Regan, L., and T. Unterrainer. 2016. Standing Up For Education. London: Spokesman Books
Regan, L., and T. Unterrainer. 2016. Standing Up For Education. London: Spokesman Books (150 pages, £7.95).
Education, Education, Education
Regan and Unterrainer have brought together seventeen people who stand up for education. Combining knowledge and commitment their writings provide perspective, insight, evidence and hope. The first seven letters of professional give us profess. Books like this remind us that we have the power and the duty to articulate and offer for discussion the public values of professional educators. What do we profess? And are we not also learners integral to society?
All the contributors inform, stimulate and are good to read. The themes and specific subjects include: education as a right; the tensions of inspection; the suppression of creativity; mental health and well-being; the misuse of statistics; social control; and the refusal of government to perceive education as a social good rather than a commodity. They are not confined to one country and we are provided with perspectives beyond the classroom.
The contribution to the book of Jeremy Corbyn is significant because of the disconnection of policy makers from participants in education. For example, educators write many millions of words for masters and doctoral degrees in which they make critical sense of the purposes, concerns, anxieties, interests, joys, fears and values of education. Those professional voices are also a conduit for the voices of learners. How many policymakers read these words or the reports evaluating their impact? That has not stopped the imposition of policy. Gurus and consultants may gain the ears of ministers but participants in education struggle to do so.
The book is part of a fight back that is not confined to schools. There was a time when it was possible to bring together people from all phases of education within an education authority to exchange experience, expertise, views and arguments. Now the emphasis appears to be on competition rather than co-operation. The word ‘community’ remains in use but hardly in the sense meant by John Dewey. Together with ‘reform’ it needs to be recaptured. And, clearly, so does ‘education’. Dewey was born almost one hundred years before Michael Barber. His vision of education and society was humane, fulfilling and shared by many. Our politicians have, too often, gone instead for Barber’s deliverology, which comes with what we might call measurology.
Among those standing up for education are the Symposium for Sustainable Schools http://www.soss.org.uk/ and Reclaiming Schools whose masthead you may recognise if you go to their website https://reclaimingschools.org/. They are not the only ones. My concern is that while anti educational groups take action pro-educational groups are insufficiently cohesive. Buying and reading this book will help. The types and classifications of schools (and colleges and universities) multiply. There remains a mainstream but the number of ‘Oxbow Schools’ is growing. As we lose social and professional coherence we may be held together by inspection in a game of blame.
This is not inspection as contemplated by Lawrence Stenhouse who encouraged educators to see themselves as researchers supported by Her Majesty’s Inspectors. He was writing in 1975 and seven years later a group of teachers in Australia led by Stephen Kemmis and others put forward the notion of the ‘Socially Critical School’ that was not confined to preparing young people for society or for an individualistic life. Why prepare to join something of which you are already a part? With a socially critical approach the emphasis moves from teaching as instruction to learning as a collaborative and socially related activity.
We are told to close the gap. What gap? The gap between us and Finland? Why not the gap between rich and poor? It comes with a privilege gap. We also have a creativity gap, an enjoyment gap, a health and well-being gap and a gap between policy makers and participants. The campaign for genuine education needs to extend across all phases. Buy this book. Argue about it. Allow these voices to speak to you. Answer them back. Stand up for education. Don’t sit down. And when you encounter a policy maker, never kneel. Shout education, education, education.
Cliff Jones, December 2016