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Distributive education and schooling for all

According to Chantal Mouffe (2005), we live in a period in which democratic politics has been reduced to distribution of goods at best, and the destruction of the very conditions for democracy and rational disagreement at worst (she calls the latter the transformation of antagonisms to agonisms). That is, for Mouffe the political instrumentalism internal to the neoliberal political project takes the shape of distribution in an era of post-politics in liberal democracies: establishing in school policies the distributive paradigm of schooling as hegemonic reality.

The problem for education and its internal connection to democracy in such a context, is, I think, that if politics is understood in terms of the distributive paradigm and the abolishment or negation of conflict, or a clash between different legitimate wordviews, as Mouffe argues, and instead is dealt with as moral and emotional issues, there is no pluralist public education possible either. There are no negotiations and legitimate conflicts between different worldviews or hegemonies, as Mouffe (2005, 2013) says, to be explored; no democratic plurality visible within schooling.

This is also a reason why Habermas’ (1984) suggestion of communicative action, as developed into a model for schooling (Roth, 2000), would not work: the consensus reached at the end of the procedure would only be possible as variations of the original hegemony (Mouffe, 2005). That is, since all that could be presented in schooling in such a situation would be within the only worldview, only representing the hegemonic state of affairs of one taken-for-granted reality.

Also, if since the Sophists the very idea of education is internal to a pluralist democracy (as 1 argue in this book, with Jaeger and Dewey among others), it means that we cannot even make sense of what a public education for anyone would look like inside a distributive paradigm of education. A pluralist public education, as I understand it here, would require the pluralist publicness of education, not privatization of interests, and the ability to break with forces of privilege, not to distribute privilege effectively among the population through schooling. Distribution here means confirmation of a privilege that is already assumed within the totality of the conception of reality.

The distributive paradigm in education, then, contributes to the destruction of the social, and hinders the formation of diverse self-defining publics, hinders popular sovereignty, hinders a pluralist democracy from taking form, and is instead to be understood as giving rise to an effective system for distribution, of talent, skills and abilities over the social spectrum, and to pair those with the circulation of value in capitalist societies. The distributive paradigm in education is effectively contributing to, and speeding up, the successive destruction of the publicness of the public, and therefore contributing to the destruction of the social fabric necessary for liberal democracies to work.

What tends to follow from the privatization of schooling within liberal democracies, which replace the political necessity for democracy to work, as Mouffe says, with distribution, is that education itself can be meaningful only as a system of distribution, of abilities, talents and skills. In other words, a paradigm of distribution reduces the idea of education for anyone to instrumental schooling for all; it is no longer possible as a confrontation with privilege, but is instead increasingly becoming a manifestation of such privilege.

Moreover, instrumental schooling for all, as Popkewitz (2008) has pointed out, is always a school for some rather than others, the idea of “all” being a singularity, a preferred starting point, and as such upholds the privilege of a predefined and superior “all”. For Popkewitz (2008), those who tend to be excluded from “all” are newly arrived immigrants, regardless of whether or not they have citizenship, and the poor and powerless. In consequence, schooling for “all” tends to be establishing instrumental education in line with the racist front, identified by Berardi. Such a distributive paradigm of education works through what Berardi calls automation of behaviour within the idea of all as one, aggressively denying cultural and social plurality as well as the possibility of radical change.

According to Berardi (2017), it is precisely the verification of a cultural and social plurality, or polyvalence as I call it in chapter 6 (with Bauman, 2000), that is no longer possible through education. Ironically, there may still be training of specific skills, talents and abilities, but not education according to Berardi; that is, not education as the opening of a space in which the possibility to direct oneself to the world and the other across difference is the condition of its existence. In short, radical change, as well as difference, is the condition for education. Ironically, because the instrumentalism implied by the distributive paradigm in education is instrumentalism without the possibility of change, just training of what is considered to be there already: skills, abilities, talents in a closed, claustrophobic universe, effectively made and set into distribution.

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