*Caveat – while this post discusses Brexit, it is about education (eventually) and does some modest proposals, too.
Oh Brexit. The fallout continues in various shapes of dismay. I eavesdropped on an ESOL teacher in my staff room this week discussing hypothetical implications for his practice with dejection. Later we spoke about it and he revealed he’s not personally worried as he never considers it will come to pass because no politician wants to trigger Article 50. This is the remarkable thing about a community, once you’re enmeshed in one, it’s difficult to dismantle and withdraw from – even in one so divided.
I’ve heard other friends quick to blame ‘ignorant’ Leave voters (“thick northeners” – presumably Gove, born in Edinburgh, counts among them) – a narrative that’s conveniently reinforced as ‘chavs’ are highlighted over their racism and Googling of ‘what is the EU’, while the media channels that licensed racism and ignorance throughout the campaign escape censure. This punching down of ‘ordinary’ people and Leave voters is the kind of dangerous ‘othering’ and stereotyping that causes more divisiveness and disefranchisement: the very things that UKIP used to attract disillusioned, traditional Labour voters, who bought into that whole racist rhetoric which demonised foreign workers.
Folk are social animals and always need something to cluster around, which is why UKIP became popular. Equally, we Remain voters cluster around the desperate petitions, hoping that the result won’t be upheld. We cluster around ideas and proudly remind everyone that this wasn’t our mess, because we’re of the 48% – another community. Another way a culture becomes divided – both by statistical and ideological definition.
I’ve been thinking of parallels between this ‘othering’ of Leave voters with FE. We are, in FE, the other sector, the overlooked and marginalised. Boris Johnson struggled to know us, describing us as a “secondary modern type thing”, and which forgettable ‘other’ was it in Government who apparently said to Vince Cable that no one would notice if FE was completely dissolved?
‘Othering’, as an image, is the person who walks past the homeless person without seeing them – perhaps not as ignorance but as complete unawareness that whatever it is even exists. Many people just don’t want to acknowledge that we have deep social problems, and that these are physically manifest among students in FE colleges as peripheral members of our culture. People like to blame the Brexit vote on a lack of education, which downplays our national education system hugely. ‘Brexit’ – that’s what disenfranchisement and a lack of representation gets you.
I believe that Brexit represents how we now need to re-position FE as less focused on a vocational model and more as a Community model – one that celebrates and educates personal human virtues which are, after all, profesionally attractive, for who would want to employ a racist, except perhaps Nigel? Can we subscribe to better qualities, please? What properties does volunteerism, for example, have? Care, support, life stories, identities, participation. Any educational institution is a microcosm of society: let’s pronounce the values louder and ensure the conversation is made daily. Not British Values, as such, but community ones. Let’s reposition British values to show that globally different cultures have inherent community values that we can resonate. I think of the North American Potlatch or the Sikh Langar. Why don’t we share these to celebrate global, human values, instead of imprinting a set to a flag, which negates the qualities in lieu of patriotism and presumes to appropriate them as “ours” that the others – over there – don’t do?
Do community qualities translate to a model of education? In name, you have Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry – a framework of e-learning based on the social, teacher and cognitive presences resident in strong online practice, but elsewhere there is little resemblance to a community. Indeed, from the 2000 conception of the CoI, it was not until Rientes and Rivers stated the importance of ’emotional presence’ in learning in a 2014 Learning Analytics report that this became recognsed as a tension of a learner’s experience that should complement the model. We have to understand the affective, to be effective.
Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice is closer, comprising joint enterprise, mutual engagement and shared repertoire as characteristic, while also validating the ‘peripheral participants’ as legitimate. Think Twitter micro-cultures (ukfechat) as a great example, but difficult to effectively reconstruct among FE learners without drilling down to fine-grained nuances of the qualities inherent in these and how they are operarationalised in design.
It’s very easy to say ‘collaborative’, but what does it look like and how does it benefit the learner?
Clusters of researchers have identified knowledge worker ‘roles’ – shown below from Reinhardt et al (2011) that may give us an idea of how ‘rotating responsibilities’ (i.e. delegated to different members in different sessions) improves holistic skills training when applied in learning activities framed around communities. It may be noted that many of these terms are ambiguous and even interchangeable, that they are what we are already doing in many regards anyway, but I would argue for a focus on the communicated channels that facilitate these actions as social and multi-voiced – distributed – rather than individual, especially in terms of assessment outcomes.
We then move to a typology and things are starting to look a lot like the sort of ’21st century skills’ guff that I read about in the almost fictional McArthur report ‘Confronting the Challenges’ a few years ago.
This is very much focused on e-learning, as those crazy Europeans call it and in real-world terms, looks far more clerical than manual. I can’t, for example, see how an electrician student would make much sense of the Linker role above, but perhaps I need to be more imaginative. The actions can, for instance, be powerful in the curation of e-portfolios by students. The roles listed are not ideal, they’re narrowly defined and categorised. Yet it’s interesting to me how collaborative activities applied in an English syllabus could equally be categorised and labelled to give grouped work more credibility with shared repertoires, promoting the engagement that’s badly needed.
What I’d like to propose is that role-taking assumes a congregation to goals where responsibility, sharing, and co-operation are emphasised as drivers of method. We might then promote the recognition of the diversified qualities and values of separate members of our cultures as contributory to objects, rather than basing our model on inward and self-seeking individual competitiveness (or ‘Boris-ism’ as it’s now called) that would preclude inclusivity.