Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Looking at the panel (10)

The tenth member of the new review panel is Professor James Conroy, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Glasgow.

Wow. Just one hour of researching this man has been an education to me.

I started with this University of Glasgow bio, which included the following:

I have written widely in the areas of religious education, religion, education and liberal democracy and education and the literary and aesthetic imagination. I have an enduring interest in (and written on) the philosophy of Hannah Arendt and the lessons to be learnt from her work for education and other social projects.

I wish the other nine panel members I've researched so far had given us such a clear and explicit insight into their thinking and I'm now struggling to understand why I couldn't find one for them.

Anyway, after reading that I (of course) had to look into the work of Hannah Arendt:

Hannah Arendt commemorative stamp

- which has been both fascinating and compelling.

In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), she coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of banality — the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.

I'd heard of that report, but hadn't remembered the name of the author. Hmmm. The tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction. If Elaine was right in her comment on my previous post, there was something of the banality of evil in the selection of this panel - with the exception, perhaps, of Professor Conroy. I certainly see a lot of it (during my less cynical moments) in wider governmental decisions. The amazing thing is that people who are currently being paid phenomenal amounts of money just seem to go along with things - yes, absolutely without "critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction". But surely any position of responsibility morally requires such constant critical thinking? And the higher the position, the more crucial this is?

Some of Hannah Arendt's books are (blissfully) available for free. I've found this: The Origins of Totalitarianism [opens pdf]. Of course, I haven't read it all (though I would like to) but I'd just like to quote the first sentence of Chapter 10: A Classless Society:

NOTHING is more characteristic of the totalitarian movements in general and of the quality of fame of their leaders in particular than the startling swiftness with which they are forgotten and the startling ease with which they can be replaced.

She's talking about Lenin and Stalin, and Stalin's successors, but.. Blair and Brown, anyone?

I'm especially interested in her book: The Human Condition, in which Arendt "..defines the three activities - labor, work, and action - and describes four possible realms: the political, the social, the public, and the private." Our ten years of home education have made me think quite deeply about the definition of 'work' and I came to the conclusion, some time ago, that it's a subjective thing and mainly dependent on whether we're being compelled to do something or not. So gardening is a great pleasure to me and therefore can't be called work, for example, but it might be very arduous to a reluctant garden centre employee and definitely deserving of the term. But then there's the work [noun] that we produce when we do something creative and again, that's a good thing as long as weren't coerced into doing it against our will. Anyway, I've found it most useful to ignore the traditional delineations between work and recreation and to focus on choices instead. In that way, I've managed to easily get a lot done that might have been wearyingly thought of as hard labour, but which I've viewed as being just an activity, like any other. We can get tangled up in words though, can't we?

And what does all of this tell us about Professor Conroy's possible views about elective home education? I'm not sure!

According to this half-review (I tried to 'create a free account' and read the rest, but it didn't work) of his book: 'Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Imagination, Education and Democracy',

Conroy believes the values of late-industrial liberal democracies are inextricably tied to the values of the marketplace. This economic interpretation of democracy, manifested in the political, cultural, social, and, most notably, educational spaces in our society, serves to invalidate alternative perspectives "that might be judged controversial or damaging to social and economic/market stability" (Conroy, 2004, p. 20).

Might the alternative perspective of elective home education 'be judged controversial or damaging to social and economic/market stability'? I don't think it's sufficiently widespread to fall into that category - yet - but the threat of it becoming so might be partly what's sparked the recent consultations and the current review. We certainly don't fit into the Brave New World of ECM, an incompatibility that was infamously labelled 'This anomaly' by Lord Adonis in 2007.

There is a chapter about home education beginning on page 10 of this Primary Review report into 'Primary Curriculum Futures' [opens pdf] in which Professor Conroy (with his co-authors Moira Hulme and Ian Menter) says:

One substantial and growing group is comprised of those who have abandoned formal schooling because they believe it to be too constrained by the imperatives of performativity and the curriculum limitations imposed on the cultivation of the imagination in consequence thereof. In this group are parents who wish to see a greater emphasis on cultural and aesthetic engagements as well as those who want to see the world brought into learning in an unselfconscious way.

- which explains the field of autonomous home education in a nutshell as well as anything else I've read. A further excerpt of the same report tells us that Professor Conroy has studied American research into the issue:

In the midst of the many differences in philosophy, outlook and practice of home schoolers, from those who follow the national curriculum pretty rigidly to those whose approach makes Summerhill seem like a model of mainstream pedagogical rectitude, home schooling appears to consistently offer children a more efficacious educational experience even as measured by the standards of normative performativity. One constant in the midst of much complexity is the better than average performance of home schooled children when compared to age cohorts in the general population. Rudner’s (1999) study illustrated that those in grades 1-4 who are educated at home, on average, perform one grade level higher than their public and private school counterparts. Lest this be thought as an effect of early nurture likely to dissipate later in the child’s educational development, it is striking that the performance gap expands as the student progresses so that by 8th grade such children are performing at four grades above the national average in the US.

I'm running out of time for this post, but suffice to say the more I read about Professor Conroy, the better I feel. In terms of real knowledge about the actual subject of the review, he's going to run rings around every other member. The section's conclusion begins:

There are several salient features of the home schooling paradigm which may be of interest when considering the shaping of the curriculum into and for the future.

- which, along with his stated interest in educational pluralism, make me think that he perhaps sees elective home education as a potential benefit - rather than a threat - to the mainstream system.

I'll finish by quoting the sections relating to Professor Conroy in this TES article about the review:

“You’re starting with the premise that some parents might be home- schooling as cover for abuse and exploitation,” said James Conroy, professor of education at Glasgow University, who has researched home- education extensively. “But you could state the same premise with any residential school in the country. There are all kinds of abuses taking place in regular schooling. Does that mean we should do away with residential schools? Absolutely not.”


“The danger of undermining parents through a culture of suspicion is politically and socially injurious,” he said. “It’s bizarre to pathologise others purely because they are other.”


Blogger cosmic seed said...

I think this is the guy ALi Preuss knows who used to HE his own children :)

11:26 am, April 28, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Ah - that figures :-)

11:43 am, April 28, 2009  
Anonymous Ruth J said...

For the first time in months, I'm starting to feel better!

Though I have to say, I'm increasingly feeling that the review is getting less and less likely to matter very much. They can recommend whatever draconian, intrusive measures they like - it'll never get into law.

The tide is changing on civil liberties. In the last few weeks we've had press outcry on the alleged terrorists who were arrested then released without charge, increasing pressure on the government to change the way Family Courts work, outcry over the "manslaughter" of an innocent guy at the G20 demos, and (most importantly) a Budget announcing a £175 BILLION deficit.

They can't change the actual act unless they get it into the Queens' speech this year, which will be tight on a practical level. There has to be an election in twelve months anyway, when the Tories are almost certain to get in, and THEY'RE threatening to scrap ID cards AND ContactPoint, to save money. There's no money to harrass us with, and an increasing backlash against unwarranted harrassment generally. I think the report will go into a drawer somewhere, and never see the light of day again.

Well, that's what I'm hoping, anyway.

1:55 pm, April 28, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

amen to that!

4:29 pm, April 28, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

Prof Conroy does sound like he'll be the one educated member of the panel.

@ Ruth J - me too!

6:30 pm, April 28, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're probably right, Ruth, and Professor Conroy sounds lovely. Let's hope he has a big booming voice!


8:33 pm, April 28, 2009  
Blogger Maire said...

Ahhhhh. Lets hope he has a persuasive and persistant personality.

10:00 am, April 29, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

What an inspiring person he sounds , I will sleep well having read that :)

2:23 am, April 30, 2009  
Anonymous Ali said...

Going back many years, we used to go to the same informal HE group as the Conroy family before they went to Australia. We also used to go along to Glasgow based events on the theme of 'values in education' to which James and his colleagues contributed.

I especially remember his wife's unstinting support (with others) of a HE mum with terminal cancer who had been shopped by neighbours for not sending her little girls to school.

Although I have no doubt James will put the EHE case more effectively than anyone else we know, I doubt he will be able to influence the master plan which is already well underway. He also has his detractors, mainly those who are anti faith-based education (seen as another threat to that new god of 'social cohesion').

11:05 am, May 01, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Ruth J, I really hope you're right about that! Do you get the feeling it's a kind of race to the finish line now between the totalitarianists and everyone else? It's like: the cat's out of the bag, so they've got to rush as many laws through as possible with which to try to contain us before the inevitable explosion.

Ali, thanks for this info, it's also good to know. I'm inclined to agree with you about the master plan, but.. well, we'll see.

8:24 am, May 03, 2009  

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