Key themes in Qualitative Research and Enquiry Based Learning
Modernism, Post-Modernism: the Curriculum of Surfaces
Spencer Hall Invitational Conference, University of Western Ontario, October
If education is supposed to be a preparation for life, then, for what kind of life is a curriculum to be a preparation? And what counts as knowledge and teaching in a pluralist society? Perhaps these questions have already been made redundant by political and economic events, particularly in Britain where the National Curriculum at first sight renders curriculum development as opposed to curriculum delivery, obsolete; knowledge unproblematic and teaching a matter of doing it by numbers.
Should educationists in the 1990s just retire gracefully and gratefully from the scene to write their biographaries and autobiographies? I ask this, only in part whimsically, because the real curricula in this age of mass information have been taken out of the hands of educationists by the great global systems of information processing, image making and attitude forming. The most powerful narratives in circulation that frame experience, provide grist for mass reflection, judgement, appreciation and reasons for action are part of a global industry, generated for reasons of profit, power and control not education. That reforms in education are made by politicians in the name of preparing for the life created by the economic challenges of the new world order at least points which of the two - education or political economy - is really the motivation behind the school curriculum. But this is old news.
So what's changed? Where are the openings, margins, gaps in the old structures that provide the possibility for alternatives? It is claimed that some changes, or at least some sort of a sense of the end of an age has occurred since the 1960s - or is it that a certain group of post-war 'baby-boomers' has reached the age of nostalgia and self-importance? This change, it is claimed is the sense of an ending for Modernism and the period we are in is to be characterised as Post-Modernist. The debate, if nothing else, provides some useful distinctions and issues for reflection.
Employing one current distinction, modernism is characterised by the generation of 'grand narratives' and Post-Modernism by a plurality of narratives (Lyotard 1984). This is suggestive of differences in the kind of curricular structure that each would employ; and the kinds of 'knowledge', professional competence, role and conception of education that teachers would value. There are other suggestive differences. Jencks (1987:7), writing as an architect, sees Post-Modernist architecture as:
fundamentally the eclectic mixture of any tradition with that of the immediate past: it is both the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence. Its best works are characteristically double-coded and ironic, making a feature of the wide choice, conflict and discontinuity of traditions, because this heterogeneity most clearly captures our pluralism.
It is this architectural analogy that I want to pursue. In common with other commentators in the debate, Jencks sees a number of political economic distinctions underlying the shift from Modernism to Post-Modernism in architecture:
Whereas a Modern, industrialised society depended on the mass-production of objects in a factory, the Post-Modern society, to exaggerate the contrast, depends on the segmented production of ideas and images in an office.
That there are inter-dependencies between ideas, social and material structures have long been central to a number of realist and materialist philosophies. Thus, that a fundamental change in economic structures leads changes in the ways people conceptualise, value and act in the world should surprise no one. It is in such periods of change that the role of education becomes a political battleground as old certainties and vested ibnterests come into contest with alternative visions, enthusiasms, fashions and experiences of life and definitions of 'the good life'.
In such situations of uncertainty, of choice between alternatives what should count as 'the curriculum'? What should be the 'teacher's role'? What is education for? Since Postmodernism, under its various definitions all involve some sort of contrast with, or differentiation from Modernism it may be useful to consider these questions from the standpoint of the impact of modernisation and hence modernism on the curriculum of schooling.
A Modernism and the Curriculum of Schooling
Underpinning the dominant view of teaching and of curriculum, particularly the secondary or High School, has been that of the promotion of a number of mutually reinforcing grand narratives. In the area of the subject disciplines the grand narrative has been that of scientific, political, economic and moral progress. Together they defined rational civilisation. This sense of rational progress is a key element in Modernism. It has ,p& been central to the thinking of a diversity of educationists including Dewey, Marxists and those following from Tyler. Each had (Aronowitz and Giroux 1991:57):
a faith in those modernist ideals that stress the capacity of individuals to think critically, to exercise social responsibility, and to remake the world in the interest of the Enlightenment dream of reason and freedom.
Broadly speaking, Modernism refers to those approaches to be found in architecture, the sciences, philosophy and the arts which arose as a response to the revolution in social life brought by the machine age, city living and the market place economics of division of labour, standardisation and mass production. Two broad responses to this perceived revolution can be outlined.
The first path took the opportunities offered by the industrialisation process to formulate rational, technical solutions to the social and cultural needs arising from the processes of change brought by industrialisation. Rationality was seen in an evolutionary sense as signifying the highest ideals of human development. Here social order could be re-made according to reason, whether that reason was capitalist or communist.
In architecture, it was in the vision of Le corbusier's straight lines and right angles cutting through the confusion of nature. A central aim for his cities was to create the conditions for the stern effort to co-ordinate or organise the mass of ordinary people to generate great and noble things. His cities were the vehical for rational social design on a grand scale. For him the new techniques of industry were a liberating force for reason. Central to the modern technical advances were repetition and standardisation which were characteristic of the skyscrapers and towerblocks which came to dominate the world's cities. In his vision, cities were to be of straight streets, the residential blocks straight, right angled. Such a rational city would above all affect thinking:
The winding road is the result of happy-go-lucky heedlessness, of looseness, lack of concentration and animality.
Essentially, in the rational programme, the city is a mechanism for the ordering of social life. Although never as planned as Le Corbusier would have it, key ideas can be found underlying the design of residenses for workers, their places of work and the areas in which they shop and spend their leisure. At work scientific managment standardised behaviour by breaking complex tasks into their simplest elements, thus extending the range of control management could have over workers. Home became not so much the private world away from the work place but rather sites of consumption, to be precisely targeted by marketing and advertising agencies.
It is not hard to translate these sentiments into schooling and the kinds of curriculum it fostered. It can be seen in the stern rational technical approach with its separate subject divisions, its lock-step approach to teaching classes, its production of norms and its measurement of outputs. The approach was perhaps epitomised by Cyril Burt and influential British psychologist who established a central role for intelligence testing and personality assessment; and in America E. L. Thorndike who believed that if it existed, it could be measured. The ideal 21st century solution to teaching from the point of view of this approach would be that of programmed learning employing the perfect teaching machine. The computer may yet provide this. Western governments have already discussed the costs and benefits of increasing the role of computers. As described by Howard (1985) a major function of computer systems designers in business was to "replace a piece of the person with something automatic". The computerisation of national Curricula and of national assessment are just the logical outcome of such a view. However, the computer is not a simple extension of the rationalist project and its further implications for education, ushering in as it does the Post-Modern age have yet to be fully worked out.
Governments have frequently sought the teacher-proof curriculum. And at first sight the computer seems to promise this particularly in association with what Goodson (1991) has called the curriculum as prescription (CAP). Here subjects are conceived as analytically distinct to be delivered in timetable slots. The management by objectives of industry has its parallel in curriculum by objectives. Since, the subjects each are presumed to have their rational forms of knowledge, and since such forms are considered the highest that culture can offer, the role, of the teacher is to deliver these faithfully to the new generations. The teacher as expert in the forms of knowledge, can only pass on those forms to others. The student thus can only learn, or discover only what has already been artfully designed to be found rather than, say, contribute alternatives.
There is a paradoxical response by politicians to the demands of modern society in terms of its educational needs. The first response is to create an apparent divorce between school curricula and economic needs; the second, is to demand that school curricula be made more relevant to industrial needs.
One version of the first programme for education has recently been promoted by the conservatives in America (Bloom 1987; and Hirsch 1987) and in England the 'new right' who originally contributed to the Black Papers (Cox and Dyson 1975) and found political favour under the government of Thatcher and political expression in the 1988 Education Reform Act and the National Curriculum.
Aronowitz and Giroux' analyses of Bloom and Hirsch are also highly relevant to the British scene. Their critique of the neo-conservative programme shows it defining education as the study of Great Books and hence separating the educated from the uneducated, i.e., the poor, women, and ethnic groups that do not partake of western cultures. It would remake the vision of an aristocratic, leisured, 'educated' elite. Those who do not share in such a vision of the master narrative would simply be ignored.
On the otherhand, the Thatcher government of the 1980s complained that teachers had failed to produce an adequately trained workforce; the school leavers and university graduates were illiterate, innumerate and had a bias against commerce and industry. The 'back to basics' movement in education that this ushered had the characteristics of a fundamentalist movement, born again to the virtues of capitalism:
Fundamentalist movements always emerge to purify social institutions of'contaminating' influences; usually some form of liberalism. Thus (Competency Based Training and Education) emerged in the U. S. to purify teachers of the liberal-humanist educational theories promoted by their teacher educators, and held to be responsible for the attitudes of the permissive society and attendant evils. The reduction of teaching to its essential behavioural components offered the prospect of a high degree of prediction and control over teachers' future conduct, thereby eliminating the contaminating influence of liberal-humanist educational theory.
In Britain the compentencies bandwagon started to pick up speed in the late 1980s when it had begun to wane in the U.S. The complaints against teachers and schools were leveled at a time when unemployment had reached its highest since the Great Depression of the 30s; and at a time when manufacturing industry fell to a smaller base than had existed at the turn of the century leaving whole communities devasted.
There have been counter-curricula, of course. Rather than focus on the 'Great Books' or 'Great People' or 'Basic Facts' curriculum the alternatives proposed have included notions of child centred teaching, the construction of a curriculum 'relevant' to children's personal and home lives, or curricula relevant to their working lives, or curricula relevant to a pluralistic society, or curricula which 'raise consciousness' about the conditions of their lives. Marxist and qualitative research approaches in the sociology of education have done much to undermine the prevailing 'Good Books' and simplistic training-of-workers views.
Distinctions should be made, however, between these competing approaches between those which proclaim to be child-centred, democratic and empowering but are covertly authoritarian; and those which aspire to de-construct the relationship between teacher and pupil to produce non-authoritarian or democratic modes of organisation and curriculum development.
Echos of these concerns can be seen in Rousseau's formulation of child-centred teaching which on the one hand was a total rejection of society and on the other a covert authoritarianism to bring the child to learn what the teacher had planned rationally. Dewey's discovery learning had the same basis of bringing the child to 'discover' what was already planted there to be learnt. It extends also to Papert's computer based environment LOGO and the approach taken by Lawler et al (1986). In addition, Dewey adhered to the grand narrative of the American family as the moral basis for the teacher-pupil relationship and the organisation of schooling. Thus the child-centred or progressive education which became the quasi-authodoxy of primary schooling in England was founded upon a grand narrative of rationality and of authority albeit disguised and albeit at odds with the kind of capitalist vision of Reagan and Thatcher.
Characteristic of the emergence of Modernism was a religious zeal, a protestantism as Jencks (1986) called it, which wanted to wipe away the chaos, ignorance and confusion of previous ages, to replace it with the accumulated knowledge and wisdom that was ,p& revealing itself through rationality. Undeniably, its successes were great and in many ways beneficial to large segments of society. Mass schooling, it could be argued, succeeded in opening up opportunities to working class children that had never before been available on such a scale. In the emergent meritocracies of the twentieth century, education was the key to social advance. However, access to the upper levels of the education system was still heavily biased in favour of the white, male, middle and upper classes. In the class ridden society of Britain, Willis (1977) could write that the issue was not so much why middle class kids got middle class jobs but why working class kids let them. Perhaps, during the affluent 1960s and early 1970s when the jobs were there for the taking, education was not a priority. However, in the 1980s in Britain, when the jobs were not there, education was doubly irrelevent. Not only were the subjects on offer of little interest, they were of little use as qualifications for a job market that was non-existent. Instead, there was created the curriculum of warehousing where young people were sidelined into training scheme after training scheme for jobs that did not materialise. Whether in the case of Willis' 'lads' in the 1970s or the young unemployed of the 1980s schooling has been woefully maladjusted to the real needs, interests and social circumstances of young people (Schostak 1983). The response of the new right has been to blame the schools for failing to provide adequately trained people for modern economic needs. But training does not produce jobs, it merely delays entrance into an already depressed market. Thus training does not address the needs of people who are unemployed or who face unemployment. it does not address either their everyday troubles nor their dreams for a future of happiness and wellbeing. The structure that once provided affluence has gone and the curriculum which provided the mass of skilled and qualified workers is redundant.
The Post-Modern Curriculum
I don't think really if you ask anybody .. we really know from a total perspective, are we all aiming at the same thing? I don't know uh.. you know we have different govern ,p& ments in Ontario and they lead us in different ways. We come up with new bandwagons about, you know this is the way to go, but nothing's a panacea, you know. The only constant is teachers day in and day out are meeting kids in the classroom and trying to do the best they can.
Although many claim there is no real definition of the Post-Modern, I will at least say what I understand it to mean. First, it alludes to the experience or feeling that somehow a change is upon us. The circumstances, the beliefs, the values that gave rise to the Modern age are giving way, are crumbling. The promises of glorious cities composed of great towerblocks amidst great parks, dreamt of by Le Corbusier in his writings of the 1920s and 30s collapsed like the Ronan Point tower block in London, or were later blown up because they had failed to deliver their promises. Science has not delivered utopia. Communism is collapsing and Capitalism has created nightmares in its cities, left millions in poverty, shamelessly exploited third world countries and brought the world to the point of ecological disaster. The belief in inevitable progress as a faith has lost or is at least fatally losing credibility. Perhaps it is experienced as a kind of 'confusion in the ranks' a kind of 'we're going, but where are we going?'
However, it is clear that changes are occuring. A school ,p& with close relationships with the business community has tried not only to meet industry needs as in the old model of schooling, but has tried to mimic or model itself upon business values and management structures. A vice-principal explained the need to change from nineteenth century models where
.. you have a tendency to have very limited knowledge of a certain area. If you have limited knowledge in one area and someone has limited knowledge in another area and so forth, it takes more effort to get those people to teamwork, to solve any problem um. I've worked in alot of factories and that when I was going to university and uh (...) but what i found there in working in that, that situation was well 'This went wrong here, well that's not my problem'. 'That went wrong there, that's not my problem'. No one would take ownership - again we come back to that word ownership - of the whole issue. You know as long as I picked up my cheque and I did my job I'm OK. Uh, the new issue, I think, is saying, we want everyone to take responsibility for the whole thing. So for example, if we're building an automobile or whatever the case may be, you. The fact that automobile is a quality automobile is important to me. Not that I put on four bolts in the back wheel, OK and sent it on its way and I don't care if it falls apart. So I think the main advantage to what we're going to be doing is ownership, a broader base of skills, more co-operative learning, and all in all better people. OK? because that decision making's going to be 'Well, let's do the whole thing, let's make this work'. Be more responsible citizens, maybe that's really Utopian, I don't know but I can see, why they're trying to do that.
The changes that were being made within the school, were seen to be a mirror of the kinds of changes being made in industry. Indeed, a top executive which had 'adopted' the school had recently given them a lecture on how to make their organisation 'clean and lean'. There is a parallel here with what Hewison (1990:55) has described as the conflation of commerce and culture where 'The very notion that a distinction between commerce and culture might exist is dismissed as a recent prejudice, a romantic and elitist response to industrialisation and mass production. Now museuems, the repositories of art, and shops, the repositories of goods for sale, are becoming the same'. Schools are to become repositories of employer-valued modes of working where the boundaries between school and the world of work are no longer so clear in the mutual production of 'good citizens' who are 'empowered', 'self-responsible', 'team playing' 'decision makers'. However, the very shallowness of being the team player, empowered by doing one's best for the corporation provides the ironic turn which de-stabilises the utopia. Is that all there is to being a citizen, to being a 'better person'?
Young people have different futures than those of that their parents and Grandparents could aspire towards. They have different values and attitudes towards authority and work. I asked a Principal what he thought brought about the changes in attitudes that he was describing in teachers who were moving away from authoritarian approaches:
... the Beatles. Well, I think they had the biggest impact on education I ever seen in the 60s. They really do. It sure as hell stood out to me.. and the dress .. and they sort of .. uh started their free thinking which is great uh, the old school tie doesn't work anymore. I mean we, you know, the dress, the approach. the questioning of curriculum. I saw that with those teachers which is good. It used to drive me nuts, 'cos I knew they were right. Like I was teaching a curriculum once, and I knew it was wrong. It was so goddamn dry and irrelevant, wasn't relevant to anything, except the author who wrote it. And I hung in there for a while. And i remember this kid I always remember him. He used to question me, sort of 'Why are we doing this, sir?' very nicely though. And I used to give him shit. But he was right. (...) Those kids from the sixties are teachers now ....
A theme of post-modernism is its loss of belief in, or a questioning of the great narratives that have held nations in thrall. The 1960s are often given as the period of emergence of the Post-Modern, a time of questionning, a time of pop-cultures, of youth consumerism, of drug and religious experimentalism and a time of belief in revolution. The themes of youth, racial identity, feminism threatened to de-stabilise the old structures as the repressed and minorities in Western societies reclaimed their histories so long denied by colonialism, or repressed by paternalism. Yet, counter to this, it could be argued that the de-stabilisation was more due to the increasing pace of the information age which put images of youth in North America, Britain and other European countries in virtually immediate contact; which enabled the sounds of pop to be reproduced in their millions and broadcast to audiences in their hundreds of millions. This de-stabilisation showed itself, not so much in the protest marches of the 60s and early 70s but later in the decade and particularly in the 80s with the increasing globalisation of corporations and their information networks. The technologies of the information age do not require the existence of mass pools of identically trained labourers, great factories and massive machinery. As the role of information technologies in Western societies have increased, so the great industries of the past have withered, leaving whole communities unemployed, whole regions as wastelands. The vast multinationals that trade in information and control empires as great as nations have switched their operations from one nation to another, searching for the cheapest labour and material costs. In Canada the Free Trade agreement has meant that head offices have crossed the border in search of better tax advantages and lower labour costs. In America, the border is Mexico. And from there it could be the Phillipines or South Korea. A labour force that is not able to compete in the information age, finds that its old skills can either be bought more cheaply elsewhere, or have been made redundant by improvements in electronics. Consequently, in Britain, America and Canada, poverty has increased as young people find it harder to enter the labour market. Labbatt (1991) reports that children in Canada are the largest single group in poverty and over a half depend on food banks. There are over 12000 children on the streets of Toronto. In London England, cardboard cities have developed where the homeless build their shelter out of society's refuse. Thus:
Since there were accusations that the richest were profiting from the Thatcher years at the expense of the poorest, the definition of poverty became an issue. During a discussion on poverty in the Summer of 1986, the government argued that the supplementary benefit was not the poverty line despite having been broadly accepted as a measure of the numbers in povery. They showed a rise from 'six million in 1979 to 8.8 million in 1983' (Frank Field in The Guardian August 4th, 1986). Arguments have centred on the concept of relative poverty. Governments refused to accept the concept, preferring to speak of some Absolute notion of poverty because people were not starving to death as in some areas of the Third World. Alongside this attack upon the notion of poverty was also the idea of the 'trickle down' of wealth from the rich to the poorer people: set free the rich, provide them with tax incentives and they will create work. The poor could always be accused of being lazy, of being scroungers, of being spendthrifts. They needed to be educated into living within their budget. If they were unhealthy, it was because they smoked too much, or their diet was poor. Thus they needed to be re-educated into healthy living. If they were unemployed, it was because they had the wrong skills and needed retraining. If they were unmarried, it was because of a lack of morals, or because of the irresponsibility of the absconding father who must be made to pay. A web of reasons which draw upon the prevailing mythologies surrounding poverty, are strategically applied assuaging a sense of guilt.
The U.S. Census Bureau has just reported that the number of Americans living below the poverty line - a preposterous $13,359 before taxes for a family of four - rose in 1990 by 2.1 million to 33.6 million souls. That's 13.5 per cent of all Americans, one out of every seven of them, a total far exceeding the entire population of Canada. Twenty per cent of all American kids and fully one-third of all black Americans are considered poor. A quarter of all kids under 12 are hungry or at risk of being hungry, while 3 million American citizens are homeless.
Under the grand narrative of continual progress the poor have to be blamed for their own misfortune - by definition the opportunities were there. The narrative of progress is a seduction, a masking sign inscribed through the political use of the power of the media over the narratives of the poor themselves, making their poverty into a form of self-abuse. Their narratives are experienced but cannot have direct representation in themselves but only in a form of shame.
The discourse that carries the revelations, as well as the discourses that construct the imagery of shame, 'their fault', and 'they know the welfare system better than any of us' are sectionalised, channelled, targeted to audiences. Political power resides in the manipulation of information as between channels of communication and the discourse circuits through which everyday life is constituted. Information appearing in one channel does not appear in another. The popular British news ,p& paper media of The Sun, The Star, The Daily Express, The Mail carry other discourses; similarly for television channels and the Radio. The narrative of continual progress, as are the discourses through which it is maintained or critiqued and challenged are socially distributed.
For a relatively small percentage of the population there were massive increases in wealth. For the middle income range, there were sufficient increases to buy their silence and their acquiescence. For the remainder, there are the counter narratives of continual poverty, continual exploitation, continual discrimination, continual powerlessness. It is the narrative of the director society over that of the counter narratives of the subordinate or the disenfranchised underclasses which have continually to be silenced, criminalised or contained. It is the narrative of masking the acts of silencing, criminalisation and containment.
Schools which respond with curricula emphasising empowerment, flexibility, critical thinking, echoing the latest business managment philosophy are desperately trying to find an educational response to these massive social changes which prepare children for a future that will demand continual change, and continual re-training; a future where stable forms of knowledge are no longer to be found. However, for the increasing levels of structural unemployment, even this does not seem to be an answer. In Britian, a student I interviewed when he was 14 in 1981 in an area of massive adult unemployement, had not been able to find a job after leaving school. Ten years later he still had not worked. He lives in a region where whole communities are unemployed. What should a relevant curriculum for their community be? What should a teacher teach? Is there a clue in the various Post-Modernist discussions?
Post-Modernism as a response to the failure of the rationalist dream in the face of globalising capitalism takes many forms. Its commonality seems to lie in the de-construction of realities and in the recognition of pluralism without recourse to calling the alternatives to the master narrative false consciousness, sin, error or absence of culture/civilisation. One result is the re-discovery and the exaltation in difference and in the repressed, the masked and the overlooked. On the one hand, Previously repressed histories and narratives are promoted. On the other, a sense of nihilism develops, wherein all values come to nothing in a swirling relativism, and thus no judgements can be made. Rather than knowledge, there are knowledges; rather than rationality, there are rationalities; rather than Culture, there ,p& are taste cultures. No one is any more true or correct, than any other. The neo-conservative response leading to calls for standards, the basics, and a National Curriculum, can be seen as a response to the Post-Modernist anti-hierarchical pluralism which has led to curricula initiatives in anti-racism, multiculturalism, feminism and increasing foci on media studies, environmental issues (a direct attack on the notion of benign scientific and industrial progress) and personal and social agendas through all of which repressed discourses come to light and the process of masking de-constructed. However, there is still more at stake than curriculum development in alternative rationalities and knowledges. It is not simply, what should the teacher teach; but rather, if there is a teacher, who is it to be, and under what circumstances? The definition of the teacher as the central authority, operating in a classroom, delivering official texts to either acquiescent or rebellious students is at the very least, open to question. From where does the authority to engage in the practice of teaching arise?
... what would a project look like if it explicitly set out to change the teachers rather than the curriculum? How would you design a project to appeal to the teacher-as-person rather than the teacher-as-educator? What would be the effects and consequences of implementing such a design?
The model of teacher development that the questions rhetorically imply is but a deflection in angle through which the notion of 'development' is articulated. But who is doing the reflection upon the 'life and work' of teachers? Is it the researcher, or the teacher or a combination of both in some 'trade off'? Who is it that is inscribing, textualising and contextualising the voice of the teacher to re-present it again within other texts that provide research-based 'understandings', 'models of development' and 'improvements' in practice?
In a Post-Modernist view there can be no improvement, only difference. If there is curriculum design, it is the design of collage, or the design by which the Modernist structures are counterpointed through an ironic voice. The ambition to re-write the world as a socialist dream may still be voiced, but now as only a sign, the content of which is exhausted in being merely a sign. The sign's value, if any, lies only in its ironic cloaking of the real content which is the life-at-home away from work. In one view such a teacher's biographical change from political commitment to domestic privacy may be seen as burn-out. In another, it may be seen as the re-surgence, the re-construction, the re-assertion of the life of the personal as against the life of the institutional, the public, the political. It may be a recognition of games, of seductions, of masks.
If schools still cling to the signs of rational progress but without there being much in the way of content - that is surfaces without depth - then teachers and pupils have two choices: either to play the game to its full, or to play with counter-narratives. In playing with counter-narratives, teachers and pupils can either wear the counter-signs overtly or mask them. Whether overt or masked their play is directed always towards and away from the totalising structures of Modernism; hence, they are Post-Modernist; that is, sensing the ending of Modernism, but with each step ahead being taken with a backward look. Where are we going? Just going.
If the authority to engage in teaching does not arise from some centre of authority, from some Grand Narrative, then one response is to play the game of authority without seriousness, without commitment, but as a mask, as surface without depth, because the depth is elsewhere. But what if there is no depth, only surfaces as in Buadrillard's descriptions of 'social reality'. School may be seen as a simulacrum of say the business world, or the vision of economic futures that politicians present to an electorate. On a tour of a school, I can be shown the ,p& automotive department where 'we have machinery here that is better than many local businesses' or the Business department where 'all the computers are industry standard' and where 'we have the most up to date software.' It is the best simulacrum possible that is 'It is not an ideology, i.e., it does not hide some truth; it is a simulacrum, i.e., it is a truth effect that hides the truth's non-existence.' (Baudrillard 1990: 35) The effect of all the machinery, the simulation of business is a truth effect. But behind it, there is nothing there except the signs of work, but no real work. The implied promise of training for all, jobs for all, and the goodlife for all is not there. It is a surface.
As I believe Feynman pointed out, in breaking open a brick to see what is inside does not get you any closer to the inside, there is only another surface. No matter however many times the brick is broken we never get to see its insideness. Like that, the personal biographies of teachers told to researchers are only surfaces broken to reveal new surfaces with every question asked, or with every revelation uttered. Yet, it is on surfaces that we walk, surfaces that we manipulate to produce our world. Everywhere we look to find the 'real' surface, the surface which grounds all other surfaces.
A Curriculum of Surfaces
There is ... never any nudity, never any nude body that is simply nude; there is never just a body. It is like the indian said when the white man asked him why he ran around naked: "For me, it is all face." In a non-fetishistic culture (one that does not fetishize nudity as objective truth) the body is not, as in our own, opposed to face, conceived as alone rich in expression and endowed with "eyes": it is itself a face, and looks at you. It is therefore not obscene, that is to say, made to be seen nude. It cannot be seen nude, no more than the face can for us, for the body is - and is only - a symbolic veil; and it is by way of this play of veils, which literally, abolishes the body , "as such," that seduction occurs. This is where seduction is at play and not in the tearing away of the veil in the name of some manifestation of truth or desire.
The play of surfaces through which a world is constructed, positions self and other within its veils. The search dominating educational research as all other research is for the real whether the real self, the real biography that reveals all, or the underlying processes, and the ground of all surfaces.
A curriculum of surfaces may play with a metaphorical city of surfaces where the person and the community of persons compose a plurality of centres of organisation. Persons organise their surfaces whether for themselves, or against others, or in co-ordination with others. There is no a priori rational reason why individuals should organise according to transpersonal rational principles as opposed to biographically derived principles, habits, desires or any other possible reason. Rather than designs for living being based upon the kind of certainty and absolute truth to which the Master Narrative of rationality aspired, argumentation, persuasion, seduction, pleasure are more likely to provide the processes through which people agree to collective designs. This, according to Lash (1988) involves a further shift, from what he calls from discourse (interpretation) to figure (spectacle). Within this is a shift from the 'high' culture of great books, to popular culture. where Modernism placed a priority of words over images, Post-Modernism prioritises the visual and devalues formalisms and juxtaposes the signifiers of everyday life.
What is the role of the teacher in all this? In one analogy, the analogy of surfaces and walls, the teacher acts as the door, or perhaps as the hinge which articulates the door providing entrance into alternative rooms or houses, and onto streets. Extending this metaphore further, it is the teaching act which which breaks open or breaks into the prevailing structure of surfaces to provide new ways of playing with surfaces (Schostak 1988). Such an act is educational to the extent that the new is drawn out or the contours of surfaces are made explicit so that new connections can be revealed in the lives of persons as they reflect upon themselves and interact one with another. In another analogy, the teacher constructs collages of the images of everyday life experiences. It is a curriculum of collages where no one image has priority over any other. Placing the two analogies together, there is the imagery of each room of a house ,p& opening up into different collages of everyday experiences where no one room has prioty over another.
Such an approach to creating educational experiences I
have elsewhere contrasted with schooling (especially in
Schostak 1986, 1988 and 1990). Schooling I use as a term to
refer to the process of moulding and fashioning of minds and
bodies to reproduce and prioritise prevailing rationalities,
political and moral orders. Modernism, when it contested the
verities of the traditionalism that preceded it contributed
to an educational movement. Once it had become the
prevailing order it became the raison d'etre of schooling.
Does Post-Modernism provide departure points for
reconceptualising the role of the teacher?
Since it is a condition of modern life for historic communities to fragment, change, come into contact with 'outsiders' it is not sufficient to rest content with, or nationalistically assert traditional knowledge, taste values and so on if peaceful co-existence is a value worth having. The totalising systems sought to convert the other, or to supress or wipe out the other in the interests of 'purity', 'truth', 'honour', 'the empire' or 'The American Way'or whatever. Teaching or education as a process of conversion has been the dominant definition.
In the 1960s alternative definitions of teaching and curriculum developed with for example, Stenhouse's Humanities Curriculum Project and Bruner's Man, A Course of Study. Alongside these, there were accounts from writers such as Kohl, and Kozol of alternative ways of working with children and their cultures. There was the work of Freire who saw in his adult literacy programmes a way of empowering people through cultural action. With the rise of Black Consciousness and feminism repressed histories were being re-written into the historical consciousness of people. In short, the educational agenda was being re-written. That agenda derived not from the official texts of prescribed curricula but from the lived agendas of people. The texts increasingly became the ordinary everyday material of popular, media and personal records.
At the same time, sociology took a turn which increasingly focused upon lived experience influenced by the philsosophical works of people like Mead, Husserl, Dilthey, Sartre. The focus has been upon meaning and the social construction of reality. In education this resulted in studies which began to focus upon the lived experiences of teachers and of pupils both in classroom settings and out of them. They showed that schooling could be described in terms of hidden curricula, pro-school and counter-school standpoints, the counter discourses of male and female sub-cultural, minority group, and ethnic experiences. Schooling was more like a mosaic or a collage of world views, taste cultures and intelligence communities. But overriding all this within the world of the school has been the professional ethic which has continued to hold its discourse of improving action, reaching standards and so on. What can this mean in such a mosaic?
During a conference at Brisbane in 1990 entitled the First World Conference in Action Learning and Action Research, it started to become clear both to myself and to John Elliott, that Action Research was in the prevailing discourses of this conference, just another management tool, simply more sophisticated than behaviourism for controlling groups in the interests of management. If the professional action of teachers is no more than this, then 'improving action' is no more than a code for the managment control of behaviour. It may be carried out more humanistically but its method is identical to that of marketing agencies which study the interests of social groups in order to sell their products and services to them more effectively. It is the political method of propagandists to formulate different (often contradictory) messages that will appeal to different groups but which get each group moving in the same direction. It is at this point that teaching intersects with propaganda .
An alternative is to rest professionality upon the process of informing people of alternative ways of living, the processes through which ways of living are socially constructed and personally experienced; and of providing the social mechanisms through which people can enter into dialogue with others.
Teaching in this alternative view becomes a relation into which people enter as equals since no one way of living necessarily has precedence over another. The teacher, then, is professionally defined as one who enables relationships of teaching to take place rather than as under the old view, as one who is the sole source of teaching, a role carried out under conditions of compulsion. That is, the teacher opens the door to the everyday life experiences of others. This is not easy.
Since most professional teachers work under conditions of compulsion, legally, and economically enforced, the new view of teaching can only be carried out as a process of irony. It inscribes itself upon the old structures, it plays at deceit manipulating the signs of conformity in order to represent and engage in dialogue with the discourses of otherness. The central curriculum fact is the life of the individual who is the subject of education. De-centring the teacher's voice to allow the voices of others as a focal presence in the construction of curricula is a pre-requisite of educational action that allows relationships of teaching to take place.
Already there are increasing numbers of young people who have de-valued and de-centred the teacher's voice, (often it was only the ventrilloquist's voice anyway) and put in its stead the voices of others whose 'knowledge', 'wisdom', 'definitions of the good life' are more useful, exciting, rewarding, seductive and so on (Schostak and logan 1984; Schostak 1983, 1986)
To engage with the life of another, requires first to listen to the voice of the other. The voice tells the story, positions its self in relation to others, uses the available repertoires of discourse appropriate to the self's position within the story. As in the case of Denzin's (1989:14-15) description of 'interpretive interactionism' the tales told often focus 'on those life experiences that radically alter and shape the meanings persons give to themselves and their life projects' as well as the more mundane features of everyday life. It is through these accounts of radical, horrifying, thrilling or moving experiences - child brutality, rape, shame, indignity, illness, poverty, terror, intense excitment, love, joy - that the structures and processes of a life are most sharply experienced. Hence, it is frequently so that the most radical forms of educational practice arises in confrontation with trouble, oppression and resistance. But trouble is not the only experience that radically pervades a life, so too does the joy of discovery, the love of another, the experience of creating and of expressing the self. Only through focusing upon the narratives of lives will teachers be able to see how these experiences shape lives and become the basic curriculum material able to unite reflection and action in ways relevant to life experience.
In Youth in Trouble (Schostak 1991), for example, a number of issues such as HIV/AIDS, sexuality, alcohol, arcade gambling, street gangs, and petty criminality are drawn from the accounts of adolescents to form the basic materials of reflection to inform judgement, action and self-expression. Sarland (1991) shows how adolescents draw upon popular video and reading material as their curriculum texts to aid thinking about theirselves, their relations to others and their understandings of life. The narratives they give of their lives provide explanations (or reasons) for action, self-understandings, and accounts of the spectacle of living, the fun, the joy, the desire for sensation and the troubles.
About these accounts questions can be posed: How do adolescents form connections between themselves and their social environment? What informs their decision making in social situations? What is considered appropriate knowledge and competent behaviour within the social arenas of their everyday lives? How may education contribute to the quality of their experience and the choices open to them in their lives? These and other questions are led not by some externally imposed set of criteria about what is rational, but rather are led by the questions that emerge in dialogue as one biography is opened to another.
Of vital importance to an educational process, is to find out how life-agendas are formed and this can only be done by de-centring the knowledge and authority of the teacher to enable the life narratives of people to come to the fore. The teacher, thus, can no longer expect the kind of deference associated with ,p& the authoritarian forms of schooling. Rather, respect can only arise through building relationships, entering into a dialogue which opens the teacher's biography to the other on a basis of mutuality.
Into the Meeting House
In the meeting house, a narrative is told, alternative voices challenge, contradictions are pointed out, the rules of intersubjective agreement, of tacit understanding and shared values, are in some way changed so that the teller feels strange within his or her own self representation. The spectacle that once seemed fund may turn nightmarish a views from alternative dimensions are brought to bear.
The situation is a modern variation of what Zipes (1979) tells us is the ancient tradition of story telling where the audience was not passive but could suggest possible next steps and endings. The tale told begins from the experience of the teller, is an account which includes rather than excludes the personal life, not simply past accounts of things, but future-stories, dream-stories, an account of the possible which provides a curriculum of the possible, the dreamt of, the vision which requires its artistic, its philosophic, its scientific representation.
It is an education of lives and of the kinds of representations through which lives can be expressed to others. Education presents not packages of information to be transmitted, but the mechanisms, the principles and the procedures through which meetings and dialogues can take place. When different world views, sub-cultural ways of organising and talking about experience, or personal biographies meet it is not just a matter of talking and thus communication or 'trade' will ensue. When paradigms come face to face they may simply talk past each other without ever meeting, according to Kuhn. But more likely, they ,p& collide. An event that is real in one paradigm is considered nonsense in another. A liberal criticism in one paradigm is a deep insult in another. An object of value offered for trade in one world view is trash in another. At the heart of education is perception in relation to knowing: the ways in which images and concepts interfuse to produce a substantial reality of hard surfaces, manipulable surfaces, patterns of surfaces. How these are made accountable through the different world views or lived realities provide the curriculum material. Is it possible to create a discourse where paradigms struggle for representation either within each other, or in some 'third'? Or where the implications of taking on a world view can be evaluated upon the impact it has on the life of individuals? World views may be incommensuarable, but that does not mean that individuals cannot make their own judgements as to what a world view means for their own life if they are in a position to experience the gestalt-switch from the one to the other (Schostak 1990). There are issues and fields of study here that education has largely overlooked. It includes:
Thus education is not the transmission of 'good books' or grand narratives, but is truly the 'education' (the drawing out) of expression, interpretation and of the spectacle, the imaginary through which lives are made knowable, livable. The educational programme goes well beyond its conventional site of study in the school, the college, the university. Rather than being a study of the ways in which forms of knowledge are delivered, or its functions as an agent of social reproduction, it becomes a creative, and critical perspective in its own right (Schostak 1992). Central to the development of education as a perspective is 'narrative', 'biography' and the 'imaginary'.
Education has its focus on the individual who experiences some change or transformation. Thus life-narratives, or accounts in which individuals position themselves in relation to others provide the basic materials for educational analysis. Narratives provide agendas, life agendas which in turn form the basis for the formulation of life-relevant curricula. Perhaps there is the potential for a new focus upon education as an individual experience rather than as the mass production of batches? Perhaps variation, rather than homogeneity will be valued. If this is ,p& the result of Post-Modernism, then I think people will have benefited and education may at last become a perspective, a discipline in its own right rather than the rag-bag servant of the 'real' disciplines. Perhaps the true end of education is to find its own discourse?
To contact author:John Schostak
School of Education and Professional Development
University of East Anglia
Aaronowitz, S., and Giroux, H. A. (1991) Postmodern
Education. Politics, Culture, and Social Criticism,
University of Minisota Press
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