I have just returned from a conference where local companies, businesses and schools discussed the idea of ‘Education, Enterprise and Employment’ in Bradford and I have to say I’m absolutely numb from the whole experience.
The aim of the rather lavish experience was: “to develop, inspire and empower young people to make a positive contribution to our economic success through activities held in collaboration with businesses across the city.”
Educating young people to achieve qualifications (and at the same time develop effective non cognitive skills) in order for them find work and land a job is what we do. What we shouldn’t be doing however, is creating economic fodder to support the neoliberal society of the UK. Or as Professor Henry A. Giroux writes about in the US:
“The apostles of neoliberalism are concerned primarily with turning public schools over to casino capitalism in order to transform them into places where all but the privileged children of the 1% can be disciplined and cleansed of any critical impulses.”
The Head of Employability and Education at Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc, spoke to the audience about: “getting kids into employment would make a difference.” Now, the only real difference I can see that making is to his shareholders profits. He talked about: “what kids of today, needed to do, to join the work force” and “what were the desirable skills” that students needed to learn in order to contribute to the economic success of the city.
Throughout the conference, there was no mention of the success, fulfilment, desire, influence or power that every young person in Bradford could and should achieve.
Only 7% of English schoolchildren are educated privately, yet they ‘find their way’ into the most powerful and influential positions in the country. Recently, ex Prime Minister John Major spoke about the fact that: “In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class.” He then went onto to suggest that: ”Our education system should help children out of the circumstances in which they were born, not lock them into the circumstances in which they were born.” It’s important to remember that Major (who sent his own children to Private School) is not challenging the inequality of education system by criticising private education. Instead he is merely attacking state schools (the ones that educate the other 93% of the country): “Those who can pay for it do so, others buy homes in good catchment areas so they can go to a good school. Not everyone can do that self-evidently. We need to extend choice in education and protect our children from the sink schools that are failing them in many parts of our country.”
Tim Black, editor of Spiked magazine wrote about the fact that Major wasn’t “posh-bashing” but criticising state schools. However, one segment of the piece rang alarm bells for me: “It is certainly dangerous to view education as a mechanism to change society. What schools ought to be doing is educating, not righting the wrongs of the class system, tackling inequality.”
It is only dangerous if we consider the idea of the social inequality shifting and changing through the power of education as being a bad thing.
We need to use our anger to question the motives of the educational hegemony. Such as David Green’s recent statement that: “We now know that theories which devalue the teacher are especially harmful to children from poor backgrounds. The bottom quarter of young people, whether defined by their school attainment, or by their parents’ income, are badly served by ‘progressive’ methods.” David Green is the Director of Civitas, who by the way, are publishing E.D. Hirsch’s ‘inspired’ Primary curriculum in the UK. I have written more about Hirsch in The Pedagogy of Freedom post.
And, one thing that we can’t do is:
“To turn these established institutions over to the Right. You can’t simply dismiss them by saying they’re nothing more than hegemonic institutions that oppress people. That’s a retreat from politics. You have to fight within these institutions.”
Henry Giroux Militarisation of Public Pedagogy
Unfortunately, this neoliberalism perception and blinkered view was prevalent in today’s conference. It was clear that the young people of Bradford should be contributing to the economical success of the city by developing skills via their education in order to be the “economic work force.”
There was no acknowledgment that the young people of the city could in years to come be sat amongst key business figures in the room or the fact that they could be powerful individuals changing and influencing their city and their society in the future.