Is Education “The Man”?

I am increasingly disillusioned by Education. Big “E” Education that is. The idea that offers so many promises and so often fails to deliver. I am so disappointed that I really don’t want to know what’s in “the news” about it anymore. Online the disappointment by teachers and leaders is palpable.


Pick an issue and scream it to the mediated world.

So if Education isn’t supposed to be like this, what is “this”. What is the secret Vision Statement that continues to succeed?

I am reading a paper about Multiliteracies for a Digital Literacy course I’m teaching this semester. In it The New London Group, the group of 10 academics who managed to put personal agendas aside, collaborate and birth the term Multiliteracy in the early 1990s, reassess their idea within the world of new media and smart technologies. The paper gives a very interesting overview of how Education has changed since the 1990s, but also the paper gives a bit of historical background to education agendas through the lens of “literacy”.

Ironically, I am reading the paper alongside the readings for the undergraduate course on the sociology of Education course I am also teaching. I am also reading The Cultural Politics of Emotion by Sara Ahmed. As always, the disparate literature I read comes together in my head with other ideas. Below I explore the text conversation going on in my head. I would love to hear your thoughts.

When education was for wealthy white men500px-edward_stafford_3rd_duke_of_buckingham_1520

The paper speaks about literacy in terms of the evolution language and dialects. Originally English was a series of dialects which had cultural and geographic commonality.When English speakers were isolated geographically from each other, schooling was largely only for “The Man” or men from wealthy privileged backgrounds.

When education was for white men

Then at some point, English became formalised. Rules were formulated and Grammar Nazis were born. The development of a common English language was a process of mass control and communication as the world became more and more interconnected with the development of technologies like roads and faster transport.eli_lilly_industrialist

We often look at the political and bureaucratic structures when we look at how we turned from a “mob” to a “population”, as Gordon Tait calls it in his textbook for Education undergrads. One of those systems of control was the invention of formalised English and the idea of the 3 Rs (two of which are related to literacy).

Schooling also began to develop its social justice agenda as working class children were being rescued from chimneys and mines. The idea that children could become more like “The Man” if they went to school began to emerge. In the early Industrial Revolution, “The Man” was still literally white, wealthy and male, but was beginning to morph into an idea more than the flesh and blood characteristics. Over the 19th and 20th centuries “The Man” has become less gendered and less about colour but still about the same idea.

When education became for everyone

Today “The Man” has no colour and no gender but is a systemic ideal which tends to spill out into society as a white, wealthy man…but not always. Education has sold privileged societies the ideal that to be emancipated from poverty and oppression people need to become more like “The Man” and “The Man” ideal has not changed.

Today, English has again diversified into dialects; however, they are less geographically situated. They tend to be situated within industries and professions. Dialects in English are, according to The New London Group:

intellectual property, technological know-how, business processes, organisational flexibility, corporate memory, brand identity, design aesthetics, customer relationships and service values.

bearded-1903465_640Because of this re-diversification into dialects, the ability to think critically becomes more and more important. The new dialects described above are privileged dialects and in order to enter those professions people need to learn the dialects. Academic writing isn’t in standard English, despite what you may think, it’s in a privileged dialect of English which those outside are required to interpret to understand…become like the academic. The same goes for tech. People are required to learn the dialect of technical know how in order to access tech. This is not just how to use the tools but what those tools actually do to a person’s life.

Knowledge has become the new economy, less so than stable capital. Access to knowledge has become access to “The Man”.

While this knowledge may look diverse and easier to access than cash, the diversity actually makes the system less equitable. For example, the change from the stable hierarchical top-down workplace to a teamwork based workplace is less equitable. In the very word “teamwork” the workers are supposed to personify the business. The more you feel like to belong to the team, the more you accept its inequities and inequalities. They become common sense. For example, it seems common sense to ask preservice teachers to do internships these days, but internships are unpaid labour. Preservice teachers are expected to have fulfilled the requirements of their degree before they are allowed to legally go on internships, so are entitled to be paid qualified teachers according to the  qualifications framework. But instead they are required to do the internship to complete their degree, which they need to be registered as a teacher. Therefore, in order to get into the knowledge economy of education, it is “common sense” to be exploited.

Furthermore, access to knowledge is shrinking. State education has been reduced to the basics. We know that there is more to literacy than phonics and more to numeracy than algorithms, but we need to be able to afford the schools which teach that. We need to be born into the families which know this.

So I’m disillusioned and depressed. What I thought was that Education can be a force for good. Instead, it seems it is the institution doing the oppressing. From the pre-industrial times it is still about “The Man”. I wonder if I’m right. If I am, there is a source of power in knowing you are part of the power, so I don’t think it is all dim. I think those in education need to remember that they are not being forced by the system to do what seems wrong, they are the system so can be empowered to affect change.

So if you are one of those who shape society, Education is not just about loving kids and teaching disciplines. It’s a massive responsibility.


2 thoughts on “Is Education “The Man”?

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