Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Schooling, deschooling and learning across boundaries

One of the great questions for those of us engaged in SOTL for Social Justice is: "To what extent does learning in contexts of inequality and social division actively under-educate or deschool learners?" I use the word 'deschool' as the only one I can think of, to refer to, 'alienated knowledge' or knowledge that not only is useless, but prevents learning. I have come across several valuable resources in the recent period. The first is the documentaries produced by Carol Black in the United States. The documentary I found particularly powerful is Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden, in which the links between colonisation, epistemicide and schooling are powerfully and pictorially presented. The take-home message is not that higher education is unjust because it facilitates the access of some but not others, but that, in addition, higher education may be guilty of perpetuating problematic knowledge structures as well, and through this, inflicting harm. What knowledge are we inculcating, and for whom?

A second resource is a book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, by Jacques Rancière (translated 1991, Stanford University Press). Rancière makes a strong statement that all learners are equal - you don't learn in order to become equal. The dominant approach to schooling, where the learned explain to the unlearned, stultifies rather than teaches. The book is base on a narrative about the ignorant schoolmaster, Jacotot, who finds the best method to teach, is a measure of ignorance, and to let students teach themselves. The translator of the book, Kristin Ross, points out in the introduction that this was written  after the period of the 1968 student rebellion in France, and thus at a similar time to the scholarly productions of Pierre Bourdieu. The introduction points to criticism of Bourdieu by Rancière, that Bourdieu's writing "allowed the denunciation of both the mechanisms of domination and the illusions of liberation" (xi). I won't go into the details of this logic here, suffice it to say that I agree that it is easy to use critique of the structure of society and its relations with schooling to perpetuate a kind of cynicism and lack of belief in the possibility of change that can lead to both social and cognitive justice. This cynicism and what I would call 'cognitive conservatism' has permeated my own thinking for decades while working in the field of teaching and learning in higher education, and is one of the reasons why I find the student calls for the decolonisation of knowledge so invigorating. 

Sugata Mitra
The thinking behind Rancière's book has been discussed in an article by Richard Stamp (2013). Stamp's article is a fascinating discussion about self-organised learning. He links Rancière's account of learning to the experiment conducted by Sugata Mitra, in which he leaves a computer in a hole in the wall in a variety of urban and rural settings in India, over a period of five years. Sugata Mitra shares the astonishing results of the hole in the wall experiment.  With no adults present, children were illiterate, but learnt how to use the computer, learn English and a variety of other practices and skills. His finding: "6 - 13 year olds can self-instruct in a connected environment irrespective of anything we could measure ... but it had to be in groups". 

Why are these resources so significant at this point in time? Simply, there must be a way to advance cognitive justice in and through education, and present methods are not sufficiently facilitating this. The answers that we seek should contain considerations of both social and cognitive justice, matters of power and privilege, but also thoughtful considerations of how people learn in various contexts, in which schooling is more, as well as less pedagogically structured. 


Carol Black, http://carolblack.org/schooling-the-world/
Sugata Mitra, https://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud?language=en.
Jacques Rancière, 1991, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford University Press. 
Richard Stamp, 2013, Of Slumdogs and Schoolmasters: Jacotot, Rancière and Mitra on Self-organised Learning,  Educational Philosophy and Theory, 45, 6).

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