This is a timely and incredibly useful new publication. With the fight now on to defend all our schools from wholesale privatisation we need the ideas in this book to consider what is wrong with the “exam factory” model of education, what the alternative would look like and why it is worth fighting for.
The authors are teachers and teacher educators, who argue that we need to start from what we mean by learning. For the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) — a neoliberal project infecting schools across the planet — learning is an authoritarian process where “knowledge” is transmitted in one direction only, from the teacher to the pupils, to be regularly regurgitated in increasing high stakes tests. All knowledge must be testable and reduced to right or wrong answers, just as all learners are reduced to passes or failures.
This conception of education reinforces and reproduces the inequality in society and maintains and strengthens existing power relations. Big businesses such as Pearson (annual profits £800 billion) need education to be reduced to this sterile model in order to sell their products, which include chains of “academies in a box” across huge areas of the Global South. No qualified teachers needed; just a tablet computer programmed to “teach” and test pupils.
In contrast, the authors argue for a vision of learning as a situated relationship between more and less experienced people in an ongoing dialogue, where shared meanings are constructed and every experience is unique. They give concrete examples of projects carried out in London schools. At one school students were encouraged to bring their own life experiences and were given access to the resources of an entire museum, including teachers and museum staff, to think about the way the slave trade and colonialism impacted on Africa. The project criss-crossed traditional subject borders using drama and art.
The book finishes by taking us into the mini-world that is every classroom. It urges us to be optimistic, to recognise that the drive to strip learning of every scrap of joy and creativity is not unstoppable. Every classroom is full of relationships, of people making meaning together in all the messy ways we do. It is because education is about people, no matter how much the GERM may try to ignore their agency, that there is always potential to challenge the stifling, hollowed out parody of learning that the Tories and their neoliberal friends internationally want to impose on us.
I highly recommend this book to everyone who has an interest in education and learning — every socialist, not just teachers and parents.