Selling Education

Those of you who have previously dabbled in the silt-laden, luke warm waters of my blog may have formed the opinion that I am anti neoliberal ideology. Some may even feel that I tout the sort of spittle drenched, looney, Marxist ravings that would drive Michael Gove to set up a special crèche for me to inhabit with his SPADs. You would be wrong…… sort of. In fact I don’t deny some of the logic of neoliberal market ideology when it applies to, oh, I don’t know, markets and stuff; but I do strongly disagree with it as a model for publicly funded education. Allow me to expand.

1) I don’t believe that education should be viewed as a commodity. I realise this is an issue of personal ideology but I would argue that, in the 21st Century, it is a fundamental human right to be ‘educated’, whether at the knee of a parent or tribal elder, by the side of a Master Craftsman or in a damp, mouse infested pit of a publicly funded school (which had formally been due for replacement under BSF… But I digress). Without a basic education in today’s language-based, information rich reality no-one can be expected to thrive on a personal level and, equally importantly, their ability to contribute to society as a whole is also jeopardised. Education is not just a right, it is a social investment. A well educated populace is the Gold Reserve in the Bank of Social Responsibility, not an expensive collector’s edition coin in the Coalition Reserve for the Privileged!

Of course, all major political parties are complicit in making Education a commodity, selling it off piecemeal to friends, party donors and highest bidders under the guise of smaller Government. The reality is that Education isn’t the commodity – the children are.

I am also reluctant to call our system a Market, partly because I don’t think it should be and partly because I don’t think it is. How can a market exist when the same body creates it, defines the terms and regulations, polices it and acts as sole customer (in funding terms)?!

2) I don’t believe that children should be viewed as ‘consumers’ of education in the same way that I don’t believe they are ‘consumers’ of their familial relationships or their own brains. The neoliberal will say that education is a service and the children and their parents are thereby consumers of it. To an extent there is some truth in terms of the ‘service’ of schooling, rather than ‘Education’, which I see as a desirable outcome of the service of schooling. However, in the UK, too many parents are (at best) reluctant participants consuming the service on threat of legal action. Their children develop the attitudes and behaviours tolerated / supported / encouraged by their social peers. Of course, this tends to be less of any issue in some social groups than others – eg: Middle Class.

The System develops to best serve the loudest, pushiest, most politically astute group as they wield considerable power, in political terms. The reluctant, sometimes downright anti, groups are also those less inclined to engage in political action – at least in election threatening ways; so there is less incentive to meet their needs. Ergo, the System reinforces already entrenched social disadvantage while Gove and the SPADinites shout ‘enemies of promise’ to scare people off highlighting the gossamer-thin arguments they construct, based on nothing more than personal preference and supported by polemic.

So we have large sections of society forced to engage with something they don’t value and have no ownership of, constructed to prevent their success and underpinned by threats of criminal proceedings if they don’t conform. Does force feeding someone really make them a ‘consumer’?!

3)My third point regards society as a ‘sum of its parts’ with the same needs and responses as the individuals that construct it. Stay with me…..

As an individual, in order to ‘thrive’, I need many things. Food, drink, healthcare, etc but also spiritual, emotional, expressive outlets. For some these get tied up in Art, music or religion, for others poetry, literature and Film. For many Sport fulfils these needs and more. Without them we grow frustrated, bored. Life loses colour and joy and we respond with anxiety, depression, anger and a seemingly unstoppable sense of extreme futility…………ahem.

Society as a whole is no different. We need our actors and pop stars (although I don’t support the media sponsored cult of celebrity), we need poets and artists just as we need our geeks and nerds. Where would we be without the Dysons and Steve Jobs of the world? And, yes, we need our lawyers and politicians and even, dare I say, bankers? Society is diversity and needs all colours of the spectrum to offer the bright white beam of a happy, healthy community. Without, we risk discontent, civil disobedience and revolution.

Recent reforms have massively undervalued everything beyond a narrow range of academic subjects, because of the whim of one man. Suggesting that people choose to do vocational routes, arts, technology, etc because they lack aspiration is disingenuous to the nth degree. What is wrong with wanting to be a bin man or hairdresser – they are good, respected roles needed by society? Our job as teachers is to ensure that children choose their routes for the right reasons and that they are well prepared for them or, indeed, well prepared to change should the need arise. Aspiration isn’t just about wanting to be a Doctor or Lawyer (although it can be) but about being the best you can be at whatever you want to do. It’s knowing that being a Hairdresser is great but owning the Salon is even better!

Sadly, though, our system of schooling still acts, not as a gateway to those aspirations, but as a gamespace for political point scoring and electioneering, where society’s needs are sacrificed on the alter of personal gain for those in power. The proposed curriculum reforms will impoverish hugely our system and society and risk engendering a whole new generation of angry, disenfranchised youth.

OfSTED driven paranoia coupled with the panopticon of irrelevant targets leaves large parts of our system constrained by fear and unable to risk any creative, innovative development. The children in these schools are prepared for little more than working to a schedule, acting in a malleable, docile manner and conforming to authority. Accepting that their lot is apparent failure because their particular strengths and skills aren’t valued, means they are properly prepared to provide low cost, expendable labour that the Market demands. I don’t call that Education. I call that social engineering and morally corrupt. For me, the real enemies of promise are those deliberately constructing this system to protect and extend their own entrenched advantage.

Still, only two more years and then……… Oh dear!

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