10. mar, 2015

New Public Management (NPM)-schooling - what about alternatives

Christian Beck

Is New Public Management (NPM) solely school- and social-criticism, offering no educational options? Does alternative pedagogy consist only of inward oriented small educational communities that ignore society?

In the 1970s both national and international educational oppositions united under the term critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy, a 68-ers concept, embraced two points in the Marxist critique of public school. School was criticised a) as a supplier of labor with qualifications that the capitalist economy demanded, and b) as embracing the ideological values and opinions of the bourgeoisie and state capitalism ideology. Today, both of these Marxist elements constitute the ideological foundation of the neoliberal protest waves against NPM in school, as well as PISA tests, national tests, mapping-tests in kindergarten and more.
Today, political left-wing critics believe that NPM / test pedagogy is a result of state capitalist power in schools, based on the neo-liberal NPM, with emphasis on competition, measurement and profit. This criticism is justified and well founded. However, it is difficult to spot educational options in the criticism, beyond some general ideals from the educational establishment and the importance of free play.

Does this lack arise because Marxist NPM-criticism does not address the institutionalization of children? Marx had no critique of formal institutions, whether general or specifically pedagogical. He thought institutions were mostly good, as long as the workers took control of them.

The Alternative Education in Private Education Act (Norway) is defined as Steiner and Montessori pedagogy. However, the term encompasses a much wider range of educational philosophies. In the 1960s, the dominant topic was the Summerhill free school. Later we got a flurry of «democratic» schools, which were to varying degrees based upon students’ involvement in choice of subject matter, and some even totally lacking a set curriculum, e.g. the Sudbury schools. Nyskolen in Oslo can be considered a Norwegian variant. In Denmark there is a centuries long tradition of Free Schools, based upon a literal interpretation of the enlightenment tradition from the 1800s. These beliefs took a particularly strong hold in Scandinavia. Today, about 15% of Danish children are in private «Free Schools» (80 % funded by the state), in Norway 3% (85% funded by the state). Despite the spirit of the Friskole ideology, it is difficult to see any significant influence on society.

The most radical alternative educators are home educators (homeschoolers, unschoolers, etc.). There are major differences between individual families. Some have “school” at home, while others allow their children to control their own learning. Despite their radical pedagogy, both home educators and other followers of alternative pedagogy can be criticized for ignoring society.
The future educational landscape has two opposing options: The dominant NPM-oriented public schools which espouse an industrial pedagogy, and the other pole - (radical) unschooling.

Could NPM criticism be blind to options while «alternative» schools that lack civic orientation be suffering from the same myopia - avoiding criticism of school as an institution? Could this common denominator be overwhelming when total time in school, including SFO (after-school program) adds up to 8-10 hours a day? The consequences of too much school may be overly obedient citizens who lack creativity and independence, and an over abundance of depressed dropouts.

However, there is an additional factor. One encounters knowledge today through an institutional filter, primarily schools and the media. For most of us, our references are the internet and school curricula. What society needs is free, independent and curious people who can critically examine official knowledge and form articulate opinions about the honest truth.
In 1970 Ivan Illich wrote “The Deschooling Society” and in Norway, Nils Christie wrote «If School did not Exist». Today the questions should be «What do we really need schools for?» and «Are the unschoolers today the leading critical alternative educators?».