Culture v Politics

A room. Somewhere. Norman is alone.

NORMAN:           The worse thing to do is to pretend it didn’t happen. Then it didn’t happen. But it did happen. So it is     always happening.

(Bond, E. 2014:15)

As Lyotard (1979:14) points out, the ‘ruling class is and will continue to be the class of decision makers’, and this is evident given the ever stronger move toward a neo-liberal education system in which knowledge has become ever more commoditized. This has recently been typified by the Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan’s (2014) comments about the links between pupil subject choices in school and their potential ‘employability’. Speaking at the ‘Your Life’ Campaign, which focuses on increasing the number of young people choosing to study Maths or Physics whilst at school, she clearly outlined that “the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths)”. What about the Arts? Why can’t it be the STEAM agenda?

Arguably, Morgan’s comments serve two purposes; firstly, they reinforce the power that the dominant elite have over education by repeating a narrative that serves to elevate the status and importance of those subjects over others. Consequently, those from the lower classes are told that to be successful economically these subjects are what they should study. In addition, this discourse, promoted through media coverage, influences the value people, such as parents and employers, place upon what types of knowledge, which, in turn, can exclude other types of knowledge. Put simply, this discourse begins to legitimize itself and the subtext underneath Morgan’s standpoint is that to do well you should study the STEM subjects to the exclusion of others.

Freire (1993:75) posits that “Many political and educational plans have failed because their authors designed them according to their own personal view of reality, never once taking into account (except as mere objects of their actions) the men-in-a-situation to who their program was ostensibly directed.” However, I do not believe that the drive to push the STEM agenda over other subjects will fail as the dominant, political elite will legitimize their own discourse over time, unless people who are educated within the system begin to realise and understand the illusion that is being created through this narrative.

Secondly, Morgan’s standpoint here is evidence of Bruner’s ‘Folk psychology’ in action. What this narrative does is perpetuate a myth that an “educational system”, such as the UK’s, should “produce a willing and compliant labour force to keep it going” and “convinces them that such an industrial society constitutes the right, valid, and only way of living.” (Bruner 1996:67). This illusion creates a power dynamic in which people think that the only way to contribute successfully to and make progress within society is to engage in these subjects, when in reality the implicit impact of this behaviour reinforces the status quo, maintains the illusion, and supports the position of the dominant elite by serving the system that they govern.  Additionally, what is interesting is the form used to perpetuate this myth, namely the media. Neelands (2002:120) writes that “Media reports criticise schools and teacher for not producing the educational outcomes most valued by parents, employers and the wider community. More external testing of minimum standards in basic skills is usually advocated as the solution.” This along with Ofsted monitoring and governmental policy is another way in which an illusion is not only created but maintained and legitimized.

In order to break this governmental illusion I believe that teachers need to develop their metaxis. From practice of drama in education the duality of my professional context has become apparent. My role within the University institution is to both teach potential drama teachers about drama whilst using the drama form as a method of teaching. This ‘metaxis’ enables a view of both ‘worlds’ and the lens with which to comment upon the two. For Boal (1995: 43-44) ‘metaxis’ is the state of belonging completely and simultaneously to two different worlds that are autonomous… “the oppressed must forget the real world which was the origin of the image and play with the image itself in its artistic embodiment.” In this sense the ‘rules’ of the teaching profession are understood, whilst exploring and testing them. Trainee drama teachers can be taught about drama skills, conventions, theatre history, practitioners, plays and genres whilst developing their understanding of how their role might fit into a school curriculum or the wider educational situation. For authentic drama education to take place drama teachers should engage with critical consideration of both how they teach and why they are teaching. Alternatively, for Bolton (1995:11) metaxis is ‘the power of the experiences’ that ‘stem from fully recognising that one is in two social contexts at the same time’, and this is evidence of developing ‘new facets of the self’. Therefore, to guard against the performance of education, drama teachers might engage with exploring their place in two social contexts. As a result I believe that one way to change the system is to change it from within and that teachers are facing an educational and cultural choice.

Neelands (2002:122) predicted this ‘cultural choice’ that we now face in British education positing that schooling should be ‘designed to feed, nurture, guide and fulfil the humanising and compassionate potential of the imagination’. The alienation of teachers also feeds into the students that they teach leading to an ‘impoverished and limited sense of ‘self’ and ‘other’. This means that learners are often struggling to understand the world they are in when, the ruling classes come along and tell them what they should be doing, learning, thinking. Neelands calls for a ‘humanising curriculum’. Consequently, Neelands (2002:119) makes the point that “Policy makers have tried to persuade parents, commerce and the powerful constituencies that the greatest challenge we face is not the need to address new cultural, work and career identities, new economies based on communication rather than manufacturing, endemic poverty and the creation of disaffected underclasses. No, the real challenge is falling literacy test scores.”

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2 thoughts on “Culture v Politics

  1. Convincing and well argued, Chris, but couldn’t we have a SHTEAM agenda so that we don’t leave out the Humanities, please?

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