Monday, 9 November 2015

If... #TEF ...

It can be a powerful intellectual move to expose the weirdness and irrationality of things that we think are ordinary and rational. Humour can point out irrationality and make us laugh (there are some wonderful parodies of school and university), but laughing is not always the best thing to do if you want to provoke people into action: it can lead to a kind of complicity (po-faced Theodor Adorno was probably right here: the culture-industry feeds on the inherent contradictions of capitalism). Much better is to disturb, horrify, expose and shame. Anger is the response we should really feel to the weirdness and irrationality of education because so much of what goes on in universities and schools is about power, inequality, exclusion, and vested interests.

What would Lindsay Anderson's "If..." look like if it were a university? How would the toxic combination of peer pressure, elite power dynamics, militarism, ceremony, and absurd assumptions about the purpose of education and life look? Someone ought to do it! Everything from the obfuscation by universities about what courses actually do, exploitative financial bargains made with students, peer pressure and party cultures, exploitation of parents, government interference, commodification of knowledge, weird ceremonies and weirder expectations, to the self-aggrandisement of institutional leaders and academics, and then... the sheer boredom and inauthenticity of it all.

We need to see education for what it is. This, supposedly, is what things like the Teaching Excellence Framework are meant to do. But in fact they do the opposite. Their real purpose is to obfuscate the weirdness, to pretend that something perfectly reasonable, transparent, and transactionally fair is going on. Its purpose is to say that all the weirdness is worth the sums of money paid for it, that Vice-Chancellors and their cronies are worth their absurd salaries, and that despite the fact that nobody understands what it's all meant to be about, students should incur massive debt.

The 'If...' move disrupts the assumptions we make about education. The TEF is yet another stupid initiative in a sea of stupid initiatives. Stupid has become normal - and that's the real problem in attempting to attack the TEF: one is drawn into an irrational battle between one stupid 'rationally-defended' proposition to another. In the final analysis, technology presents a more rationally justifiable way forward for education. Ironically, that may be its weakness!

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