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Education and teaching as verification of equality


In chapter 2 I discussed what I called an educational state, in which the process of schoolification becomes the very way in which education is understood; in which schooling as a reflection of society, enforcing and strengthening the making of inequality, is seemingly natural and self-evident. I also discussed emancipation and freedom as a property of education and as a necessary break with the paradigm of distributive schooling. In this discussion I made a distinction between schoolification or schooling, and the school, claiming that the latter can be a place of confirmation of equality rather than (only) confirming a privilege already owned by some. I also showed, through my readings of Ranciere, that inequality is sequenced as stages in an anticipated progression towards equality to come within the distributive paradigm of schooling, but as such both deferring and dispersing equality to a future that may never arrive.

In this chapter, I continue to explore the tensions between the possible equality in personal relations in contrast to the inequality of the institutions making up a society. This, I hope to show, is also a tension between people who see themselves as the bearer of the institution and those who do not, and therefore the chapter also explores the possibility to dis-identify from the powers pinning one down at a certain place in the social hierarchy. The tension I want to explore is perhaps most obvious in schooling, in which the bully and the bullied are in many ways a prime example of such a struggle over identity and identification, and borders for what counts as “normal” in a context of schooling (Safstrom, 2013; Langmann & Safstrom, 2018).

In general terms, schooling and society can be understood as reflecting each other, as Jacques Ranciere (1991) says in agreement with John Dewey (1916), in spite of their differences in other matters. That is, the school is not distinct from the society in which it exists; the school is the society in which it takes place and society is, according to Dewey, the social relations in which the school is shaped and understood.

If, to take a drastic example, we do live in a basically racist and economically unjust society, following both Rancière and Dewey on this point, this state of affairs will also be reflected within schooling, as well as all other institutions in society. It is the institutions that make up the backbone of society: they are the very form in which social relations are made possible (Durkheim, 1956). The liberal hope, which is foundational for what I have called educational states, that schooling will change the conditions for the individual and the society, is not only naïve, it is also false if Rancière and Dewey are right on this point: schooling cannot in any fundamental way be something else than the society in which it exists.

That means, as I understand it, if a society is essentiality split between precarious populations and the rich and powerful, schooling cannot change this fundamental hierarchical social order, but rather is an expression of this order. If social change is happening in schooling, the conditions for social relations have already changed in that direction. So if schooling and the reality in which it exists are increasingly argued on elitist terms, this means that the social order in which such schooling operates is already elitist. That is exactly what we see in the campaigns for grammar schools in the UK (Benn, 2012); for private schools in Sweden (Englund, 1995, Fejes & Dahlstedt, 2018); and in the destruction of the public school system in the USA (Giroux, 2011), to just mention a few signs of a socio-political turn. They are expressions of a turn of a social order towards an elitist authoritarian public life.

A society then, cannot change through schooling, since schooling is rather an expression of that basic order in which a society understands itself as basically unchangeable, even though individuals can emancipate themselves despite this order. Or, one may say instead with the help of Chantal Mouffe (2005), that schooling has a political dimension to the extent it does change individuals, groups or societies in essential ways. A school is a place for possibly staging different types of relations, worldviews and opinions on how the world is to be understood.

The political is a tension within schooling as well as all other institutions, that is, the tensions between what is given and self-evident and what is ambiguous. Such tensions are not solved by more distribution within a hegemonic order, but point to a possibility of difference, of radically different and competing hegemonic orders (Mouffe, 2005, 2013). The political, according to Mouffe, is the possibility of something radically different to emerge in the tension between different exclusive orders.

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