A political cup of tea.

A political cup of tea

A political cup of tea

In October we met to discuss Diane Reay’s paper:  What would a socially just education system look like?http://classonline.org.uk/pubs/item/what-would-a-socially-just-education-system-look-like1

In brief summary, Diane wrote about how the neoliberal ascendancy has appropriated the discourse of social justice, freedom of choice and celebration of diversity to serve purposes very different from the meanings intended by educational visionaries such as Tawney.  Furthermore, some terms have become unsayable or have been disavowed or denied – and chief amongst these has been social class.  Diane spoke the unspeakable in insisting that the existence of social class is at the heart of understanding and working towards a socially just education system.  She made concrete proposals – abolish private schools, have a genuinely comprehensive, socially mixed education system,   broaden the concept of educational success that valued vocational and working class knowledges; transform classroom environment into one that is more democratic, collaborative, and less individualised.  Diane’s challenge was that ‘tinkering’ wasn’t going to be sufficient – radical policy change beyond education was as essential as radical transformation within it.

In its challenge to think of different ways of envisioning education, Diane’s paper enabled our discussion to culminate in a plan to take further the twin concepts of the radical in education and the ways in which learning – as opposed to schooling or schools – might be transformative.

We have invited Michael Fielding to join one of our meetings and I would like to organise this soon.  In preparation, some of us have also been reading examples of radical education ideas in the RADICAL EDUCATION WORKBOOK.  Copies can be found here – scroll down to Monday December 3 posting.


Please also have a read of our summary of things we have discussed.  I hope you are stimulated by some of these and will bring your thoughts to our next meeting.


Contact me, Isobel Urquhart, if you want to come or have any questions.  07809 831523.

  • “Stretching the parameters of how we think and talk about education.”  With the consensus now so far to the right, the discourses of the left – the ‘unspeakable’ – are barely understood or thought about by our students and by the public at large.  How do radical educationalists think about this and what should be done to change it – both in our daily teaching and in our activist contribution to a wider, public discourse?  Some wondered if ‘stretching’ was, in fact, not a helpful image, suggesting a uni-dimensional perspective, when in fact we might want to allow for more complexity of teleology (or no teleology).  What would be the implications of this more complex view for how we would communicate both our criticisms and our radical alternatives to learners and in the wider public domain?
  • What do we know about practical examples of current radical education? Are there examples of where it has been effective, begging the question of what ‘effectiveness’ is all about?   How radical are ideas of communities of practice, and situated learning?  Can radicalism extend into pedagogy?  Anecdotally, ‘education’ in alternative settings, e.g. Occupy, or free-school squats, often involved bringing in an expert who ‘told’ people things. On the other hand, at Occupy, there was often lively interaction from the learners too!
  •  How do we challenge the status quo?  Many learners are or have been enculturated within education systems where the teacher is the only permissible authoritative voice and where the instrumental purposes and practices of education are largely unproblematised.   Can there be value in using shock tactics to challenge assumptions about learning and teaching? Or other ways to challenge taken-for-granted ideas about being a learner, defining and gaining the education you want? How would radical alternatives work in practice?
  • “starting from where your learners are at” opened itself up to question and might be worth exploring further. Does  the spatial metaphor where the learners are perceived to live a long way away from where the lecturer feels ‘at home’  limit the radical imagination?  A long, wearisome journey to a strange land in both directions?  What if we changed the metaphor?
  • Social mixing is less frequent today. We are more physically separate than before, and some legislation looks to make us more so.  As the poor are moved out of the wealthy areas of cities, and schools become more, not less, socially divided, we are hardly all in it together.  How does this relate to what radical educationalists propose?     Our discussion included a  nostalgia for wartime bonding – when it was thought people really did think they were in it together, perhaps wrongly.  What are the fantasies and realities of community and togetherness from a radical education perspective?
  • Measuring, monitoring, acting as moral witness to increases in poverty and social inequality.  Statistics today confirm the gap is wider between richest and poorest than at any time since the early 20th Century, and that wage-earners and everyone else below a certain cut off are likely to remain poorer than they were in 2003 for the rest of their lifetimes .   How should radical educationalists engage with the economic and political situation?
  • The myth of meritocracy assuages middle class guilt since it allows middle class greed to exonerate itself since anyone can – by their efforts – escape poverty.   What are the counter arguments of radical educationalists to the meritocratic but neoliberal discourse – as expressed by Michael Gove, for example?  (notwithstanding his cheeky appropriation of Gramsci!)
  • The commodification of education.  We thought that the commodification and marketisation of education  had marginalised the ethical in a discourse that  situates education within economic statistics.  What are the ethics of radical education?
  • Another althernative would be a de-regulated education system that did not confine itself to institutionalised learning within designated physical buildings, age-limited provision, or a narrow definition of expert knowledge.  Is that practicable?  Isn’t that what Michael Gove wants too?  The radical is not always left wing.
  • Other alternatives include the informal and ‘spontaneous’ ways in which people educate themselves; Occupy! The Free University movements.  Independent Working Class Education – revival of the Plebs league. Homeschooling.  Bunking off – how the disaffected educate themselves.
  • We problematized the WEA in terms of its assumptions about ‘self-improvement’ and that it may have lost its way as the means by which the working class gained a political education. The socialist, John McLean, said you should rise with your class, not out of it. Opposed to the idea of educating yourself into the middle class was the suggestion that education might celebrate rootedness, connection rather than simply joining something  economically better.
  • Other informal and localised, small scale café-societies like politics or philosophy clubs, or a reading group.  Left organisations often run public education courses e.g  Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – classes on Marxism, Gramsci, the economy etc.
  • Participation is in tension with deregulation – does radical education propose to dismantle the centuries of progress in including everyone in a single education system.
  • What is the school a device to achieve?  Is  it to allow the continuation of something?  The critical theory answer – schooling educates you to know your place, whether that be to be a productive worker or to educate you into an elite – broadened to discuss the purpose – purposes? – of learning versus education versus schooling.
  • ‘We need to have a vision’ – can radical education be visionary without having to buy into the corporateness of ‘having a vision’?
  • What contribution can radical education make to resisting the dismantling of universal benefits which militates against common good and commonality – the ‘split’ getting wider, ghettoization.
  • Is there a uniquely ‘radical’ way of thinking about children, childhood and their education?