Saturday 10 March 2012

Communities and the Giving of Education

Following on from yesterday's post, and a few others where I have been developing ideas around meaning, I'm thinking more about the economic role of 'disconnected relics' (Bach Passions, Picassos, Beethoven manuscripts, etc), for whilst the inherent meaning of these relics is lost in time, they still play an important function in economic life. I alluded to this yesterday when I said that the risk society can exploit the fractured meanings in our lives by presenting these relics as cyphers of integrity and meaningfulness (for which money is exchanged), but actually they exacerbate the fractured meaning problem (and consequently drive further process of economic behaviour).

If education can be seen to be such a relic, then I think it is obvious how an education industry can function, and moreover can function well, divorced from any demonstrable benefit to skills or cormpetencies (and indeed the 'skills and competency' discourse is itself disconnected). But none of that matters, because economically, this works. My guess is that the world economy will pull itself out of its current crisis when it realises this.

But that's not to say it's a good thing: it's actually quite horrible. Universities will have students over a barrel in the same way that banks do at the moment:
"So Mr. Johnson, I can see looking at your academic records that you have some educational deficit, but a few credits. I have a great offer for you - but you have to agree today - a discount top-up degree course that would clear your deficit and give you a degree certificate in 'Reflective practice in Electronic Engineering'. Yes - yes - it should help you to get a job, although you would have to top up further to get your professional accreditation. But I can offer you that today (and today only) for £5500 per anum for 2 years of study plus administration fees and Accreditation of Prior Learning fees to carry over your existing credit. There is a failure penalty too. I don't think you'll do better than that. Oh.. the professional accreditation...? er.. hang on.. that's another year at £10,000. But you may not need it..."
I don't think that's a million miles from where we're heading. It will work, it will be economically successful because it is a model of risk creation that has already worked well in Banking, Insurance and increasingly Health. I find it very frightening.

The question for us is in the face of this (I think inevitable) development of education is "what do we do?" How do we help students who are going to be the victims of this? How do we ensure the educational equivalents of Bernard Madoff and Fred Goodwin don't simply run off with the students' cash, leaving the students high-and-dry? This is already happening amongst the less scrupulous private education providers right now. And in difficult times, everyone become less scrupulous.

The important thing here is that it is an aspect of the atomisation of the individual, without which the risk society couldn't operate. Collectives and communities share risks, they help people make balanced judgements, and they are powerful enough to set their own timescales and not be bullied or rushed into decisions which are not in their interests.

Our technology is completely geared around atomisation. I want technology for communities (and not 'online coommunities' because they are not communities! - that's a big con of the global tech companies)

There may be a way of putting this together which harnesses the emergence of the global education industry (and other global services) to empower real face-to-face communities. At the heart of it, I believe, lies the principle of 'giving'.

When we give we do something extraordinary to others to the material detriment of ourselves. 'Disconnected relics' often lie at the heart of giving rituals: sacred objects, Picassos, etc. But why not education? But giving education to a community is not the same as giving it to an individual (we have always done that with our children). Education is difficult to give to a group. But maybe an educational 'activity' or 'performance', like any performance, can be given to a community, or at least to a group (an audience). The trick then is to give a performance where the meaningfulness of the gift can be genuinely shared, rather than just available to 'those who know': i.e. the audience becomes a community. I think technologies can do this - particularly physical technologies which can disrupt and invite a community into a meaningful experience.

Why does this matter?

  • I think it matters because we need to think of a way of dealing with where Universities are going (and there's no stopping them, I fear). 
  • It matters because the fundamental problem of education is one of disconnected meanings. 
  • It matters because the only way of dealing with disconnectedness is to deal with the fracturing and atomisation of individual experience, and the only way to do that is to rebuild communities. 
  • It matters because 'giving' lies at the heart of community life
  • It matters because technologies can give us new ways to give less tangible 'disconnected relics' like education in ways that the giving of them to a community can genuinely address the fracturedness of meaning that is the curse of modernity.
  • It matters because conviviality matters above everything else.


Simon Grant said...

OK Mark, many instances of the "skills and competency" discourse may be disconnected, but it would also be good to see some a nod in the direction of those of us who are trying to connect it. At a simple level, we are trying to connect the worlds of education and of work, through extending the common language. But at a deeper level, at least I am trying to connect the way we think about competence to the way we think about personal values, because there is something quite similar in the way that they are about personal choice between actual options.

And understanding skills, as well as values, can help build real communities, as in a real community one wants a reasonable coherence of values together with a range of the skills necessary to support that community. In that way are they different, but complementary rather than opposed.


Mark Johnson said...

Yes Simon, I agree with you. But I think the disconnectedness concerns meaning rather than value. Although you may mean by value what I mean by meaning :-)

Amy said...

Individuals in a community has different personal understanding of what they valued. But with the help of the community, they can share thoughts and ideas to come up united analysis of a certain thing. In relation to the education topic, if each member of the community have these understanding from the community they belong, they can stop this disconnectedness and they can support each other for their main goal.