Rethinking emancipation, rethinking education


In chapter 1 I explored the need for commitment to equality rather than hope, to break the power of the distributive paradigm of schooling defining who you are, as well as possible social relations. In this chapter, I discuss the possibility of the idea of emancipation within an educational philosophy that does not accept the distribution of schooling as its first premise. The first part of this chapter will identify what I will be calling an educational state, defined through educational policies such as life-long learning, accountability and evidence-based research. Those policies, I will show, are meaningful only within the paradigm of distributive schooling and not in a language of educational thought, and particularly not meaningful for education as emancipation. Throughout the chapter, I will explore how it comes about that the distributive paradigm of schooling appears as natural and real, more real than reality itself and how freedom and emancipation interrupt such meta-reality.

The second part of the chapter discusses different but related conceptions of emancipation by exploring their ambiguous nature. I do this to show that ambiguity is not something caused by emancipation, rather it is the very form emancipation takes, particularly within educational thought. I will understand educational thought quite widely in this chapter, including thinkers such as Ernesto Laclau (2007), particularly as he develops an argument central for education (Szkudlarek, 2017). In the third part, I specify the role and place of emancipation within a philosophy of education that seeks to articulate its social value, as well as the other way around, that is, to emphasize the place and role of educational thought within emancipation.

Also, I will make a distinction between actual schools and the distributive paradigm of schooling, in line with what was developed in chapter 1. That is, while it is possible to verify equality in the school, in schooling on the other hand, as to how the institution institutionalizes, there is no equality. However, as 1 will show, it is always possible to refuse to fall into inequality by verifying equality where there is none, that is, emancipation is an unrealized possibility within the school in spite of the power of the distributive paradigm of schooling.

Schooling is the problem, not schools

Education, at least since the birth of the Enlightenment, has been considered to be a lens through which the light of truth and prosperity would come to shine on the people. Through education, people could live an emancipated life free from the burdens of ignorance. Today one can wonder if there is any room for emancipation in educational policies spread over the world, and particularly in Europe, as education seems to have more to do with workforce politics than with emancipating citizens (Safstrom, 2004a; Masschelein & Simons, 2002). Education in the self-proclaimed knowledge societies tends to be reduced to a vehicle exclusively for getting a job, rather than for learning the grammar for reading the complexities of the society in which one lives.

However, education without emancipation is no education at all. It is, rather, the defining characteristics of schoolification, a managerial function of the state, which distributes places and spaces in the social order in which you become what you already are. That is, your abilities and talents are considered as natural properties of the self, rather than social and political constructs, and as such schooling is thought of as bringing those properties out and circulating them for the profit of the economic order, as illustrated in chapter 1. That is, abilities and talents are the units through which the institution works, and which connect to the global economy.

This is the distributive paradigm of schooling, or in short, schooling is not to be confused with all that goes on in schools. Instead, I am using the concept in this chapter to capture the idea which states that teaching and learning are supposed to be a representation of natural, and therefore true, social life, and a place for the distribution of experiences that, in themselves, make sense of living in a particular society. Being properly schooled, then, means that one has to accept that schooling reveals the inner (natural) truth of society in which one is supposed to have a reserved place corresponding to that truth (Safstrom, 2003b). Or, put more directly, schooling is about occupying a position corresponding to one’s place in the (naturalized) social order.

By making a distinction between schooling as part of the managerial function of the state, and what goes on between people in real schools, one can also make clear what is needed for emancipation to take place. That is, schooling refers to the discoursal, constructed idea of emancipation as having little or nothing at all to do with what is actually going on in schools, while education requires a certain emancipatory relation between real people in actual schools in order to be anything other than confirmation of a privilege already in the hands of some, rather than others. If, or when, emancipation happens, it always does so as a break with the idea of schooling (see also Ruitenberg, 2008; Biesta, 2014). Emancipation, which I understand to be central for any conception of education, always happens in the interplay between the order of truth of the distributive paradigm and the disturbance of that order. That is, emancipation is a break with schooling for ambiguity to emerge. That is, an ambiguity that makes it meaningful to interact with other people to find out how to go on with others who may go on differently, who “have the right to go on -differently” (Bauman, 1999a, p. 202).

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