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LETTER: Prescribed instruction, attitudes and values

November 22nd, 2015 10:07 AM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – Nowadays, we appear to have returned to a new model of education as machine efficiency, almost one hundred years after Mercier Press in Cork courageously published Padraic Pearse’s ‘Murder Machine and other essays’. In this new model there is no allowance made for holistic development, the cultivation of the aesthetic or the concept of teaching as productive possibility. 

Instead, the state is expected to behave as a legal enforcer of regulation and rule, no longer engaging in authentic dialogue with thinking professionals at the school, but instead tasked with counting and gathering evidence that prescribed instruction, attitudes and values are all proceeding with machine efficiently.

With this as a backdrop it is deeply reassuring to see that the world still has some courageous publishers. A new hard-hitting book in education, ‘Pedagogy of Insurrection’ by Peter Mc Laren, published in the US by Peter Lang Publishers, deals with education for human liberation – a rare find in a world obsessed with education of the young person as a competitive individual and unit of productivity for a global market. Peter is Professor of Critical Studies at Chapman University in California, and a former student of the renowned educator Paulo Freire. Three years ago, Peter was a distinguished visiting professor to our Winter School in the Department of Education and Professional Studies, University of Limerick, where he gave thought provoking lectures to our Structured PhD in Education students.

Mc Laren’s book connects with the need for our collective constructive rage at the injustices of the contemporary social order, the need for a new global stream of consciousness and what he describes as a ‘long ginsbergian Howl’. 

The facts speak for themselves. After fifteen years of a global policy of chasing excellence and quality education we have ended up with a Europe of mass unemployment, new forms of precarious employment, a refugee crises of unimaginable scale and the majority of citizens living daily lives within austerity measures. In Ireland, this policy of austerity is enacted as a policy of inaction by a weakened state in the face of human suffering - a tragic homeless crisis, a child poverty crisis and the loss of a generation of Irish people to emigration.

The new role of education appears to be more about opening markets for private entrepreneurs than it is about securing the common good and public interest values.  Education has come to be regarded as little more than a commodity to quickly pinpoint the brightest and best for an insatiable global machine. In this machine view, teachers are tasked with squeezing successful outcomes from each individual student. 

The central message (of the book) is clear: the existing social order of radical capitalism, acting as Frankenstein off its chains, is too voracious a feeder and exploiter of human spirit for civil society to ever secure a way within existing structures to give this a human face. The political system is deluded if it thinks it can ever tame this shrew. Instead people need to stand in solidarity and engage in the struggle needed for education as the holistic development of all young people and the development of an equitable and democratic world.

Mc Laren’s Pedagogy of Insurrection reminds us that the heart of education is always about relationship and the pedagogy of spirit in preference to any scientism of techné or machine efficiency. His book acts as a timely reminder for educationalists and policymakers to re-visit some important questions: what is the purpose of education in Ireland today, what is worthwhile and what is truly desirable?

Dr Geraldine Mooney                                                                                                                                                Simmie,

Lecturer in Education,

University of Limerick.

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