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JC1 Charlottes summary: What is Education For? Biesta, G. (2015).

Hypothetical Thinking

HYPOTHETICAL THINKING
Charlotte Pezaro, PhD Candidate

JC1 Charlottes summary: What is Education For? Biesta,


G.(2015).
Date: March 16, 2015Author: cpezaro 0 Comments
This summary has been prepared for Primary Teacher Journal Club participants who may
not have time to read the full text prior to the discussion, or, having read the full text, want
to revisit the ideas briefly before participating. The summaryis not meant to replace
thearticle itself. Any deviations from the meaningof the original authors textare
unintended, arising from the need to besuccinct.

Biesta asserts that recent positioning of the teacher asthe most important factor in
education is problematic, because it follows that in order to increase the performance of
students, we must ensure this factor works as efficiently and effectively as possible.
However, this factor is an educational professional who should (ideally) have scope for
judgement and discretion.

Biestaargues that teacher judgement is essential, and that current learnification language
and discourses around learning impact on the theory and practice of education in negative
ways.

He suggests we refocus the discussion on to the normative question of good education.


Learnification frames the purpose of education as students learning, but this is insufficient
and potentially misleading. The purpose of education isthat students learnsomething for
areason fromsomeone; education involves content, purpose and relationships. Of these
three elements, the purpose of education is the most fundamental one

for the simple reasonthat if we do not know what it is we are seeking to


achieve with our educationalarrangements and endeavours, we cannot
make any decisions about the contentthat is most appropriate and the kind

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JC1 Charlottes summary: What is Education For? Biesta, G. (2015). Hypothetical Thinking

of relationships that are most conducive.

The purpose of education, Biesta suggests, is multidimensional, functioning in three


domains:

qualification: the transmission and acquisition of knowledge, skills and dispositions.

socialisation: the representation and initiation of children incultural,


professional,political,andreligioustraditions and ways of being, for example in the
ways that educationreproduces [or challenges]existing social structures, divisions
andinequalities

subjectification: the way in which childrenand young people come to exist as subjects
of initiative and responsibility ratherthan as objects of the actions of others through the
positive and negative impacts of education

Although we can distinguish between the threedomains of purpose, they


cannot really be separated.

Biesta complains that the narrowemphasis on achievement, falling in the domain of


qualification, applies excessive pressure on both students and teachers to perform, with
the result that the impacts on subjectification are exceedingly negative, particularly in
cultures where failure is not an option.

Therefore, the role of teacher judgement is central tomaintaining a balance between the
three domains. The concrete question of how to do this plays out in the classroom, and in
relation to each individual student. While the three domains of purpose may be balanced
synergistically, it is also possible for domains tobe in conflict, too. These judgements of
balance and of trade-offs are necessary in addition to judgements of pedagogy, curriculum,
classroom organisation, et cetera. Judgements made by the teacher, often in new,unique,

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JC1 Charlottes summary: What is Education For? Biesta, G. (2015). Hypothetical Thinking

and concrete situations, must be pragmaticanddepend crucially upon their purpose. Thus,
at different times, education does need to be flexible and personalised, or strict and
structured. In some cases, it needs to be student-centred, while in others it needs to be
driven by the curriculum or by the teacher (or both).

What works in education only works for a particular purpose or set of purposes. For
example, Hatties meta-analyseshighlight evidence for what works for a single purpose:
academic achievement, which is a narrow aspect of the domain of qualification. Such
assertions are alsolimited by the research available. The problem with discussing
effectiveness is that it is of value only for particular purposes;we must ask the
desirabilityof those purposes.

Similarly, excellence in education is a problematic discussion because it leads to a


competitive mindset. Biesta suggests that

the duty of education is to ensure that there is good education for everyone
everywhere.

Biesta moves on to argue that the current discourses and policies around teachers and
educationlimit rather than enhance the scope for professional teacher judgement.

If education requires judgement, and if this judgement is of the teacher,


then it would follow that teachers have ample space and opportunity to
exercise such judgement.

Professions are specialised areas of work that promote human wellbeing, require highly
specialised knowledge and skills, and function in relationships of authority and trust.

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JC1 Charlottes summary: What is Education For? Biesta, G. (2015). Hypothetical Thinking

Professions, he argues, must be regulated internally rather than ruled externally.


Accountability is important in reducing authoritarian operationsand interactions, however,
extendeddemocratisation and movements towards accountability riskachieving the
opposite through the erosion of responsible professionalism.

For example, the movement towards viewing the student as a customer risks distorting the
purpose and function of education. Giving extensive emphasis tothe voice of the student
as a consumer of education may not actually enhance educationbecause

the voice of the student and the voice of the teacher are very different voices
that come with different responsibilities and expectations.

It is a case of students not knowing what they do not know, and thus being unable to judge
their own needs from educationaccurately (although they may express desires, and some
of these desires maybe met by education).

Further, Biesta argues that the current bureaucratic form of accountability focuses on
easily measurable outputs and indicators, for the purposes of measurement and control.
Bureaucratic forms of accountability value what can be measured, rather than measure
what should be valued. Democratic forms of accountability would engage in substantive
exchanges between professionals and stakeholders about what good education is and
what the parameters for identifying good education are.

On the topic of what works, Biesta posits that the

logic of making education work is often based on quasi-causal assumptions


about the dynamics of educational processes and practices rather than on
the acknowledgement that education works through language and

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JC1 Charlottes summary: What is Education For? Biesta, G. (2015). Hypothetical Thinking

interpretation, meaning-giving and meaning-making, and thus through


processes of communication and encounter.

Finally, Biesta suggests the following strategies for reclaiming teacher professionalism:

observation ofcurrent developments in education for what they are, rather than what
they pretendto be;

engagement in a detailed analysis and critique of the ways in which the space for
professional judgement is being constructed and confined;

discussion of the purpose of education and definition of good education, leading to a


clear consensus on what the profession is about;

developing an account of education for more than just learning and that teaching is
about more than the facilitation of learning; and

maintain an educationally meaningful balance between the domains of qualification,


socialisation and subjectification.

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JC1 Charlottes summary: What is Education For? Biesta, G. (2015). Hypothetical Thinking

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