ERG SES H 12, Philosophy and Education
The exponential proliferation of critical interventions over an ongoing process of commodification of education has generated a broad consensus in educational debates over the last decades. In education as well as in the broader spectrum of social sciences, the term commodification refers to a process whereby education has been subsumed by the market ideological and organisational principles, becoming ‘something to be produced, packaged, sold, traded, outsourced, franchised, and consumed’ (Roberts, 1998): a mere ‘market commodity’ (Lynch, 2006; Gunther, 2011), or investment (Ball, 2004). The application of the market model and its organisational principles of efficiency, predictability and calculability (Block et al., 2012, p. 10) to the managing of practices in public schooling and university has been the result of a consistent and progressive restructuring of public sectors under the current neoliberal conjuncture. This has affected Western and Eastern European countries, as well as the developing ones (Ball, 2004; Apple, 2005), where the implementation of public policies at national level has been reinforced by pressures coming from transnational organisations such as the World Bank and the OECD, and from the implementation of international treaties such as the GATS aimed at removing trade barriers on public services. Reforms and changes that have followed have highlighted the pervasiveness of those processes and have been seen undermining not only the notion of education as ‘public good’, but also reshaping the values and identities of the actors involved as being either providers or consumers of knowledge.
However, despite the extent and capillarity of the critique levelled against those processes, the spreading and scale of their effects does not seem to have been reverting nor mitigated. Furthermore, while this consensus has certainly contributed to creating a common consciousness amongst theorists, still the general impression amongst teachers, as myself, is that ‘theory’ has not brought about substantive changes to marketised practices. There remain areas of social practice, such as teaching, in which the agency of its actors and the emancipatory potential embedded, I claim, in their praxis has not been ‘fully’ explored, or indicated as a tool to oppose, or resist neoliberal workings. ‘Theory’, I argue, has certainly highlighted constraints of ‘praxis’, but has not been able to identify with it. This is particularly relevant to educational settings, such as foreign language teaching, understood mainly as vocational, that is aimed at gaining skills. Here, teachers are fully viewed as ‘technician’ (Apple, 1913), that is mere receivers and appliers of SLA (Second Language Acquisition) research findings. This notion, by presupposing a neutrally disengaged view of knowledge and blurring over the interconnectedness of individual, the social and the political, leaves unchallenged the structural pervasiveness of neoliberalism. This, also, hinders the possibility of initiating emancipatory social action in a ‘classroom’, leaving teachers disempowered. The socio-cultural turn in language education has certainly contributed to highlight those contradictions (Block et al., 2012, pp. 2-5). It has stressed the active role of teachers in engaging in and mediating socially activities, while transforming both the self and the activity (Johnson, 2006). However, the socio-cultural perspective has not fully developed its premises, I argue. Its level of conceptualisation remains about knowledge and cognition rather than action. The understanding is still top-down, from a theoretical glance, rather than from bottom-up, from teachers-practitioners’ experience making their way thorough ‘everyday’ struggles.
This paper is a theoretical discussion on the possibility of recovering the emancipatory potential of teaching as praxis, putting ‘responsibility’ for social-pedagogical action centre-stage. The question I have set out to answer is: ‘to what extend is it possible for (language) teaching to (re)engage with its political and normative dimension and initiate transformative and emancipatory action?
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