So, you’ve produced a list of 8 books that every ‘Modern Educational Change Leader’ must read, and you realize it’s mostly white men. More Seymours than women, to be precise. What should you do?
Option 1 – Ask: What books did we miss?
That’s an interesting question, but I’m not sure that it’s the right one.
When I first taught philosophy after grad school, I asked a lot of the same questions I was taught to ask and started with the authors I was taught to revere. And guess what? I reproduced the mostly white male, cis-het, abled, middle-class, ‘Western’ syllabus.
Asking versions of ‘How can we adapt education to the demands of the rapidly changing workforce and technology?’ is like asking ‘How can we defeat Cartesian skepticism?’ You will wind up in certain starting places – Thomas Friedman, Descartes – and following the trail of other people who accept that question as the main problem we need to worry about. So, trying to find women of colour to fill out that syllabus might not take you very far.
The real work of change lies in figuring out why we ‘miss’ certain voices in the first place.
Option 2 – Listen, Follow, and Change your questions
When I first got on Twitter, I wasn’t so happy with my feed, so I went looking to find voices outside of my initial bubble that spoke to a conversation about power that I felt was missing. I followed Tressie McMillan Cottom & Rethinking Schools, then listened, and found more and more voices that took on important issues: privilege and oppression, the role of schools in the reproduction of inequality, technology and capitalism, precarity, and white supremacy.
The futurists largely ignore these issues.
futurism, in general, is the business of white men. it’s a reminder that many of us do not fit in their imaginary about tomorrow
— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) October 10, 2017
In Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon’s 10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning, they present their imaginary about tomorrow: “Experts who study the world of work are growing more and more concerned that current systems of education are increasingly irrelevant when it comes to the preparation of students for what is a fast-changing and uncertain future of employment. … Regardless what the future holds, there is little doubt success in the future will first and foremost depend on one’s ability to learn, not on one’s accumulation of knowledge.”
Elsewhere, Richardson writes that “The most successful workers in the future will be those who are used to thinking and acting entrepreneurially. Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests that a winning strategy for the future of work is to be able to ‘design your own profession and convince employers that you are exactly what they need.’ Or, as The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s recent column declared, ‘Need a job? Invent it.'”
So, in their imaginary, success is tied to ability to learn, entrepreneurship, flexibility, and self-sufficiency. As I write in a recent review, this idea of education is premised on leaving people behind. The Disappointed Idealist makes a strong case that education as social mobility is based theories of the undeserving poor. Writing about their own children, they note:
“Yet their likely outcomes, their aspirations, and even the place they live – a seaside English town – are routinely condemned as failures by the dominant educational discourse. Unless they get results they can’t get, aspire to jobs they don’t want, and move to a place they do not wish to live in, then they have failed the social mobility test. They are undeserving. And the conditions which our society reserves for those who cannot or will not ‘escape’ from the reality of their lives are grim, and getting grimmer: zero-hours contracts, below-poverty pay, insecure housing, a punitive benefits system, and the gradual withdrawal of all manner of support from education, health and social services.”
So, we face a futurist deficit that we must address, not by keeping the same questions and filling out the ranks with ‘diverse’ people, but by asking better questions. In an article called Where are the Black Futurists?(2000), the author (listed as ‘Black Issues’) reflects on an all white male C-SPAN futurist panel:
“there are too many people talking about the future without considering the future of African Americans and other people of color.
By not considering us, is the majority implicitly suggesting that we don’t matter? Do they think that as America ages, we will continue to play the traditional service and support roles for their communities? When I hear estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor that we’ll need nearly a million home health aides in the next decade, and I know that most home health aides now are Black and Brown women, I conclude that unless the wage structure changes, the future implications for those women and their families are frightening.
But the futurists mainly seem to be predicting what an aging society will need without predicting who will provide it.”
I write from a privileged position, working in a well-resourced and professionally supportive international school. My students have sources of privilege and power in their lives, and I’m pretty confident that many will be able to fit into the standard futurist imaginaries because of a good education and how privilege has shaped their life chances. It’s especially because of my context that I resist the imaginaries that will leave many behind. Schools need to change and be better to serve youth, and not just serve them up to grim futurist imaginaries.
Header by The Roaming Platypus
revision: 13:02 11/10/2017 Brussels time – I was negligent in omitting abled from my list of privilege. We must be ever vigilant in naming privilege, and in correcting ourselves. BD