(Published in 2009, some links and author contacts updated in April 2016)
Introduction – why this question?
Image Source: Tyack, David (1974). The One Best System. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Page 286 (Thank you Jon Becker!)
Everyone is an expert on education and its particular, dominant subset – school. Everyone who has either attended school, taught at school, had their kids at school, managed school, funded school, even avoided school knows what school does. Unlike any other public institution, we can quickly produce an opinion on what schools should and shouldn’t do. Scores of politicians, business leaders or (other) powerful pundits who arrive on the scene claim the credential of knowing how to run schools. Many of these self-proclaimed experts are widely interviewed and financially supported, many more ignored beyond their personal sphere of influence.
But just why are we all ‘experts’ with a more or less considerate opinion on how things should be with schools and education?
Short answer: If we presume we are constituted, built of what we ‘know’, then we don’t only KNOW a lot about school, we ARE school. School is not (just) an institution, it is a particular way of thinking and knowing we are attached to. And because we can’t imagine anything different, we get cornered into dead-ends of ‘solutions’ that substantially change – very little.
Now for the long answer and explanation…
This is the first in a series of posts, collaboratively co-written by Ira Socol, currently the Educational Technology and Innovation Team Leader at Albemarle County Public Schools, Virginia, Dr Greg Thompson, Associate Professor of Education Research at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, and myself, a high school classroom teacher at Yule Brook College public school in Perth, Western Australia. In this series, we hope to explore the main ideas that make schooling and with it the broader process of education such a powerful, almost monolithic system that so many people are itching to and want to change, yet it has not substantially changed for the last 250 years despite an enormous amount of effort and investment worldwide.
Each of the posts will have a central theme, through which we will try to answer the starting question: “Why is everyone an expert on education?” The themes will try to round specific ways of conceiving education and with it schooling. We posit that it is these ways of thinking we are all ‘experts’ in that are largely responsible for locking us into mostly fruitless debate and superficial change.
The first post will look at the view of education as a science. In this view, education and with it schooling is a scientific, measurable, rational pursuit craving the certainty and with it ‘improvement’ of atomistic parts that make the whole. This view bears statements like “if we could only know, measure and improve this part the whole system would be better off”.
In the second post, we reflect on the view of education as production. This is a corollary of the scientific view and drives the ‘alignment’ of economic and educational system (“because education prepares students for workforce we all want to participate in, we should do this…”).
The third post will draw on the first two and look at education as competition. Education is a positional good and with that comes the language and ideology of competition, thus ordering people on their ‘merits’ (“because I want my child to get a head start I want them to go to the best school possible. This is what a good school is…”).
In the fourth post, we will critique education as (a use of) technology. Technology, and particularly digital technology of the past decade, has been seen by many as an ‘agent of progress’ that could prove false, useless, even damaging. Equally, it can swing the other way and genuinely help as indeed one of the most promising agents of change (“If only teachers could get on board and use more technology in their classroom…”).
In trying to answer the posed essential question (Why is everyone an expert in education?), we will look at where these beliefs come from, how they may be (in)appropriate, (mis)guided and what sort of difficulties they might have been causing.
Finally, and in a fine oxymoronic fashion (because we are ‘experts 🙂 ), we will offer our own re-think of schooling, even education. We will attempt to do so at the ontological level, re-imagining not just what and how should be known and taught, but interrogating the very concepts of ‘school’, ‘teacher’, ‘student’ and alike, what they ARE and what difference such interrogation and re-imagining could make. For example, if one-on-one tutoring and mentoring produces best results for (young) people we are trying to educate, we probably don’t need more ‘traditional’ teachers. Instead of such measure (surely cost prohibitive, if nothing else), we could perhaps rethink what/who IS a ‘teacher’ in the community and what difference would such re-thinking possibly make.
Sounds a little vague? A bit like some existing ideas? Uncertain? Unsure? Unusual? Fallible? Hopeful? You bet, like some of the most treasured things, people and ideas in our lives!
We are doing this to imagine and argue for something helpful and unapologetically on the side of the younger generations. Importantly, the word ‘helpful’ comes with a disclaimer – we are not certain of the ends of this help, merely the intent of our effort and ideas.
And since we assume we are ALL experts on education, we would love to hear from you all along. This is largely why we are not writing a more ‘static’ academic paper but a blog post (series), with a chance for all to hear and learn from different views.
Why do YOU think everyone is an expert on education? We look forward to the conversations, so feel free to have your say in the comments section below.
PS Since we are working across jobs, continents and timezones, the posts may not be delivered with metronomic frequency. Feel free to subscribe to the posts and comments to have them delivered to you as they appear, or perhaps follow us (@irasocol, @GFThommo and @lasic) on Twitter or other social media.