What hope for professional development when we have ‘froth instead of beer’?
Professional development in England is shaped by policymakers. What is the true meaning behind the political vocabulary of England in 2017? In this blog I argue that the politics that is shaping professional development in England in 2017 is more like ‘froth’ than ‘beer’.
The nature of politics in 2017
‘Politics’ ought to be about the inclusive discussion of and arrival at public values: a process that must precede the construction of policies about professional development. In 1962 Bernard Crick published ‘In Defence of Politics’ to restore the relationship between politics and public values. Fifty years later Michael Flinders published ‘Defending Politics’ with a similar intention. Politics is portrayed as being an inclusive public activity that ought to shape our professional development with transparency. In ‘The Blunders of our Governments’ (2013), Anthony King and Ivor Crewe make reference to the ‘disastrous policies’ that can occur whenever there is a lack of accountability and a lack of political vision. This appears to characterise so much professional development in England in 2017. There is a separation of ‘ways of being’ and ‘ways of knowing’ (Urban 2009). Policy and practice occur within separate domains.
‘Ersatz’ signifies an inferior imitation. This is a key characteristic of the politics in England that influences professional development in 2017. When do we see examples of professional development programmes that are thought through so that we get a sense of holism? When are Kennedy’s (2005) models of professional development debated at political levels? Instead, we have lots of expensive advertising and unverifiable claims that counter other unverifiable claims. But froth is not beer!
The message from John Keane’s ‘The Life and Death of Democracy’ (2010) is that democracy is fragile. The 1911 Parliament Act established the supremacy of the elected House of Commons over the hereditary House of Lords. This represented democratic progress. Three years later we had war and the suspension of democracy. This reveals the fragility of democracy. The consequences of war can lead to democracy becoming uncertain, transitory and weak. Yet, effective professional development depends upon the democracy that leads to the open and transparent acknowledgement that professional practice needs to be developed. In 2017, in England, we need the effective professional development that can lead to educators becoming aware of the importance of nurturing learners who are skilled in a range of subjects. As well as maths, English and science, there are the skills of art, music and drama that need developing. We realise this as a democratic nation, but are we getting ‘shamocracy’ instead? As the argument in this blog runs, ‘froth is not beer’.
This is the ideal partner of ‘Ersatz politics’. Are we really seeing the propagation of values that will lead to effective professional development? In England, we see a wide gap between rich and poor, a fear of outsiders and a commodification of education. In this instance, our professional development is being shaped by ‘shamocracy’. It can appear to be like going to a workshop on a Friday afternoon to ‘kill some time’. We make an attempt that is no more than being ‘at face value’.
The French Revolution gave us a political sense of ‘left’ and ‘right’. The terms derive from where you sat in the Assembly. The further left you were, the more you believed that power should lie with the citizenry and that the values of government should be liberty, equality and fraternity. Some think ‘left’ means enforced change, albeit in the direction of equality. But there is surely nothing wrong with advocating professional development that is based on principles of liberty, equality and fraternity? This is exactly what we need if we are to have the community of practice that Kennedy (2005) writes about in her models of transformative professional development.
In 1789 if you sat on the far right you preferred absolute government. How many governments are able to deliver professional development initiatives that are ‘absolutely brilliant’? We need political figures who are informed by practice. This allows them to become akin to Plato’s philosopher kings, the policymakers who know about practice intimately. How many of our professional development programmes in England are informed by such a sense of absolute conviction?
Do we want froth or beer? Or maybe we have an empty glass because the bar has run dry?
- Crick, B., 2005. In defence of politics. London: Continuum.
- Flinders, M. 2016. Defending politics: Why democracy matters in the 21st century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Keane, J., 2010. The life and death of democracy. London: Simon and Schuster.
- Kennedy, A., 2005. Models of cpd: a framework for analysis. Journal of in-service education, 31 (2), 235-250.
- King, A., and Crewe, I., 2013. The blunders of our government. London: Oneworld publications.
- Urban, M., 2009. Strategies for change: rethinking professional development to meet the challenges of diversity in the early years profession. Paper presented at the IPDA conference, 27-28 November, Birmingham, UK.