30 ONLINE 20 B, Futures thinking and imagination in ESE
MeetingID: 828 1783 2948 Code: WT3eUw
Social studies aim to enable students to engage as active citizens. The arenas of active citizenship and the competences perceived necessary has, however, been found to vary over time (Børhaug, 2018). Taking the Nordic countries as example, scholars have found that the scope of arenas is widened over the last century, from democratic elections nationally and locally, to include organisational cooperation in civil society as well as the workplace. During the last two decennia, Børhaug finds a turn away from political institutions towards pupils’ life worlds in curricula, and at the same time the scope is widened from the local and national to include global participation (Børhaug, 2018). The content of the curricula varies correspondingly, attending to political institutions and the development of personal opinions and positions, through critical perspectives and 21 century skills. There is, in other words, a long standing tradition for conceptualizing social studies as a subject with the potential to contribute to change and to develop society (Børhaug, 2005). Education is assumed to hold the power to shape young people’s understanding of themselves and their own agency in society (Tannock, 2021). Therefore, it is essential to clarify the imagery of the future, underlying the scope of possibilities relayed to them. As Biesta (2011) points out, all citizenship education convey a social and political imaginary of what a good society will be. Put differently, visions and interpretations of the future will be embedded in any curriculum, although the emphasis on this prognosis will differ. During the last two decades, the notion of educating for the future, has become customary. In current social studies, internationally endorsed purposes as sustainability, democracy, and human rights have attained central roles. These purposes inform the school subject and shape notions of what a good citizen needs to learn, experience, and do. Less visibly, they also relay interpretations of the future in terms of possibilities, risks, and responsibilities.
The role of the future is prominent within sustainability education, which is central to social studies. Sustainability education presupposes that education is decisive for creating necessary social change to mitigate climate and environmental crises (Tannock, 2021). Students as young people are seen as more receptive and able to change (Hartung, 2017), and as young people they have longer futures and will experience more of the consequences of climate and environmental crises.
In this paper, we ask: What are the roles and characteristics of representations of ‘the future’ in the current Norwegian curriculum reform? Representations of the future as means to legitimize curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation in educational policies (Bernstein, 2003) is not, however, limited to a Norwegian context. International organizations such as OECD, the Council of Europe and United Nations are central in developing educational discourses, and Norway is only one case exemplifying how these discourses are iterated and contextualized.
By disclosing the discursive engagement of “the future” in the Norwegian case, we aim to facilitate a more transparent discourse about social studies, providing a conceptual repertoire suitable to question and reflect on the use and implication of representations of “the future” for educational choices.
The discussion builds on findings from a discourse analysis of the preparatory works to the latest Norwegian national curriculum “Knowledge Promotion Reform 2020”, which is now under implementation. We explore how ‘the future’ works as a nodal point (Laclau & Mouffe, 2001). Within a discourse, nodal points are signs that are central to the discourse, as for instance ‘the body’ will be for a discourse on health or as we argue ‘the future’ is for a discourse on sustainability as a good purpose in social studies. Discursive struggles can be detected by identifying how a nodal point, such as ‘the future’ is perceived in different ways. The preparatory works to the national curriculum are in themselves polyphonic texts, carrying and merging different voices on sustainability and social studies, and different representations of ‘the future’ can be found side by side. We study how these different characteristics ascribed to the future justify certain changes pertaining to the structure and organization of social studies, as well as epistemological and thematic content of the subject. Based on the analysis, we discuss implications of the roles representations of the future hold in the reform on two dimensions. Firstly, some challenges involved in teaching for a future that is construed as unknown are identified. We describe the relationship between the here and now and the future as a kind of educational-societal dissonance, where social studies aim at educating young people for purposes that the society around them do not (yet) fulfil. Secondly, we scrutinize the powers attributed to critical thinking and pluralistic deliberation as skills and practices appropriate to obtaining the aims of sustainability education for the future. In this section we build on Williams' (1973) concept of selective traditions in teaching and ask whether the Norwegian curriculum’s emphasis on critical thinking is sufficient for opening up normative issues connected to good purposes for contention and debate.
Representations of “the future” in the preparatory works to the new national curriculum in Norway strengthen the call for educational reform. “The future” is characterized by being different from the here and now, but representations of the future typically also contain and magnify some of the characteristics of the present, such as the importance of technology in education. The curriculum presents the purposes of sustainability, democracy, and human rights as the tools necessary to bring about this future. The representations of the future bring out an educational-societal dissonance within social studies, where the students on the one-hand are to be educated and improved for the future, and the other – they are supposed to represent “the new world” which breaks with the shortcomings of the present. The curriculum positions critical thinking and deliberation as central methods in social studies, and our analysis addresses how the curriculum construes which questions that are open for deliberation and debate.
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