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Home arrow Education arrow Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation

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Neoliberal reforms

Neoliberal advancements in the context of globalization mean the system is always restructuring or reterritorializing itself, which, for Maori, and importantly Maori language, make it difficult to establish secure ground, to respond to the ongoing linguafaction, let alone respond to the ever increasing reach of neoliberal reforms. The parent-led/teacher-led divide perpetuated injustices in the allocation of resources right in the nascent phase of the Kohanga Reo movement. This forced Kohanga Reo into having to respond to a market-driven pedagogy instead of stabilizing and expanding the kaupapa-driven pedagogy. Recently I presented what I called The Politics of Pedagogical Darwinism (Skerrett, 2013) based on the chapter by Henry A. Giroux (2012b) called Can Democratic Education Survive in a Neoliberal Society? where he argued:

If teachers are truly concerned about how education operates as a crucial site of power in the modern world, they will have to take more seriously how pedagogy functions on local and global levels to secure and challenge the ways in which power is deployed, affirmed, and resisted within and outside traditional discourses and cultural spheres. (p. 11)

I challenged the teachers to adopt a “pedagogy of vigilance.” My provocation was that if teachers are truly concerned about making a difference in children’s lives, truly concerned about children’s agency, about children’s power to take control over their own learning, about teaching and learning as a democratic right, about promoting MEBS, then teachers must learn how to resist the external controls that coerce them into becoming technicians, not educators; that force them into compliance and domestication, not liberation. Teachers now, more than ever before, need to exert their powers of critical thinking, of alertness, of political nous. As Paolo Freire (1972) once argued, teaching is a highly political act. I also want to refer another chapter titled The Disappearance of Public Intellectuals (Giroux, 2012a), because of how these chapters, set in a global context, reveal with clarity the neoliberal context with relevance to Aotearoa/New Zealand, and the reforms felt not only in the universities but also in schools and the early childhood centers.

The first of these chapters deals with the Politics of Economic Darwinism (inspiring my title—The Politics of Pedagogical Darwinism) transposing economics into a pedagogical frame, with implications for the practice. Economic Darwinism, according to Giroux (2012a), is the situation where economics drives politics, transforming citizens into consumers, society into a stock exchange, where long-term societal investments are de-railed and replaced by short-term profits, and where compassion and concern for others are viewed as a weakness. Just take for example the past 150 years of long-term investments into our infrastructure, and the contemporary short-term pawning off of State Owned Enterprises, where lands, seas, waterways, and airways are all up for grabs, including hospitals, parks and prisons, airports, postal, telephone and power companies, educational settings, and so on—once part of the public system, they are now subject to being disassembled and privatized. Giroux (2012b) argues that as the language of privatization, deregulation, and commodification replaces the discourse of the “public good,” all things public (including public schools—particularly public schools—which are hugely important sites), other crucial infrastructures, and public services are viewed either as a drain on the market or as a pathology, and systematically divested or privatized. Individual prosperity becomes the greatest of social achievements.

Moreover, Giroux (2012c) asserts that vulnerable populations once protected by the state are now considered a liability because they are viewed as either flawed consumers or present a threat to the politics of the right. They constitute a form of human waste and are considered disposable (with human pipelines going direct to the chain gangs of labor

[or jails] to support the private estate) because they are thought of as, “unworthy of sharing in the rights, benefits, and protections of a substantive democracy” (Giroux, 2012a). The new politics of disposability and the competitive culture of capitalistic greed represent more than an economic crisis, but speak to a deeply rooted crisis in education, and social justice. Economic Darwinism drives the political context of education and educational policy, not only turning people into consuming machines but converting children into stocks, human capital, disposable units. The question remains—Is education about processing people, or is it a people process?

Giroux (2012a) also argued that we are witnessing the “disappearance of critical intellectuals and the collapse of those public spheres which offer a sense of critical agency and social imagination.” In other words we are becoming global clones or puppets to the neoliberal puppeteers. The frame for public education is this corporate-based ideology that embraces standardized curriculum (and associated measures or standardized assessments); top-down governing structures (and their associated hierarchical arrangements that devalue family and community); courses that promote entrepreneurial values (with an almost fanatical focus on technology, literacy, and numeracy); and the reduction of professions to job training sites.

The corporate model displays a deep disdain for the ideals of humanizing education and well-being, but instead is entirely related to the market place and the production of human capital. This poses a direct threat to democracy. Giroux (2012a) talks about Edward Said—saying that:

Before his untimely death, Edward Said, himself an exemplary public intellectual, urged his colleagues in the academy to directly confront those social hardships that disfigure contemporary society and pose a serious threat to the promise of democracy. He urged them to assume the role of public intellectuals, wakeful and mindful of their responsibilities to bear testimony to human suffering and the pedagogical possibilities at work in educating students [children] to be autonomous, self-reflective, and socially responsible. Said rejected the notion of a market-driven pedagogy, one that created cheerful robots and legitimated organized recklessness and illegal legalities. (p. 2)

In opposition to such a pedagogy of recklessness (creating clones and puppets), Said argued for what he called a “pedagogy of wakefulness” and its related concern with the politics of critical engagement. That is ever important—critical engagement. It is through critical pedagogy that the human brain is neurologically awakened and transformation is the platform, not domestication.

Let us return to the debate about critical theory, critical engagement, and theories of change. At the heart of Maori language education (what many of us call Kaupapa Maori praxis) is the pedagogy of critical engagement for transformation. A failure to understand this fundamental principle of Kaupapa Maori praxis runs the risk of retrenchment to a pedagogy of domestication, a pedagogy of hierarchy (complete with sovereigns and slaves), and a pedagogy of Darwinian thinking. Do we want to domesticate our children—or educate them? This is a critical question. Critical because we now have new limits opening up with new horizons, new possibilities of experience—daily! We are in a constant state of flux, and, dare I say it, crisis. We have to cultivate resilience and the courage to face the risks in times of crisis—and often in the face of adversity.

We Maori know only too well what it is like to sit, to live, on the horizons of an enigmatic future, where our language and concepts are on the brink, and yet embrace a radical hope for the future of our tamariki (children). We cling to a pedagogy of hope when we actively promote our language and center Maori worldviews. As we celebrate the new horizons of our world through Matariki,2 we prepare to celebrate what we have, what we might imagine, and our freedom to discourse the world I turn here to such a radical pedagogy through alternative speak.

 
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