When can an injustice be done in the genuine pursuit of justice…?
This is the third in a sequence of posts triggered by one of many messy fall-outs on Twitter, and the Edu-blog community in general.
The first post, trying to step-back from a heated “he said – she said!” debate pointed to how the ‘quibbly’ nature of Twitter might well be all part and parcel of our DNA. Our reasoning ability has quite possibly evolved to serve an argumentative nature designed to ensure cohesion at a superficial level in the pursuit of survival – to silence dissent and smoke out deceivers in a group structure which is stronger than the individual.
The second post looked at how – just because we don’t fling spears at each other – we nevertheless often try to use tweet debates to simply prove the ‘others’ wrong – irrespective of how civil our rhetoric might appear.
In this last post I wish to draw attention briefly to a dark, but common area of warfare in general – whether military, political or ideological – and it could well have infiltrated the original debate under discussion – from either or both sides.
This is the notion summed-up in the expression “All’s fair in love and war”.
Now, many of you might smirk at the idea that there is a ‘war’ going on in education (there are many I think), but it is true. Although some of us might vehemently try to distance ourselves from it, and there are plenty others who don’t realise that they are committed to one side of it or another, there are deep-seated, ideological convictions regarding the way schooling should be conducted, and there are people on both sides who feel very strongly about this, and engage doggedly with their opposites. Sometimes these exchanges are polite, and sometimes they are not, but there are people firmly committed to both the rightness of their position, and the long-term goal that it should prevail as the dominant code. As Old Andrew commented to me on this blog: “Traditionalist bloggers fought for years to get some freedom of speech in education.”
What I am interested in here is the darkest side of wars of any kind. There is a factor in all kinds of ideological struggle – political, religious, ethical, or in this case educational – where the pursuit of our perceived moral ends permits the dubious morality of our means.
This can be looked-at through the lenses of Micro and Macro Justice.
Micro justice refers to the bottom-level fair treatment of individual participants in a situation. Is this person being treated fairly?
Macro justice refers to the larger-scale societal situation, which – if achieved in itself – should supposedly cascade-down a more fair and just life. Are these systems and institutions set-up fairly?
Of course in famous 20th Century military conflicts there was the massive bombing of civilians in an attempt to end a conflict once and for all… I’m really not trying to open that debate up.
A more recent – non-military – example of this struck me during the Blair ‘New Labour’ period in Britain. “Positive Selection” processes were adopted in some situations, where ‘All Women’ or ‘All Black’ shortlists of political candidates were drawn-up, so as to try to ensure an increased level of gender and ethnic balance in Parliament. This was part of a war on inequality in society.
To many, this procedure seemed an unjust way of doing things at the level of the individual. What if there was a white male candidate on the ground who, by every reasonable measure of political ability, was simply the best person available? Surely it would be unjust to discriminate against him based on his sex and the colour of his skin? This seemed a clear level of injustice at the ‘micro’ level.
At the macro level however (the level of overall social fairness and justice) it was clear that the proportion of females and black people in Parliament simply didn’t represent the proportion of women and blacks in the culture as a whole. Whether due to a toxic culture in Parliament itself which was unconducive to them, or due to a shortage of positive role models which stopped people putting themselves forward, or due to prejudice in the voting public, there seemed to be a large degree of ongoing injustice.
Consequently, whilst the act of positive selection might seem to be unjust to some people, and could have a negative effect on their perceptions, in the long run, if it does indeed lead to a greater number of MPs who are female or from ethnic minorities, and this changes the overall pattern of people coming forward into politics and the voting public becoming more accustomed to people of both sexes and with a skin colour of any type, then a large scale level of injustice will have been corrected.
In other words, some injustice at the micro level could be seen to lead to justice being served at the larger macro level.
Do we see this happening in the public ideological battle between Progressivism and Traditionalism? Did some high profile Progressives knowingly act unfairly towards a naïve Traditionalist blogger, because they felt it would serve the greater ‘good’ of the war? Did some high profile Traditionalists knowingly act unfairly towards one or more of these Progressives – setting them up as arch-villains, so that they could use them as public examples of what all Progressives are like – and thereby allowing them to advance across some territory in the overall war?
I really don’t know. Maybe all, some or none of this took place, but I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a war which goes on, where things like this don’t happen. Small acts of micro-justice take place perpetually in the service of the greater good, and educational debate is far too close to political debate in my mind for this not to be happening.
So, what is my constructive suggestion?
It is absolutely the case that, for decades, teaching according to a Traditionalist philosophy and methodology was out of fashion with ITT, Ofsted, and school leaders. There was an open hostility and disparagement towards people who believed in its validity, and attempted to practice according to it. OA has been born of the hurt and frustration of this period.
In the past hand-full of years there has been a huge amount of ground regained by Traditionalist educators and educationalists, and – as a concerted theoretical movement on social media – they are very much in the ascendance. The tricky part is the next bit.
Can a situation be created whereby our dominant intellectual vision involves a recognition of the time and place for a plurality of educational purposes and techniques? Yes, certain techniques can be shown experimentally to be more efficient at achieving certain focused aims (always narrow in order to make them scientifically measurable). But to try to replace an existing stifling hegemony with another one is doomed to failure – as history shows us so abundantly. The outcomes of Civil-War Britain, Revolutionary France and many other revolutions show that – if the pendulum swings too in the opposite direction after a change of power, then it will inevitably – in time – swing back towards the opposite extreme again.
Andrew Old has fought for parity and acceptance for years. It is quite understandable that – in the schools of Britain – the news of the Traditionalists’ regained respectability lags some way behind how it appears on the cutting edge of social media. Consequently, it is understandable that the vigilant traditionalist won’t want to ease off on the big push just yet. They haven’t felt the sea-change in their own schools yet.
It is also possible that many of the most ardent Progressives will feel a threat in this push, and want to push back – particularly if the Traditionalists turn the push into a renewed version of “This IS the purpose of education, and this IS the scientifically best way to achieve that”.
I just don’t think that this is a ‘war’ which requires a final victor. This instead should be an increasingly rich and fertile dialogue regarding which techniques seem to bear the richest fruits, when used in certain situations, to achieve particular aims.
There need not be a ‘conqueror’.
Nelson Mandela fought for decades (incarcerated for 27 years) in order to achieve equality in South Africa. Yes, he ended-up victorious and on top, but he didn’t then try to reverse the polarity of the oppression which he had experienced. Rather, his big push was for reconciliation and genuine partnership moving forward.
Please, let’s start looking for bigger pictures of how and why different visions of education, and different approaches to fulfilling them, can fulfil the bigger goals and needs of human society as we conceive them.
I personally am working hard on such an encompassing vision, and I hope that you will read about that with interest over the forthcoming months.