughts on an alternative approach to education

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Working with the shadows

  1. 1. ‘Working with the shadows: a misplaced attempt to control in education’ @complexsoc1, June 2016
  2. 2. Initial Thoughts • What are we trying to achieve with education? • Education has become increasingly driven by managerialist principles (many now outdated) • In an attempt to understand and control we are increasingly driven by reductive perspectives ‘The reductionist mindset seeks to understand the world as a collection of separable and thus independent units and assumes linear cause-and-effect relationships between these units and that these relationships are reversible. A system and its parts are, therefore, assumed to have an ultimately knowleable structure and behavior [sic]’ ‘The belief that a system, and ultimately reality, is identifiable and knowable…legitimizes the notions that we can both “get it right” and, if something goes wrong, “reverse it”…we can directly or indirectly control the decision process’ Rogers et al 2013: 31
  3. 3. The Neoliberal Turn in Education and Beyond - killing the imagination • The rise of individualism and the notion that the nation-state is changed into a form of ‘market-state’ as it is argued that competition and the free market will be beneficial to all. • Can be argued that this is seen in the academisation and free-school policy initiatives. • Part of a wider, radical socio-economic experiment. • Chandler and Reid (2016) in ‘The Neoliberal Subject’ make the case that the neoliberal narrative is one of a harsh, unforgiving world in which the individual must demonstrate ‘resilience’, ‘ability to adapt’. • In addition, we must not spend time wasted on imagining ‘other’ ‘Colas has shown how the liberal war on humanity’s psychic powers of imagination has effectively entailed the will to pathologize all political utilizations of the imagination as fanatical and mad (Colas, 1997)’ (Chandler and Reid, 2016) • Hence education and wider social policy is becoming inherently social Darwinistic in nature • Based on compliance, reductionism, resilience, quantification
  4. 4. Underpinning features of the current system • Driven by numeric data – both in terms of accountability and increasingly research • ‘Efficiency’ as opposed to ‘effectiveness’ • Driving out of professional autonomy whilst creating positive narratives – social acceleration • Managerialist – overbearing and simplistic accountability structures • Dividuation (Deleuze, 1991) – the human and their data separated • Making the resilient positive – ‘teacher support networks’ – the ‘gilded cage’ of education • Destruction of alternative voices – ‘smothering the imagination’ • Reductive ontologies – ‘best practice’, ‘outstanding lessons’ and business capital approaches (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012)
  5. 5. Working with the shadows • We see the data more than the children • We tell ourselves we can control the process through creating lots of frameworks – a ‘Meccano’ approach to education • Education must become ‘efficient’ – but to what end? • Vocal denunciation of anything other than the ‘official’ narrative of education – in both formal and informal spaces • We simplify, we describe ‘ideals’ to ourselves, we reduce complexity in an attempt to control BUT HERE WE ARE WORKING WITH THE SHADOWS
  6. 6. Imagining Something Different • We need to voice our imaginations and create different futures • Rather than picking over the carcass of neoliberal work, we need to create, verbalise and debate meaningful and critical alternatives • We need to embody them where possible “Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.” Milton Friedman
  7. 7. Correcting Categorical Errors • David Snowden and the Cynefin Framework (2007:73) • Simple Systems • Consistent events • Clear cause-effect relationships • A right answer exists • Fact-based management • Complex Systems • Flux and unpredictability • Many competing ideas • Need for creative and innovative approaches • Pattern-based leadership • Sense, categorize, respond • Put proper process in place • Use of ‘best practice’ • Probe, sense, respond • Increase interaction and communication • ‘Emergent practice’ to identify patterns
  8. 8. Education – A Different Imaginary (1) • Education as a series of interpenetrating complex adaptive systems • Cilliers (1998) characterised CASs has having: • a large number of elements with many interactions; • interactions which are non-linear, i.e. large-scale causes can have small-scale impacts and vice versa; • interactions which lead to feedback loops, both negative and positive; • an ‘open’ system, having interactions with elements in external environments beyond the immediate system; • elements which interact with their environment making the identification of boundaries difficult; • a system which is far from equilibrium and therefore needs a constant energy flow for it to operate; • the importance of history, past processes playing a role in forming the present, often unpredictably; • each element only acting on local information rather than information from the whole system.
  9. 9. Education – A Different Imaginary (2) • An accountability system which starts from the twin points of trust and responsibility (Green, 2011) • A system which evolves and emerges rather than being in a state of perpetual revolution – slowing the tempo of change • Teacher ‘development’ has been replaced by ‘enforced change’? • Do we need to think instead of a more holistic notion of teacher ‘growth’? • Schools as (part of) communities • Narrative and dialogue driving the system, informed but not dictated by data
  10. 10. Education – A Different Imaginary (3) • Education which sees knowledge, conceptualisation and experience as core elements • Seeing the academic as both cognitive and embodied • A curriculum which looks forward as well as back • Assessment as a ‘network’ not a hammer! • Teachers at the centre, but the soft power of the teacher (Biesta, 2016:389) not authoritarian ‘These ideas begin to outline a non-egological approach to education, an approach that is not aimed at strengthening the ego, but at interrupting the ego-subject – turning it towards the world, perhaps even pulling it into the world (see Mollenhauer, 2014) – so that it can become a self-subject.’
  11. 11. The Wider Context Enviro-Socio- cultural-economic issues Policy Research literacy Accountability Complexity reduction Trust People & community Complex pedagogy Participation (informal & formal) Pedagogic literacy Data Best practice Emergent practice Knowledge & understanding Complexity Growth Emergence Time Schema Heuristics
  12. 12. Some Final Thoughts • By focusing on critique, we actual fail to imagine – sustains the neoliberal narrative • We need to create alternatives – but they must be considered, evidenced and coherent • Education is a complex process – and is part of a much wider socio-environmental series of systems • We need to talk more about how education relates to these processes, and how they can be considered together to bring positive change at all scales • We need to work with this complexity, rather than with the shadows!

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