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Teaching as the passion of equality at the border of inequality


In chapter 3 1 discussed the political as interrupting the distributive paradigm of schooling, and located education in that very dissensus. A version of dissensus was made specific through Mouffe’s ideas about the necessary conflict in which antagonism is transformed into agonistic conflicts, through which a radical democracy of pluralism is possible. In my reading, education is the expression of the possibility of difference, and therefore of pluralism and change, and as such is inevitable for democracy. As also explored in the previous chapters, education is a potentiality realized by assuming equality in an institutionalized order of inequality'. Education is therefore always emancipatory. It concerns the very way in which the subject emerges as a political subject with other subjects with which he or she interacts, as well as the very sensible formation of the real through those very interactions. I discussed how the reality of the distributive paradigm of schooling is reflecting a societal inequality as a necessity, and how to break with such imagined necessity.

In this chapter, I discuss the massive critique of teachers in the public discourses on schooling over the past decade (Elstad, 2009; Safstrom, 2018a,b), while also saying something substantial about teaching and the construction of the teacher in the distributive paradigm of schooling. The critique of teachers, schooling and teacher education has been so overbearing over the past 10-15 years that in order to be able to put forward a positive idea of teaching at all, which is not conservative, as Biesta (2017) puts it, and is based in educational theory, this critique has to be confronted head-on. In this chapter I therefore specifically analyse the neoliberal attack against a public school system, along with educational thought itself, by focusing on the contradictory expectations placed on teachers in blaming them for the failure of schooling, at the same time as they are to save us from bad schooling of the past by supposedly focusing on “real” teaching (Bjorklund, 2006a,b). For these expectations to make any sense at all, the idea of teaching has to be severely reduced to an instrumental procedure and therefore disconnected from any understanding of education and educational theory.

Worse still, these kinds of schizophrenic expectations and rhetoric seem to be threatening to destroy the very idea of education and its links to freedom. Also, the role of the teacher is becoming eroded from within. The expectations placed on education now link to common misunderstandings of what education is, or can do, and use those misunderstandings to mislead public opinion for political gain. To intervene in such discourses, worldviews or hegemonies, and the tactics they imply, I will focus on a simple but all-too-often fact: that at the heart of teaching within an educational context, there is passion and love.

The interesting thing about this oft-neglected characteristic of teaching is that such phenomena as passion and love are ambiguous forces of energy (Britzman, 2010; Butler, 2019) in that they cannot be reduced to purely rational considerations, but add openness, ambiguity and flow to any situation in which they take place. Passion, as I understand it, is that which adds excess or an overflow of meaning that cannot be contained within the order of discourse, and that therefore puts this discourse out of balance; and love, according to Butler (2019), is what sustains relationships over time despite their ambiguity, or maybe even because of their ambiguity.

Even if there are historical, political and social differences in how public education takes actual form in different countries and nations, there nonetheless seems to be something recognizable about schooling across nations: the idea that schooling can make life better. Because education and schooling are to make life better, schooling also tends to be central for politics, simply because politics is not only about establishing a particular idea about the world and society, but also about establishing particular patterns of behaviour. This family resemblance between education and the way political ideology is understood often turns schooling into a primary tool for establishing a particular worldview - that is, the dominant ideology' is concretized through educational forms and systems (Karabel & Halsey, 1977).

To change the educational system from kindergarten to university, then, is largely to change part of that which profoundly structures our reality. This change of the meaning of the real as represented by schooling was exactly what took place before and after the 2006 general election in Sweden (Larsson, Lofdahl & Prieto, 2010).

The case of Sweden is interesting because the country’s public school system has been such a positive example of progressive public schooling for the world (Husen, 1988). From the 1940s and 1950s right up to the 1990s, Swedish school researchers travelled the world to advise how to make democratically charged school systems within a paradigm of distribution work effectively, to ensure the benefit for the individual as well as society as a whole and an expanding economy at large. Today, Sweden still tends to be setting an example for the world, but now rather as the prime example of the effective destruction of a public school-system for all for the benefit of the market (Lundahl et al., 2013), as well as having invented the so-called free schoolsystem used as a model for the destruction of public education in other countries (Benn, 2012). Public education, as I understand it here, is funded by public means, democratically accountable, and accessible for everyone on the same terms (Higgins & Knight Abowitz, 2011).

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