An Astonishing Diamond

{to read this post just click on the title above; there is a glitch in the text below that makes it unreadable}

There comes a point when something begins to feel a bit different, a tipping point I suppose. I’ve recently been in touch with the Slow Education website and in the emailed response W.E.Deming was mentioned, the same W.E.Deming that Maurice Holt quotes in his recent article about the sorry state of US/UK education: to try to improve process by studying outcomes he says “…is like driving by looking in the rear-view mirror.” W.E. Deming’s book ‘The New Economics’ (2000) is a guide to business management. In it he recognises that competition within an institution, be that a business or a school, can be destructive. Cooperation is promoted as the positive alternative. One way to do away with unhelpful competition is to abolish ‘performance reviews’ at work and grades/levels at school. Before you ask: no, I haven’t read the book! But that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that ‘Performance Related Pay’ is now a reality for England’s school teachers. This reveals to the world that we have an education system overseen by non-educationalists who don’t value a collegiate workplace for teachers; want to encourage competition within schools (as well as between!); do not know their own history (‘Payment-by-Results’ was abandoned in England over one hundred years ago because it leads to teaching to the test, a narrow curriculum and fiddling the data) and are inspired by – Deming would argue outdated – business practices rather than anything like an educational philosophy.

I haven’t read The New Economics but I have read two books recently both entitled ‘Together’, one by Henry Hemming (2011) and the other by Richard Sennett (2012). Both these books are about cooperation. Like W.E.Deming these authors take issue with the distorted view of Darwin that claims his theories of evolution are proof of the supremacy of the anti-collective, individualistic life. Hemming’s book suggests that associations and clubs have seen a massive resurgence in the last ten or twenty years; in studying this phenomenon he not only asks why but also draws attention to the precise nature of any association or club: in describing such a community he states “…it is not an identity that you can foist on an unsuspecting set of individuals.” (p.226) If this is true how can teachers in England really recognise themselves as a community of professionals? After all, their identity is very much ‘foisted’ upon them by a damaging treadmill of short-termist political leaders. Ordinary Voices, an organisation promoting new approaches to education management, describes the short-term vision of these politicians as “…sometimes creating instability and uncertainty in the system.” This is putting it very politely indeed!

As Richard Sennett says in his book “When reform is conducted top-down, what goes missing is equality.” (p.50) Ordinary Voices turns this quote on its head because it aims to build “…a broader consensus for what kind of service we want to provide…” The bottom of their homepage states simply “More voices of ordinary people want to be heard in the education debate.” This isn’t the promotion of a particular type of educational uniformity by a combination of global business interests, Think Tanks and politicians (for evidence of this see nearly every other post in this blog). This isn’t the promotion of any particular educational agenda, it is simply a call for a more participatory democracy. Sennett describes how the internet has enabled people to share their interests and come together with greater ease and in greater numbers than ever before. An organisation like Ordinary Voices is a community in the modern sense of the word, not bound by place and faith but by common interest or cause. Robert Nisbet (1913 – 96) describes any association like this as “…the greatest single barrier to the conversion of democracy from its liberal form to its totalitarian form.”

“A club is a community engaged in the task of educating itself.” J.M.Brew ‘Informal Education: Adventures and Reflections’ 1946

When does the tipping point occur? Is it when the community grows to a certain size? Is it when the task of educating is obsolete because the truths are self-evident? Is it when the contents of that education crystallise into something like an astonishing diamond that can no longer be ignored?

Pretty Obvious

1. Why did Gove only celebrate academies and free schools? Because he was busy aping the Americans turning a public service into a private one. In 1969 the first black paper was written attacking comprehensive schooling on principle; its authors were disgusted by the post-war egalitarianism that had begun to creep into society and positively horrified by the student protests (US and UK) that were an indication of what might happen if entire populations were properly educated. In an executive/representative democracy such as ours there was no expectation that Gove would listen to parents or teachers/schools. In a more participatory democracy he would have had to listen to the real needs of ordinary people. But he is detached from anything so tiresome as this and he is closely tied to numerous large-scale corporate interests (not least Rupert Murdoch who has more than a passing interest in the money that can be siphoned out of public pockets into his own via national education systems). Given the absolute faith in privatisation, the lack of interest in these matters amongst the general population, the Conservative anti-statist stance that is clear from the 1969 Black Paper onwards and the soft-headed, press-release-publishing UK media it’s hardly surprising that Gove/Morgan/whoever’s next make no real effort to disguise what they are doing. There’s no need to bother! That’s why Gove only celebrated academies and free schools, because they are the fruits of his efforts. It seems a naive question to me. – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/08/why-did-gove-only-celebrate-academies-and-free-schools/#sthash.7cwvHQ25.dpuf

2. Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker article that is commented on by Maurice Holt, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Colorado who notes that “…it will strike a familiar chord with teachers in England, since the current government is totally in thrall to the doctrine that the quality of education can be determined by assessing outcomes.” My response to Holt’s post, again on the Local Schools Network is here: It’s great to see an American professor writing on this site. It’s pretty obvious that aping the American model has nothing to do with improving education for all; it is a market-led rather than education-led model. What a shame that the average parent or pair of parents will not come to this fairly straightforward and uncontroversial understanding with ease because of the UK media’s unwillingness to spell it out. The Local Schools Network does valuable work in keeping me sane but I’m not convinced its voice is loud enough to help influence the national debate. The American system right now is a horror story and we are heading towards just such a system with little in the way of a proper debate.
Is this what flourishing democracies feel like?
Here is a link to Rachel Aviv’s piece in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/21/wrong-answer – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/08/another-lesson-from-america/#sthash.zTzK4RWL.dpuf