A Crumbling Capitalist Schooling System?

On June 13th I was lucky to attend John Morgan’s inaugural public lecture at the University of Auckland. It was entitled “Schooling the Crisis: Education in the aftermath of the financial crisis.”

John Morgan preparing for his lecture

John Morgan preparing for his lecture

What follows is a synopsis of John’s lecture with my reflections integrated into it.

For the last 3 decades schooling has been thought of as preparation for the real world. So far, the post financial crisis of the last 5 years has not made people question what needs to change in schooling. Yet we need to acknowledge that we are preparing students for uncertain futures.

History has shown us that economic, cultural and social change go hand in hand. If the current crisis is seen as a political crisis nothing will change in education. An examination of the economic situation of the last 5 years shows a possible shift in how the world will operate in the future. Once we view this as a new economic normal (rather than being able to return to previous normal) schooling must be affected and changed.

2013-06-13 20.17.30

Economy and schooling are linked, we cannot ignore this. So next John turned his focus to the culture of schooling shifts over the past 25 yrs (since the last global financial crisis):

  • School effectiveness and improvement
  • Learning revolution – teachers shifting from sages to guides
  • Redefinition of teachers’ work: reflective practitioners to teacher competencies and standards
  • Technology-led transformation of schooling
  • Culture of continuing improvement
  • Nature of educational governance – including the wholesale import of language of management into education (As a side note John is looking forward to the day when management imports ideas from education)
  • Culture of personalisation.

Now a new crisis means we need education reform again.

“the longer the crisis goes on, the more the argument that schooling is a preparation for the ‘world of work’, and that students should work hard, get their qualifications, wait for the economy to pick up and delay the moment when they start consuming and get their feet on the bottom rung of the housing ladder will seem like a cruel joke played on the younger generation. At that point, serious questions will be raised about the aims and purposes of schooling, and educators – people like us – will need to have some convincing answers.” 

The immediate response to the crisis so far has been intensification of four post 2000 trends:

  • Moves to privatise schools, now Charter Schools etc. Chicago school closures and  belief that private sector will run these more effectively. Linked to rise in ‘Educational Philanthropy’ such as the Gates Foundation
  • Calls for Radical change intensified: We need to move on from industrial age method to learning how to learn. Connect to real life and the community. Schools need to change quickly so do notions of intelligence. Enable by new technology.
  • Hyper school improvement. Whole systems change and scaled up based on evidence. Reform based on deliverology. Teachers were holding us back! These reforms will change that.
  • Renewed concern about inequality and social justice. This trend not as highlighted as the previous 3. In the last 30 years, NZ has gone from one of most equal to most unequal societies. This renewed concern with fairness can be seen in the popularity of ‘The Spirit Level‘.

Longer term: Manifesto for Mean times!

2008 started as an economic crisis became a political crisis, and is now becoming a social crisis e.g. Portugal, Greece. The future is hard to predict but austerity and reduced consumption could well become the new norm. This may lead to a far more diversified economy in the future.

A revamped high tech economy at the top but with fewer people involved because of less people having enough income. Secondly, there will be less money in the middle. And a 3rd ‘Survival sector’ – with people going back to the land growing food, making crafts etc. This will involve semi-formal part-time work and part time growing food.

If this is the case, a recalibration of schooling will be required. Positional advantage competition will be intensified. A crisis of legitimacy will arise as costs and rewards do not balance out. This will result in crumbling capitalist schooling as capitalism no longer delivers on promises it makes to students.There will not be prizes for all like we promise at the current time. A gradual slowing of schooling may occur – which may lead to not being tied to learning objectives. More informal time will come into school (such as that already seen with schools taking on Google’s 20% time or Albany Senior High School’s Impact Projects). This means more fun and more connections with communities. The emergence of this will be slow, competitive and intense.

“One of the important messages of educational studies is that the school cultures do change over time (albeit slowly), and it is likely that schools will offer different routines and activities. For example, schools may provide models of ‘alternative hedonism’ in which there is a gradual ‘slowing’ of schooling (perhaps it is no longer necessary for every minute of every lesson to be tied to ‘learning objectives’; perhaps children could start school at later ages – there may be lots of ways to re-imagine schooling). The emergence of new economic cultures, with less paid work time, more informal routines, may mean that schools become more connected to local communities, and undertake collective projects such as growing food or crafts. These may be in line with the ‘greening’ of everyday life. It is likely a wide variety of ‘alternative educational spaces’ may emerge, which seek to develop different purposes and practices of schooling.”

While not considering himself an “education futurologist” John provided a challenging and well reasoned prediction of what may occur in the near future. This climate provides obvious challenges (practically and philosophically) but there are opportunities there as well for people to plan ahead on how to best meet these challenges. Because one thing is for sure, education does need to adapt to this uncertain future and I for one will not be clinging to the way that I have always operated. The idea of alternative educational spaces resonated with me and is one of the main ideas I look forward to exploring further after this lecture and as I begin my journey at Hobsonville Point Secondary School next term.

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