Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Real Education Still Matters: Exposing the Limits and Myths of 'Market Forces' Education.

I came across the below article recently and it seemed to me to sum up the situation we are increasingly finding ourselves in in New Zealand as we follow down  the United States and the United Kingdom 'market forces' ideology pathway.

I thought it worth sharing.

Progressive New Zealand educationalist Kelvin Smythe has long been a voice warning New Zealand teachers that humanistic purpose of education has been captured by a Neo- Liberal ( 'Market Forces'/ privatization) agenda

Kelvin recently wrote a couple of articles sharing his insights. In one he writes of a point in the 80s when education came to what he called 'point dot'( a bifurcation point)  when politicians took us down an anti education route.

 It worries me that too many schools/teachers seem to have learnt to live with this neo-liberal//corporate takeover - and far too many seem to simply accept  the situation and busy themselves looking after their own school's reputation - the competitive model in action.

This focusing on their own school's success has led them ignoring greater issues and worse still not being able to see through the myths underlying the imposed ideology and , even worse, have not taken leadership roles to promote a humanistic /creative education. Teachers and schools huddle in an intellectual Plato's cave admiring the shadows  without  having the courage to move out into the light.

The below article by Peter W. Cookson Jr  might throw more light on the subject. 

The author explores the origins and myths of neo-liberal educational policies ( 'educational instrumentalism') and suggests positive alternatives.

(Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 13, 2015

http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18025, Date Accessed: 7/17/2015 7:00:08 PM)

The rise of instrumentalism in education.

In the last three decades, the dominant narrative concerning the purposes of education has become increasingly narrowed and instrumental (Apple, 1995; Anyon, 2005). Those of us who believe in the intrinsic value of education, experiential learning, and free inquiry are facing a historical transition from a tradition that values
Michael Apple
education as transformation and enlightenment to a new conceptualization that conceives of learning as serving the market with little regard for freedom of thought or originality (Cookson, 1992

I call this movement educational instrumentalism because it elevates the quantifiable “products” of education such as paper credentials and time spent in school above the complex, adventurous, and rebellious processes that characterize transformative education (Greene, 1988). Traditionally, education has been seen as a vocation or a calling. Educational instrumentalism takes a different view—education’s purpose is preparation for employment and little else (Tucker, 2014).

In this commentary, it is argued that educational instrumentalism can cause a turning away from the deeper democratic and transformative purposes of education. Like those imprisoned in Plato’s Cave, learners who do not have the opportunity to experience free inquiry are vulnerable to the one-dimensional images and stereotypes produced by much of the media and publishing world. The learner is hobbled, even crippled, as she or he travels the developmental
Time to see the light!
path of self-discovery and critical consciousness. This disempowering of mind produces tunnel social vision
(Dewey, 1910/1991; Freire, 1970/1993; Berlin, 1996).

Educational instrumentalism is the background metaphor and rationale of much of contemporary educational policy discussions whether we look at much of the standards movement, the education “any-time, any-place” movement, or the top down reform movement embraced by many influential policy makers (Engel, 2000; Berliner & Biddle, 1995).

Thus, the demystification of the assumptions behind educational instrumentalism is not solely academic, it is essential if the deeper purposes of education are to be preserved. Below, I examine the assumptions and contradictions underlying educational instrumentalism, demystify some of its assumptions about learning, and conclude with an alternative argument—real education still matters

The roots and contradictions of educational instrumentalism.  

The indispensable assumptions upon which educational instrumentalism rests are possessive individualism, and the conviction that the maximization of marketable talents in service to personal accumulation is education’s most important purpose.

Possessive individualism is the assertion that the individual is the sole proprietor of his or her
Escaping the box
talents and skills and owes nothing to society for them
(Macpherson, 1962). Moreover, following the speculative assumptions concerning human nature found in the works of John Locke and others, an individual’s talents and skills are seen as a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. Possessive individualism envisions a society of autonomous, competitive individuals struggling against each other for material dominance without regard to the larger social consequences.

This Hobbesian thesis about the nature of the social contract has attracted criticism. However, it has been indirectly affirmed by free market economists such as Milton Freidman (1962) who claim human freedom is best served by unrestricted market competition. If it is true that each of us is an independent agent bent on the protection and promotion of our self-interest, as the proponents of possessive individualism suggest, it is a short step to conceiving of education as primarily, if not exclusively, a preparation for the employment.

The tendency of policymakers to frame educational reform in terms of employment, global competition and national defense is an indication of their conviction that the primary, if not sole, value of education is success in the marketplace (Klein & Rice, 2012).

I would argue, given these assumptions, that the ethical and intellectual horizons of educational instrumentalism tend to dull the curiosity and sense of reality required for free inquiry (Berlin, 1996).

 Yet, while appearing to be self-confident in its convictions, educational instrumentalism suffers from conceptual fragility and internal contradiction—the publicly stated manifest purpose of increasing human capital runs counter to the latent, seldom acknowledged, requirement that human capital be defined in limited and exclusory terms.

The hidden flaw in educational instrumentalism is that it undermines the very thing it seeks to promote—the application of talent to problem solving. By reducing learning to purely
instrumental and vocational ends, instrumentally-inclined policymakers undermine the very nature of learning and elevate its pale imitation—rote learning and the fear of failure.

The mystification of learning.

Justifying these internal contradictions leads to a number of myths about the nature of learning: Briefly, some of these learning myths include: a) learning is the result of routine and imitation; b) learning is linear; and c) learning is quantifiable.

Howard Gardner
Generally, policymakers who ascribe to the principles underlying educational instrumentalism embrace theories of learning that are empirically weak and open to question. Instrumentalism leads to theories of learning that are as an excel sheet is to a Rembrandt portrait. Simplistic theories of learning result in a diminishing of learning by definition; research tells us that learning is complex,multilayered, paradoxical, and reflexive (Gardner, 1999; Sternberg, 2003).

Over reliance on testing is a form of tracking that bears only a faint relationship to actual merit and Learning has no identifiable beginning or end. We are learning every millisecond we are alive on this earth and the sources of learning are too complex to be measured arithmetically alone. It follows from this that learning is not linear. And, it is not linear in several senses. Learning takes place over time and not everyone learns in the same time sequence. Learning is relational, all of us learn from others in ways that we remember and ways we don’t remember. Learning is also collective; the singular autonomous learner posited by possessive individualism is an artifact of the philosopher’s imagination (Cookson, 2013).

Lasting learning is experiential. Our brains react to stimuli, and our minds translate stimuli into coherent patterns of thought. Educational instrumentalism tends to focus solely on the cognitive aspects of learning, and adopts what Paulo Freire (1970/1993) referred to as the banking
model of education where “knowledge” is poured into the heads of students by teachers.

In short, the learning myths that give educational instrumentalism an air of legitimacy are little more than unsupported statements that might be harmless, if it were not for the fact that they are shaping educational policy—and, in doing so affecting the lives and learning of millions of American students.

There must be a better way.

Real education still matters.

Since the time of Socrates, free inquiry has been seen as the path to enlightenment. To be able to think in an organized, empirical, and reflexive manner is the hallmark of the mature mind. And the mature mind is more that an individual possession, it is part of a larger collective of minds that identifies problems, weighs options, and arrives at solutions.

Progressive education in the tradition of John Dewey is characterized by a strong belief in experiential learning, experimentation, collective intelligence, and freedom of thought. It is a
broad and generous vision of learning that stands in dramatic contrast to educational instrumentalism (Dewey, 1916).

This perspective is desperately needed today. Not only because it is based on ethical principles of freedom that are essential for the preservation of democracy, but expressive, progressive education is the only educational philosophy that can actually prepare today’s students for tomorrow (Popper, 1945; Cremin, 1957; Gutmann, 1987). The rates of change in the world today are so fast and so steep that only the most creative, flexible, and innovative people will thrive.

By opening up learning to discovery and invention, society as a whole benefits and education serves its historic role of transformation and the foundation for freedom of thought. Without real education, a society withers and exits from history forgotten, a mere ghost of what it could have been (Counts, 1932).

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