Freedom and education: some thoughts and discussion

I thoroughly enjoyed Nick Stevenson’s book, Freedom – enjoyed it too much to quote within legal or logical limits – but here are some points I took a particular liking to:

“To become educated is to have access to a broad range of vocabularies through which to understand the wider society.” (p.56)

“Freedom is unlikely to be experienced as a value if the education system is reduced to training for employment, but by engaging with unusual and difficult ideas individuals are offered the possibility of developing a questioning and critical life.” (p.42)Freedom

“Undoubtedly much of the material produced by commercial corporations is both entertaining and fun; however, there are considerable dangers if the young are converted into indifferent consumers. The power of large corporations such as Disney to shape the horizons and passions of the young is radically underestimated by many liberals. Of course there are equal dangers in parents simply banning commercial culture from the home. What is required is the development of more critical forms of understanding and engagement on a range of questions that are unlikely to be problematised by much mainstream culture. While many critical programmes are still made in the public service tradition the cost of indifferent consumerism needs to be raised within education. Here the key question critical educators are compelled to ask is not only what are our freedoms, but also what our responsibilities should be in the face of inequality and injustice, ecological devastation and increasingly diverse societies. These issues can’t be readily answered simply by returning to earlier phases of liberal socialism, but require us to ask new questions in new times. Here the young require a deep knowledge of past traditions and events that helped shape the present. The dangers and unfreedoms that were faced by our ancestors should help in the quest for a more engaged citizenry. But this is unlikely to have much effect if education is simply seen as a passport to market success. Much of today’s commercial culture values the capacity to achieve instant success, immediate wealth or fame. The moral indifference of many contemporary citizens has been reproduced by a culture of hyperconsumption and political indifference. It is this feature that I call X Factor education’. It is primarily a market culture that closes the eyes of many citizens to other ethical possibilities as to how we should live our lives. As the philosopher Paul Ricoeur (2007) argues we are all charged with the question of how we should live in a shared global context of injustice.” (p.57)

“My argument here is that cultural freedom is not simply a question of speaking in your own voice or simply having the right to shock, but is more explicitly concerned with what the radical educationalist Henry Giroux (1993) calls border crossing. The aim is to enable learners to negotiate complex languages of alternative narratives and experiences that permanently displace ideas of the centre and the margin. As Giroux (1993: 369) writes: [-p.56]

literacy as an emancipatory practice requires people to read, speak, and listen to the language of difference, a language in which memory becomes multiaccentual and dispersed, and resists permanent closure.

This is a language that offers learners the possibility of negotiating borders and understanding complex forms of cultural difference. Cultural borders may be explored through explorations in music, history, art, philosophy or in more scientific writing. This is clearly a demanding task that would find most educators falling short.” (italics added to indicate Giroux quote, pp.55-56)

“Long gone it seems are the concerns of Raymond Williams or Erich Fromm from previous generations about the possibility of developing a genuinely democratic culture based upon alternative forms of cultural production, critical reflection and radically democratised education and media cultures.

The popular television series Big Brother (rather than Orwell’s own) offers a case in point where individuals enter into a highly controlled and manipulated environment, all seeking to survive being voted off by their fellow contestants and members of the public. This televised spectacle of unfreedom demonstrates the need felt by many young people to become famous and thereby gain access to a glamorous lifestyle of hyperconsumption. Along with the rise of consumerism has come an increasing amount of attention focused upon the performance of the self and acquisitive individualism rather than the kinds of identity and subjectivity required for a democratic society. Big Brother overtly celebrates the manufacture through the media of the lives of relatively minor celebrities whose hard work is usually repaid by being granted a few minutes of fame. This and other talent shows, such as The X Factor, The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den, all celebrate the virtues of market success, upward mobility and consumerism above all else. If we life in a society where millions of people simply want to live lives of consumer excess, what happens to more authentic ideas of freedom?” (p.36)

“Freedom needs to become an actual practice whereby new citizens learn to test their ideas, opinions and concerns against others. This can only be achieved by having the confidence to think for oneself, being creative, voicing concerns and acquiring the skilled art of listening. Freedom requires the practice of democratic dialogue. This practice is as much about living in a family as it is about living in a community.” (p.74) “Today, however, we are more aware than Dewey of living within diverse communities where there are plural ideas of the good life. Communities are increasingly plural in terms of their religious and ethnic composition. What is called for here is the ability (as I have termed it) to cross over cultural borders, challenging the imagination to think differently. …The civic capacity required here is the ability to negotiate and live with difference while also being tolerant. As Dewey well understood this can really only be achieved in the context of diverse schools that reflect the general make-up of the community. This means an education where citizens of different class, ethnic and other backgrounds are mixed together. Schools have a responsibility to provide an education that enables students to become curious about one another while respecting one another’s often complex identities. This requires skilful handling, but on the whole maintains a certain optimism about the capacity of young citizens to debate, learn and criticise in common settings.” (p.75)

The book merits a read from cover to cover and back again… Stevenson puts the concept of freedom in an historical context, working around and towards a liberal socialist definition that provokes a number of questions. (He also advocates the teaching of many narratives of freedom!). NOTE the book is only 77 pages long….

Ref: Nick Stevenson (2012) Freedom. Routledge: London and New York


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Education in poverty, Literate Contexts, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Mono- Bi- and Multi-culturalism, social and political contexts, The effect of multimedia on children/childhood and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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