Maladjusted Schooling Revisited - a time to re-imagine 21st Century Education?

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"Re-imagining 21st century education is ambitious, an ambition born of a sadness as I reflect on a book written 30 years ago. And I shall of course fall far short of the ambition. Just to reiterate again the question raised in the invitation to
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  Maladjusted Schooling Revisited - a time to re-imagine 21st Century Education?Professorial lectureEducation and Social Research InstituteManchester Metropolitan University June 14, 2012 Re-imagining 21 st century education is ambitious, an ambition born of a sadness as I reflect on a book written 30 years ago. And I shall of course fall far short of the ambition. Just to reiterate again thequestion raised in the invitation to this talk. What sort of educational vision and practice may be fostered to underpina new world where people matter? This is an age-old question. Its srcins is in the idea of the good society that has long been the objectof philosophical and political debate. So, specifically we can ask, what sort of education does a visionof the good society demand? And how should schools be organised to lay a foundation for therealisation of this vision?My first book, based on my doctoral studies, called Maladjusted Schooling published in 1983 statedmy view as to the current state of schools and of society in the very title. It was my belief thatschools, as they were then organised, were largely maladjusted to the needs and interests of people. Itwas my view also that schools were essential to preparing people to fit organisations in later life atwork that were fundamentally maladjusted to the principles and practices of democracy.Unexpectedly, in 2012 Routledge republished the book. So that’s given me the excuse to think back on the experiences of my doctoral studies and to relate them to my experiences of today. In this talk, then, I want to reflect on what I researched back in the early1980s in the light of what is happening today in order to offer somethoughts on the re-imagining of education as fundamental to re-imagining society itself. So, let me begin with a bit of background. The research was an ethnography. I undertook it for my phd. The principle site was a very large comprehensive school in the Northwest of England and twoother sites were in London. At the time the school in the Northwest was known for its pastoral caresystem where the problems of students were taken very seriously. At the outset I want to say, that theteachers I met in that school were impressive. But they were working against the odds, particularlyat the time in 1980 when I arrived as a researcher at the school. In both the other sites I had been ateacher myself and returned to them to do some comparative research with the principle site. At thestart of the research in 1980, Thatcher had been recently elected in May 1979. The impacts of her government’s policies were already beginning to show. With the institution of neoliberal economic policies, unemployment rose dramatically as industries and public services were privatised and battleswith the trade unions began. There are eerie echoes with the neoliberal austerity measures of todaysweeping Europe, the demands for privatisation and the deregulation of labour markets. Elsewhere,like others, I have argued that the suffering experienced through unemployment, the fear of unemployment, the conditions of work imposed by new managerialism and the deregulation of markets then and today was a direct result of those policies. Here I want to reflect on their impact onyoung people and their teachers.  In the first part of this talk I want to pick out some of these impacts then and now. In the second partI want to offer some thoughts towards the re-imagination of education.  Then and Now - some voicesAlex : About three quarters of my mates are unemployed. They just ‘ang around, they just ‘angaround the Boys Club all nigh’.” Ray : Yeah, Alex : An’ they complain. Ray : Amusements and things.  J. F. S .: And there’s nothing for them to do? Ray and Alex : No. Ray : But when there’s riotin’, when there’s riotin’ they go to that, ‘cos that’s the only thing theycan do. There’s nothing really to do.These are voices from my 1983 book referring to the riots that took place nationally in 1981. Thereis a sense of powerless in these voices that is relieved only, in this instance, ‘when there’s rioting’.This is in direct contrast with the dreams held by their parents when they first arrived at the townwhere the school was situated. The town, in the book I called it Slumptown, had begun life as a major social and economic initiative to transform the lives of those who lived in the slums of a neighbouringcity. Industries were drawn to it by offering low rates of taxation. It boomed: ‘the populationincreased by 1500 per cent in a decade’ (MS p. 42). For a period during the 1960s, it had theyoungest population anywhere in Europe:It seemed as if a dream was going to come true. Booklets were written by the council towelcome its new inhabitants to create a sense of identity, of community. The dream waselaborated in the pamphlets giving the numbers of houses and flats to be built per year, theschools, the shops, the proposed entertainment facilities. Each major firm to set up in thearea was celebrated in the local papers. The successes of pupils from the purpose builtschools were published, acclaiming the first to reach university, the first to reach Oxford or Cambridge. The new community meant opportunity.(MS p. 42)By the late 1970s, an unemployed parent recalled:They’ve killed the place. A lot of it was new estates - Well, same as Newtown. Governmentgave them a grant, cut the rent and all the rest and once the period of, you know, free rent period, free taxes ... they move out. This has happened all round here.The whole top and bottom is unemployment. Kids have got no money. People have gotno money. So they get bored. They see other people who have got money so they’re takingit ..(MS p. 40)The logic was brutal. At the end of July in 1981, 354 fifth and sixth formers left school. Of these 40were employed by November 18th, of which four joined the military with the rest placed on ‘youthopportunity schemes’, receiving unemployment benefit, or had re-entered education. Darren summedit up:They’re spendin’ a few thousand on the Town Centre plantin’ all trees ‘n’ things. They’ll all be torn down when the bizzies [police- JFS] get fed up patrollin’. Spendin’ thousands on  trees when there’s all this unemployment round ‘ere. If I can’t get a job I won’t stay inSlumptown - I don’t want benefit or a Youth Scheme an’ all that crap.(Darren Bailey, fifth form: MS 35)At the time, Wedge and Essen (1982) estimated there were 1.5 million children living in low-incomefamilies, and Brown and Madge (1982) stated ‘roughly ten million people are suffering from poverty’(MS:44).And today has anything changed?In November 2011 youth unemployment was 21.9% breaking previous records by passing 1 million .Furthermore, adult unemployment reached its highest for 15 years (Allen 2011). In march 2012 itwas reported that over half of young black men were unemployed, nearly double that of young white16-24 year olds (Ball, Milmo, Ferguson 2012). The Rowntree report on poverty in December 2011claimed poverty affected 22% of the population. More broadly, the Guardian (Dec 2,2011)summarised the unemployment statistics as revealing that“ By the middle of 2011, there were some 6 million peopleunderemployed in the UK, 2.5m of these were officially unemployed,2.3m wanted work but were not economically active (including 550,000students) and 1.2m were in part time work as there was no full timework available.” The comparisons between 1980 and 2012 are certainly there.  The question in each case isthe same, what can be done about it? It is a question about the fundamental vision of society that collectively we wish to realise.The vision in the 1980s was based on a political rejection of ‘Society’, summed up in Thatcher’sfamous words, taken partly out of context, that ‘there is no society’. Hence, in her view, there was no point in looking to a sense of society to help. It meant that people should look after themselves albeitin her view take pity on their less fortunate neighbours by giving to charity. In 2012 David Cameronas leader of the conservative party developed this and promoted the idea of the Big Society as astrategy for dealing with the economic crisis caused by financial incompetence on a global scale. Itwas claimed ‘we’re all in it together’ - a claim subverted by media headlines outraged at what came to be known as the ‘granny tax’ to pay for tax cuts for the rich in what came to be called ‘themillionaires budget’ set out by George Osbourne the Chancellor of the Exchequer in March 2012 (seeMulholland 2012). More generally, such political strategies were in the context of increasing wealthinequality between the 1968 and 2005 (Dorling et al 2007) and more specifically the widening gap asthe rich recovered from the effects of the financial crisis and increased their wealth as the poor struggled “The bottom tenth of earners saw their pay creep up just 0.1% between 2010 and 2011while the top tenth saw their pay grow 18 times faster”(Allen and Ball 2011). In short, there is inthis a massive misalignment, an extraordinary maladjustment on a global scale as between the needsof the many and the interests of the few who are able to control the major political, economic andsocial organisations through which resources are allocated. As the savings and assets of the many are progressively liquidated to pay for the newly privatised services that were once available free at the point of need, a process Harvey (2006: 16) referred to as accumulation by dispossession, so society isdeprived of its care and supportive functions, and the sense of belonging to a ‘community’ is eroded.  The question of whether political and economic strategies were a cause of such misery or a brutal buteventual cure for it was again acutely raised following the riots in August 2011 that had their echoesof the riots in the 198os. The calls for school discipline then are echoed by Michael Gove’s recentcall for the application of military-like discipline in schools.In 1982 as unemployment was rising towards three million there were riots. Michael Foot, labour leader, linked the riots with unemployment. The Guardian (31 March 1982 – see Schostak 1993)reported the uproar this caused amongst Tory MPs with Mr Whitelaw the Home Secretary angrilyreplying, “I find this wholly deplorable. I would have thought everyone in this House wished to see peace in our cities and no riots in the summer. To suggest that such riots might occur is highlyirresponsible.’ The blame had to be placed somewhere. In 1983:A committee of senior cabinet ministers produced a report, which included such traditional proposals as: the encouragement of mothers to stay at home, the training of children tomanage their pocket money and to ‘examine the extent to which professionals, such as socialworkers, teachers, doctors, architects tend to undermine individual responsibility’ (Guardian,17 February 1983)(Schostak 1993: 15-16)For Rhodes Boyson, the Junior Education Minister the riots showed that ‘If we destroy the authorityof the headmaster and his staff, society will reap dragon’s teeth in the form of juvenile revolt’ (TimesEducational Supplement July 17, 1981: Source Schostak 1993: 16). For Thatcher, reported in theSunday Times (March 28, 1982), it was clear thatWe are reaping what was sown in the Sixties. The fashionable theories and permissiveclaptrap set the scene for a society in which the old virtues of discipline and self-restraintwere denigrated. Parents, teachers and other adults need to set clear consistent limits to the behaviour of children and young people . Children need, respond to and too often lack clear rules.Only in this way will they be able to grow up in a framework of certainty and learn theself-control necessary to cope with the problems of life.(Source Schostak 1993: 16)The ‘fashionable theories’ of the sixties referred to the child-centred, democratic, forms of educationthat were progressively exploring the rights of expression and agency of children in decision making.There was a real fear of such progressive ideas. There has then from the point of view of Power to bea re-adjustment towards ‘the old virtues of discipline’. Essentially, it is a move away fromdemocratic ideals.For the UK Minister for Education, Michael Gove in a speech that closely followed the riots of August 2011 the direction of the re-adjustment was similarly clear. He referred to what he saw as the“slow, and sustained, erosion of legitimate adult authority” that has been replaced by a culture of “dutiless rights which empowers the violent young to ignore civilised boundaries which exist to protect the weak and vulnerable”. For political elites representing traditional values and the socialand economic status quo, schools are essential to the management of young peoples’ sense of agencyand the expression of their powers to explore alternatives that might adjust organisations and socialorder to meet their needs, their values, their sense of justice. They are critical in producing whatSimon (1960) referred to as the ‘two nations’, where Power is historically organised to maintain boundaries between the working classes and those of the upper classes along with those who servetheir interests. The normal functioning of those boundaries may be called ‘civilised‘ by elites whenthey maintain the disparities of power, ownership and opportunities to amass wealth. It is then politically straightforward to argue that all forms of organisation must be adjusted to meet the needsand interests of the elite wealth producers. So it was not a surprise to hear Gove, in his speech,   praising the work of Phil Harris - Lord Harris of Peckham - who had set up several Academy Schoolsand commiserating with the uncivilised burning down of his ‘flagship’ carpet shop in Tottenham atthe time of the 2011 riots in London. He even dropped a little PR into his speech:Phil is able to support state education so generously because of his success in business.His firm Carpetright has brought jobs and opportunities, as well as high quality low costflooring solutions, to thousands.Schools then could be seen as providing high quality low cost adjustment solutions to the issue of themanagement of populations for business purposes and in particular to the ‘educational underclass’ – aterm revived by Gove. Essential to this narrative are ‘inspirational teachers’ who are able todiscipline the educational underclass who are “a vicious, lawless, immoral minority who need toknow that their crimes will result in exemplary punishment”. These are then the individuals whosemaladjusted “behaviour is not policed with proper boundaries”. The rights of children adjusted to theneeds and interests of authorities to be “taught properly ”are currently “undermined by the twisting of rights by a minority who need to be taught an unambiguous lesson in who’s boss.” “Inspirationalteachers’ are those who adjust the minds and behaviours of young people in order to “tackle thescandal of our educational underclass”. In this policy narrative there is an unambiguous linkage of schools with economic success. Like other social institutions, the practices and purposes of schoolshave had to be aligned to the greater political and economic project. Where they fall short, they haveto be adjusted through the application of performance criteria designed to inscribe the necessary behaviours, values and skills appropriate to a market economy driven by individualism and freedomwithout equality.But what exactly should education be about if it is to address the real needs of people?There are clues. They are there in what government policy has systematically attempted to repressover the last 30 years. Especially, I think they were there in the voices of the people I met during myethnographic research.As I said earlier, the school that was the principle site in my ethnography prided itself on its pastoralcare system that was designed to listen to the voices of young people as they talked of their problems.And there was so much to listen to. I recall one day asking a senior teacher how he managed. Helooked intently at me, held his stomach and said ‘you keep it all here John’. What he would havereally liked would be ‘to have the opportunity and the time to just talk to some kids and sound themout ... or y’know, listen to what they’ve got to say - have the time to do that. And we don’t. I haven’tthe time really to listen and get good feedback from my kids. ‘ (p. 120) As a researcher, I saw it asmy task to listen. I asked a young form tutor about his ‘case load’ of young people with problemsand he told me of one where “if I’d gone through what she’d gone through in he first eleven years of her life I think I’d have been in um some form of mental institution.” He catalogued the injuries: parental divorce, sent to a children’s home, split family:Um two weeks ago there was a road accident [...]. Her mother was in court yesterdaylistening to her brother being charged with the murder of [one person] and sexuallyassaulting a girl ... Her mother hasn’t tried to protect her at all. She’s quite open with it. Sois it any wonder the child wets the bed? It has, must have, it doesn’t show particularly ....Hannah’s not that ... doesn’t particularly demand attention as much as some children do ...(p. 162)There were so many other stories. But what difference does hearing them make? As one of the senior teachers put it:
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