Reading Reflection | (‘Public Education’, Nixon, 2012)
Reading: ‘Public Education’ in Interpretative Pedagogies by Jon Nixon (2012), Chapter 2, pp.17-31.
I enjoyed Nixon’s summary of the technological revolution and cultural turn of the mid-twentieth century that he argues to have reinvigorated debates over what constitutes public education. Is it a means of perpetuating elitist ideas of education and enlightening a few while controlling the masses, or is it a way of giving the public body agency to mobilise themselves? I personally hope and believe it is the latter and, I think, Nixon feels the same. For those that want to genuinely enlighten the masses, such as Lord Snow, for example, the danger is that we favour vocational courses and technology, forgetting the power of the humanities to help us think critically and interrogate ethics and current cultures. In a time of increased HE fees, how do we conceive of this next generation of public is very important. Courses need to adapt to their needs, reflect their interests and the developing tech we have access to, while recognising that these same minds might invent things we have not yet conceived of and that they too need to think critically about these issues. For Nixon, the solution is to recognise that the PUBLIC is a DISCOURSE.
He quotes the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, from his book Legislators and Interpreters (1987), which argues that the aim of education is to develop our capacity to ‘…talk to people rather than fight them; to understand them rather than dismiss or annihilate them as mutants; to enhance one’s own tradition by drawing freely on experience from other pools, rather than shutting it off from the traffic of ideas.’ (p.143)
Task: Focus on your own discipline & teaching context in considering the below questions
- Are all views worthy of our efforts to understand them?
Yes. Though some might be given more time than others. Everyone’s opinion comes from a constructed context and often it is best to ask ‘why do you think that’ if you may disagree of a ‘view’. The best changes are made when tension is allowed, but there must be a way to focus discussion so it is productive and constructive. This works on a micro-macro level. We can see this in seminars when students disagree or have preconceptions of what race or gender are. But also in politics. For eg. Donald Trump should be analysed and asked ‘why do you believe or think that?’ as, an honest answer, might help resolve or illuminate some of the ongoing issues of racism and gun crime in the States. Silencing him would lead to anger and resentment, and those of his ilk, but allowing him to vent his views unquestioned, by voting him into power, for instance, is irresponsible (in my opinion).
- To what extent should traditions be protected (from other/new ideas)?
Not at all. Traditions should regularly be tested for their currency and value. For example, it is of no use for women to change their surnames by default. This should be questioned. We do this by assessing course reading lists on a regular basis. Some theory is relevant, but it ought to also be updated and with counter arguments. For example, teaching History of Art, one might think you have to mention Michelangelo, but you can do this by discussing the problematics of the white, patriarchical canon.
- Is a technical or ‘useful’ education a second-rate education?
This is in the eye of the beholder and employer. Studying medicine is no less useful to becoming a doctor than studying fashion to becoming a fashion designer. The problem lays where students are told that their course will make them employable beyond a certain remit. In this sense, the government still prefers a French Literature student from UCL as a civil servant to one that has studied Jewellery at CSM.
- How can the technological and the cultural be merged? I.e. is it possible to teach for liberation and transformation, AND to prepare students for socially useful occupations?
It’s my hope that we do this in Cultural Studies, which I teach. We do this with a view to support students to think independently, critically and currently. Their main course, Fashion, Jewellery or textiles will enable them for their own vocations.
- How do these ideas connect with the theory you have been encountering on your elective unit (if you are doing one)?
I am on the elective Practice as Research. What seems to stand out from the speakers thus far is the role of the researcher in becoming a voice for others, and critiquing their own industry from within. Whether that be design, film or fine art. I think as teachers, we have a responsibility to evaluate our own reading lists and the ‘information’ we deem relevant or important. Is this Eurocentric, for example? Perhaps then, we might move further towards Bauman’s idea of us ‘becoming specialists in translation between cultural traditions’. (p. 143) This also reminds me of another of the readings from this unit by J Anoun in which he calls for a new type of education incorporating 4 types of humanics, one of which he calls Cultural Agility: . . .’problem solving across borders’. This can be implemented if we truly encourage a diverse body of students to communicate, participate and discuss on equal platforms, to learn from one another as part of our own admissions and teaching in HE. (see my reflection on it here.)