The Future of Education: My perspective as given to students
This is a summary of two presentations which I gave to students at Blackburn College when I was invited to share by teachers there who are teaching students to become teachers. I was asked as it was felt that what I could offer was a different and complimentary viewpoint to the various speakers who had shared in the course. You can listen to the podcasts and also read through some of the annotated sources here on the internet.
I started the whole presentation with a journalism piece by John Oliver and team as not only does it introduce many of the issues which are associated with the commodification of education (and ultimately people’s lives), but it is filled with humor and levity.
The inclusion of humor is something which an important part of learning in an informal setting; it promotes the kind of irreverence which we need as free thinkers, and comedians are an abundant source of critical thinking desperately needed in our time.
John Oliver, and journalists, demonstrate critical faculties which I think should be actively imported into all of education. In the article which he presents he shows the worrying trend of standardized testing being rolled out by huge multinationals, the biggest of which is Pearson – a company birthed in the United Kingdom and responsible for the reduction of people’s opportunities to learn to narrower and narrower understandings of education.
Where are we now ?
The future of education, for me, is inseparable with what kind of world you want to recreate or create. I am going to be sharing my ideas of what makes for a world which I believe in; the task for you thinkers is to decide for yourselves what kind of world you are going to participate in manifesting, and how much sense the ideas make which I am going to present to you.
Our world is increasingly dominated by corporate structures. These are large bureaucratic systems populated by hierarchies which are often one-way systems of information flow or tangled hierarchies. Iris Marion Young talks about a world in which we increasingly “have control over other people’s actions and none over our own”.
Corporate structures reify us from our involvements in the world. By this I mean that they separate and abstract us from direct experience of others, of culture, of analysis, of creation, of negotiation, and of self development. Corporations remove us from the first principles which we need to live the observed life, and they commodify our experience as root to profit and reinforcement of their own existence.
Either by financial profit or by engendering a fetish of power over others, these corporate structures colonise our lifeworlds and march on in their robotic progress to assimilate all into their own form.Here is an MA thesis on these ideas of the colonization of our lifeworlds by mechanical forms of education.
According to the Round Table of Industrialists, on page 18 of their publication ‘Job Creation and Innovation’ they state “The Universities no longer have the monopoly on disseminating knowledge. We cannot leave all action in the hands of the public sector. The provision of education is a market opportunity and should be treated as such. Nowadays there are far more players in the higher education market. Industry also has a role to play”.
That education is framed in terms of the dissemination of knowledge should ring alarm bells, but the major worry is that people’s life opportunities in terms of education should be treated as a market opportunity is absurdly reductionist. Corporate Social Responsibility policies are not worth the paper they are written on whilst the legal precedence is that profit should displace all other concerns in companies that exist on the stockmarket.
The report was created by the Competitiveness Working Group of the European Round Table and consisted of representatives which include the following companies:
BP, BT, Daimler-Benz, Ericsson, Hoffmann-La Roche, ICI, Investor, Nestlé, Nokia, Olivetti, Philips, Pirelli, Profilo Holding, Renault, Shell International, Siemens, Smurfit, Société Générale de Belgique, Solvay, Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux, Unilever, VEBA and also representatives of BDI & UNICE.
Remember, if a company is on the stock market, then legally it’s overriding responsibility is to generate more financial profit for it’s shareholders.
This is known as shareholder primacy, and the fiduciary responsibility of the CEO is to ensure more profit is made in the next year over than was made last; otherwise they are simply sacked and replaced. This is at the expense of public value, the environment, and any other consideration. These legal entities are very different from small, independently owned businesses. You can find out more about large companies and their behaviours by visiting Ethical Consumer:
Education, knowledge and people’s intellectual lives are being carved up, enclosed, and commodified for the profit of unaccountable behemoth companies like Pearson international that are making a land grab on our thinking lives and commons. Connected with the the domination of our economic – and by proxy – our social circumstances, our human capabilities are being limited by the march of corporate colonialism.
Pearson publishing firm creates rankings in education: UK ‘second best education in Europe’ By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent
The first time a FTSE 100 company has directly delivered a degree course: Publisher Pearson launches UK degree course By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent
By taking education as a public good and transforming it into a competitive arena with points and badges, the corporate machine is asset stripping the UK culture along with every other country which offers harbour to this invasive species of financialism. It is a process of demarcating who can take part in making meaning, who is valued in learning and teaching, and what is valued in the wider culture.
Our high street and local economies, our job prospects and – in Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen’s work – our human capabilities are being dominated by corporate companies. By defining the terms under which our knowledge and skills are valued (i.e. Pearson and REF like tables), people who do not pay get demarcated out of increasing proportions of the job markets, the working economies and ultimately of social and cultural participation.
Our world is becoming institutionalised… I am in a position where I cannot talk about medicine with my medical practice, theology with my church, knowledge with my colleges and universities; these matters are all under corporate governance. The individuals who live and work, in and under these structures are constrained by hierarchical policy as to what they are allowed to engage with.
The Future From The Past
So, what do I see as important in the future of education ? What principles are valuable in generating opportunities and capabilities for every human being, and ensuring a prosperous future not just for ourselves but also our environment – upon which we depend?
I see the key as being found in understanding what Umberto Eco laid out as one of the four elementary cultural phenomena important in all advanced civilisations:
Kinship relations as the primary nucleus of institutionalised social relations
It is in the conversations which happen in the interpersonal spaces which offer hope up for creative advances in self and society. The institutions were built around these kinship relations because of the abundance they so obviously yield. We must take heed of the ideas of Ivan Illich and deinstitutionalise education and society where it no longer is responding to the needs of human beings.
I think that it is in the reinvigoration and reconnection with our authentic kinship relations that the institution of education can find it’s generative future. It is by ensuring that there is room for stepping away from bureaucracies and formalism, that a diverse learning landscape can become a realistic possibility. A diverse learning landscape is needed, and I see education as a project working when there is a plurality of approaches and options leading to each other.
Inclusive forms of association through education and knowledge building are needed, particularly where finance has started to dictate who gets to take part. In creating Ragged University, the idea of building upon people’s passion in informal networks has been developed so that we/I can learn through doing, finding the necessary reciprocity of a friendly community of peers.
As such, people are in possession of their education and knowledge; an idea older than our modern institutions and we can find mention of this in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Book 2, chapter 1; page 21):
“…the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”
Both in Ragged University and Community Open Online Courses the notion of being a part of an extended network of people interested in learning through teaching is embedded. The choice to use informal spaces as settings is because of their dynamic qualities which provide affordances which are at once familiar and comfortable.
These types of open individual/community led informal networks are an important part of the future of education and all human activities; they are a vital invisible social Mycelium which connect and enrich all of us, without which the benefits of society will wither.
In this context, knowledge must be re-conceived of outside of the artificial categorisations which we have come to associate it as occupying. Knowledge and knowing is cast in this social context as diffuse and throughout all our interactions with other, and as such provides a helpful juxtaposition to the rigid and constrained post-industrial divisions of subject.
This view takes a particular position to value interdisciplinarity and acknowledges that measurement and attainment are tenuous constructs which are not always helpful. Rather, by seating learning in doing, we might find value in the development of skill and artifact which defies our compulsion to categorise into neat symmetries and convenient subjects.
This phase shift from the traditional delineation of subjects embraces complexity and the organic nature of our lives in our environment seeing us not as separate but a part of each other and the world. Taking an alternative and complementary approach of valuing people as carriers of knowledge and being knowledgable can be made sense of by knowing, particularly through people – again, not susceptible to metrics.
An example of this orientation of education can be found in the aphorisms of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:
“It behoves me to learn from Verus, my grandfather, his beauty of character and meekness of temper. From my father’s repute and my recollections of him, modesty and manliness; From my mother, piety and liberality; abstention not merely from ill-doing but from the very thought of evil, simplicity and frugality, and contempt for the luxuries of wealth. To my great-grandfather I am debtor in that he sent me to the public courses of instruction, procured for me the wisest teachers at home, and taught me that on education we must spend with an open hand…”
This more than anything expresses to me humanity as a commons, and understanding our part of a greater whole in nature, it’s infinite preciousness makes sense of education as a public good not to be reduced to something purely self serving or transformed into a tyranny artifice and finance.
Everybody is a ragged university, a unique and distinct body of knowledge accredited with life experience and with a membership of one. This is the kernel of the idea and contained within it is a personal relationship with knowledge and learning which reaches its fullest expression when open to association with each other without barrier or tariff.
It is by use of digital tools and infrastructures such as COOCs that great creative endeavours can manifest and knowledge spillover come about. It is an example of legacy learning where communities of individuals can set in store their efforts for others to gain from, and of course gain from simply doing this.
The future of education to realise our highest capabilities as a species is in togetherness, not just with ourselves but with other life and the environment upon which we depend. All of education will happen within the context of its ability to be sustained as an activity without destroying our ecosystems as life support.
Just like everyone owning a car is a redundant fantasy damaging all of us and life around, all of our activities will be contextualized in terms of learning not to piss in the water well.
Second Session: A conversation about Ragged University
You can listen to the second presentation of the day at Blackburn College where a more conversational style was used to get into the ideas which are embodied in the Ragged University project. It was a great day, and made all the more interesting as in the evening they had an event organized in the local community saved pub.
by Alex Dunedin