17 SES 09, Thinking about Equality in History
Although different forms of excellence initiatives have become part of the Swedish educational landscape inspired by international campaigns e.g. from the European Council and the OECD, educational research on this trend is rare in Sweden (Dodillet, forthcoming). The scholarly literature on the latest reform of the Swedish upper secondary school system illustrates this absence that makes Sweden a terra incognita for the growing international research field concerned with elite education (e.g. van Zanten 2015; Helsper 2009).
In 2009 the centre-right government coalition (in power 2006-2014) introduced a school experiment with special tracks for talented and gifted children in the sciences and humanities at selected upper secondary schools as part of a larger reform package. These ”top-classes” (spetsklasser) should create “new motivation for the pupils who want and can reach longer during their time in upper secondary school” and were compared to already existing ”educations with elite character” for sports and aesthetic subjects (SOU 2008:27, 529-530). The reform package quickly advanced to a well-covered research object (e.g. Adman, 2015; Carlbaum 2012, Lundahl et al 2008, 2013;). However, researchers paid hardly any attention on the introduction of the official elite schools being part of the reform. Commonly, the break with “the older social democratic policy paradigm” is described as limited to the administrative framework of schools and as not affecting the function and values of education (Lundahl et al 2013). The increasingly hierarchical school sector appears as an unintended effect of an otherwise inclusive school policy. When efforts to introduce excellence initiatives still are conceded, they are given short shrift as anomalies of an otherwise including school system, e.g. when Lundahl et al stress that “they have been met with rather limited interest.” (2013, 510)
Emanating from my experiences from researching contemporary examples of excellence initiatives in the Swedish educational system, this presentation pursues the issue of omissions concerning the education of elites in the earlier history of educational policy. More specifically, I will enter into the question how elite formation was debated during the large school reforms of the 1960s and 1990s.
Whether explicitly stated or not, the Swedish educational system includes strategies for the education of all – also of future leaders. To disclose these strategies I draw from two theories on elite education: 1) the democratic equality perspective developed e.g. by Debra Satz (2007) and Elizabeth Andersson (2007); 2) and the meritocratic model described e.g. by Michael Young (1958) and Daniel Bell (1973). While the first perspective presents the form of elite formation implicit in egalitarian ideas of education and as thus seems to be in line with ”the older social democratic policy paradigm” usually attributed to Swedish educational policy during the second half of the 20th century, meritocracy has been the most widely spread elitist model for elite education in democracies (Brown & Tannock, 2009). Does the equality perspective on elite education dominate in the Swedish discourse as earlier research indicate or are there examples also for meritocratic influences?
Adman, P. (2015). Vem värnar om skolans demokratiuppdrag? - En textanalys av 2009 års svenska gymnasiereform. Nordic Studies in Education, 2, 103-115. Anderson, E. (2007). Fair Opportunity in Eudcation: A Democratic Equality Perspective. Ethics, 117, 4, 595-622. Bell, Daniel. (1973). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. Basic Books, New York. Broady. D. & Börjesson, M. (2006). Gymnasieskolans sociala karta. Uppsala: Uppsala universitet. Brown, P., & Tannock, S. (2009). Education, meritocracy and the global war for talent. Journal of Education Policy, 24, 4, 377-392. Carlbaum, S. (2012). Blir du anställningsbar lille/a vän? Diskursiva konstruktioner av framtida medborgare i gymnasiereformer 1971-2011. Umeå: Umeå universitet. Dodillet, S. (fortcoming). Kunskapssamhällets excellenssatsningar – Försök och tystnader i tysk och svensk utbildningsvetenskap. Educare. Helsper, W. (2009). Elite und Excellenz. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 55, 2. Lundahl, L. et al. (2010). Setting Things Right? Swedish Upper Secondary School Reform in a 40-Year Perspective. European Journal of Education. 45, 1, 46-59. Lundahl, L. et al. (2013). Educational marketization the Swedish way. Education Inquiry. 4, 3, 497-517. Satz, D. (2007). Equality, Adequacy, and Education for Citizenship. Ethics, 117, 4, 623-648. SOU 1963:42. Ett nytt gymnasium. Stockholm. SOU 1992:94. Skola för bildning. Stockholm. SOU 2008: 27. Framtidsvägen- en reformerad gymnasieskola. Stockholm. Waldow, F. (2007). Ökonomische Strukturzyklen und international Diskurskonjunkturen: Zur Entwicklung der schwedischen Bildungsprogrammatik, 1930-2000. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. Waldow, F. (2009). Undeclared imports: silent borrowing in educational policy-making and research in Sweden. Comparative Education. 45, 4, 477-494.
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