Malala Yousafzai & Burka Avenger

Superheroes have a tradition of mild-mannered alter egos, including librarians (Bat Girl), physicists (Hulk) and florists (Black Canary).  But Burka Avenger, the first animated TV series to be produced in Pakistan, is the story of a demure, unassuming school teacher who takes on the persona of Burka Avenger to fight to save a girls’ school using book and pens as weapons (very literally!).

School teacher, Jiya, spends her days teaching at a girls’ school, but when the bad guys try to shut the school, she fights back as the Burka Avenger. The Urdu language series is due to air on Pakistani television in August. Here’s an English trailer where you can see her in action:

The lack of opportunities for girls to attend school in Pakistani was highlighted by teenager Malala Yousafzai’s recent speech at the UN when she called for free compulsory schooling for every child arguing books and pens “are our most powerful weapons”.  Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in October 2012 for speaking publicly about the need for girls’ education.

The Global Gender Gap Index 2012 placed Pakistan 134th out of 135 countries for the level of equality between men and women and according to UNESCO figures (2006), 30% of 7 to 16 year old girls in Pakistan have never spent time in school, rising to nearly half in rural areas. 46% of young women aged 15 to 24 did not complete primary education.  More recent figures (2012) estimate that there are over 3 million girls out of school in Pakistan.  North West Pakistan has experienced particular problems in recent years as girls’ schools have been attacked by Taliban activists.

Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the issue of girls’ education, much of the discussion about the Burka Avenger series has centred around the choice of a burka as a superhero disguise. Aaron Haroon Rashid, the Pakistani pop star who came up with the idea for the series, claims it is simply a disguise which gives the animation a local feel.  It is worth pointing on that, when performing her day job, Jiya is shown with her head uncovered and the sleek ninja-like design of

Burka Avenger’s costume bears only a limited resemblance to the traditional shapeless burka. But the concern expressed is understandable; the burka is such a potent symbol of female oppression as a garment which many women in the region are compelled to wear. However, there are other ways of viewing the burka, and many women make an active choice to wear it. Alternatively, the burka can be a symbol of militancy or aggression due to its connection with several suicide bombers in the region. Maybe the Burka Avenger can add to these images that of a strong female character who is non-violent, but ‘kicks ass’ in the fight for equality?

Whether a children’s animation series can help to change attitudes in the long term remains to be seen, but in a patriarchal society like Pakistan, launching the country’s first animation with a female superhero in the lead role might seem like a tough job, even for a superhero, and the cartoon’s creators surely deserve credit for achieving this alone. Regardless of her choice of costume, the Burka Avenger’s mission to ensure equality of educational opportunities for girls in Pakistan is a courageous and  inspiring one, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that it is also a cause which many non-superhero women, like Malala, are fighting for in real life.

Sarah McNicol 


Education, Competition and the ‘Global Race’ – An idea to interrupt the discourse

The issue of competition in schools is one the perennial bugbears of those committed to developing more socially progressive forms of education. Indeed having to say “more socially progressive forms of education” is indicative of the dominance of discourses of competition in education because you can’t really use the right-left distinction because New Labour and One-Nation-might-become-Next Labour are happy to hoist a hammock and doze in the apparently unproblematic space between the two pillars of competition and collaboration.

In the mainstream media and political discourse, there are two broad narratives of education:

One is a competitive vision of schools, in a world that is, red in tooth and claw. From the genetic to the global the gnashing and rending of the strong ousting the weak is a (or the) key principle of the right view of education. Education is presented as a constant process of selection, of smarter girls sitting at the front of the class, of the goal scorer on the winning side held aloft while the losers slink away, of ribbons and places at Oxbridge won and all through this the character building process of spurning the dread taste of defeat and the joyous pleasure of a foe bested. This journey takes the quivering, pale child and adds the grit, gall and gumption to become the captain of industry or an Olympic gold-medal winning champion. With seamless logic schools also compete against one another in this search for character, ethos or some other intangible quality… perhaps with the policy aim of seeing the first inner-city free school rising to become the CEO of a FTSE 100 company and an academy chain winning the 4 x 400 relay in the 2032 Olympics.

Opposed to this is ‘the prizes for all’, dumbed-down, celebration of mediocrity and tyranny of the poverty of aspiration that the ‘enemies of promise’ shackle every poor child they can get their hands on… with the inarguable logic that every left wing family is made up of a teacher father, a social worker daughter and a prison guard brother, and e dad’s determination that his failure will keep ex-pupils in the system and his kids in work.

So, what to do?

A first step is found in Melissa Benn’s book ‘School Wars’ (2012), where she points out that the reason why the 11+ was discontinued was largely because increasing numbers of middle-class parents lambasted politicians, outraged when their children failed the exam and ended up in a secondary modern.

In this there is a germ of an idea for how to engage with the obsession with competition in education. Although we have to recognise that society has changed – see for example David Boyle’s book ‘Broke: Who killed the middle class?’ – that the middle class are the key driver of social change in class obsessed Britain. Yet this observation, this locus for engagement, is hugely problematic because the education system is currently rigged in the favour of the middle classes, with property prices excluding access to school catchment areas (ref) in addition to a whole host of other tricks (ref). So, how to turn the middle class against a system that works in their favour?

Of course, one option is normative cum political rant but there is the odd mix of self-interest and ideology, indeed if the two are different, in the middle class affinity with competition so it’s a tricky one to disprove by evidence or plaintiff cries. This so far hasn’t worked.

I live near a fee-charging, independent day school where each morning parents in fancy cars or predominantly Range Rovers drop their children off before they drive, I’m guessing, to their well-remunerated jobs in competitive industries. One time in a department store for the well healed I heard a store announcement for this demographic, “Come to the Computing & Phones section to buy the [brand name and model] laptop, give your child an unfair advantage when they go back to school.” I think this speaks to the perspective that it’s a tough world out there and ensuring your child has all the unfair advantages means they will get the opportunities to get on in life. And to be honest, who can argue with a parent wanting the best for their child? Even if that means leveraging the advantages they have and other children will lose out because as we know the game is rigged so middle-class children win. So, what to do?

I think one option is to draw parallels between this competitive mode for education and anti-smoking campaigns. One reason for learning from anti-smoking campaigns is that in a generation smoking has gone from popular to pariah, well at least amongst the middle-class. Although we should probably have qualms about stoking the guilt of parent’s, there is arguably something in bringing together evidence that competition harms children and more specifically will harm your child even if they ‘win’ the place at university and the graduate scheme. A key part of this is the acknowledgement that as a parent you can smoke (be competitive) but there are implications for your child (as in passive smoking).

There is, for example, evidence that selection and competition is stressful for children , and can provide disincentives for those that ‘lose’. This message can be countered by ‘toughening little Jonny up’ so there is the issue that in its current form competition requires standardised testing, which leads to teaching to the test, which leads to narrowing the curriculum, and this means less time learning different types of skills – the kind that are needed in an increasingly needed in a more complex and challenging workplace where ‘the jobs of 5 years time are yet to be invented’. Added to all this is the negative effect of competition in schools on teacher job satisfaction and retention, engendering a ‘paradox of performativity’ that drives out the best teachers (Goodson 2003). The central message is that as a middle-class parent your child can ‘win’ in a competitive system but even if they do they will have suffered needlessly and prevented from benefiting from a broader and more enriching education that would prepare them for a future you can’t imagine. All of this would need to be supported by the development of credible alternatives not founded on competition in classrooms and in school systems.

My favourite anti-smoking campaign is the American Legacy Foundation’s Truth Campaign where people dump body bags in front of a tabaco firm’s headquarters to drive home the message that smoking isn’t cool or rebellious. The simple fact is that smoking kills 1,200 people each day and rich, corporate types get richer the more cigarettes they sell. That really cuts through the corporate-funded advertising.

So to complement the message that competition needlessly harms your child now and in the future is the question: why are classrooms, schools and the school system being rewired to compete? Well, the reasons are complex but one consequence is that some people are getting richer and stand to make a lot of money (e.g., Boffey 2013).

James Duggan

PS: This blog is missing a couple of references. I’ll add these when I get a moment.

Karel Williams – More means what? The salaried intelligentsia and undemocracy

First a disclaimer, I’ve become a huge fan of Prof. Karel Williams (CRESC).  He gave a keynote at the 8th Critical Management Studies conference.  In what I can only guess is Karel just being Karel, he pointed out that he doesn’t like the 8th meeting of a group because the 8th meeting leads to the 28th meeting and more of the same rather than when groups emerge, disrupt, achieve something and then disband with the individuals going off to cause more mischief.

In a controversial ‘Op Ed’ address that he assured was equally self-recrimination and flagellation than an attack on the audience, Karel’s talk ‘More means what? The salaried intelligentsia and undemocracy’ explored knowledge work around the neoliberalisation of the United Kingdom, engendering the creation of a ‘lack of knowledge society’.  A key concern was that despite the huge growth in the salaried intelligentsia (journalists, academics, and ‘suited helpers’) we seem to know less about, for example, the economy or how to control or change it.

Karel explained how the explosion in business journalism and the rise of the sinister ‘suited helpers’ of capitalism have helped spawn, nurture and defend the entrenched domination of neoliberalism. An interesting part of the talk, for this Blog however, was the huge expansion of academia and the university. There are now roughly 120,000 academics in teaching and research or research roles, with 16,000 in business or social science departments.  That number is in comparison to 25,000 GPs and 11,000 consultants working in hospitals.  Just prior to the financial crises, Karel noted, Britain was on track to fulfil that classic marker of civilization of having a social science researcher in every GP practice.

The issue is that the business model of universities, like that of the media’s, has broken with states now incapable of funding higher education, at a cost of £140 per household or £232 million for academia to do 2 days of research per week.  A side point to this is that universities are still building, with cranes on every campus, with no recognition that the times have changed.  The more important issue is the lack of value for money this represents in terms of the social contribution academia makes, with “academics in little spaces writing for peers in splintered disciplines.”

The lack of impact of which Karel spoke is not that of the REF or the financial contribution to society that funding councils defend but rather the public role of the university.  How despite all the money spent on academia we live in a “lack of knowledge [not a knowledge] society.” Instead of erudition and enlightened debate our society discusses matters in terms of, as Stephen Colbert noted of America, ‘truthiness’,

Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don’t mean the argument over who came up with the word… It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the President because he’s certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist. It’s the fact that he’s certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?… Truthiness is ‘What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.’ It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There’s not only an emotional quality, but there’s a selfish quality.

Despite the presence of truthiness in the UK (for example the often-heard view that the banking sector pays 50% of the tax in the UK, when in fact it pays 50% of corporation tax which is only 13% of total tax income and less than the money it took to bail out the industry), “the contestable is not contested” for a variety of reasons we are all familiar with.  (One reason was that academics eek out 8,000 word instalments of research for publication with a frugality that grandmother Williams would have been ever so proud of.) Yet for the vast majority of academics, all 25,000 in the social sciences, combating truthiness and its pernicious effects in society are not a real concern or focus.

As ever with these things, the critique crackled and sparkled but there were less clearly defined steps for the big old, what next?  The challenge is how we in academia will respond to this crisis?  It is important to note that Karel is sceptical that the changes will be made, he jokingly referenced a mentor’s comment from years before that “you have to understand that academia is a petit-bourgeois profession that’s full of individualists.”  More seriously, rather than articulating alternative forms of social order, academics have merely become authors of their own futures and rise up the professional pay scales. Furthermore he explained that typically academics have a distributive mind set where the only concern is to ensure that they keep getting their cut of the pie, even if the pie gets smaller and fewer people get pudding.

The first step is to go from defending the public university (e.g., Collini, Holmwood, Bailey and Freedman – the trade magazine views of the university) to reforming the university after, a circuit analysis underscores the necessity of reform.  A key issue in this process is to determine, where to locate socially necessary knowledge and expertise, and how to pay for it?  It is also crucial to understand the social purpose of the university and its potential contribution to society as defined by C. Wright Mills as ‘the public discussion of alternative decisions’ or by Wendy Brown as to explore and apply a ‘counter rationality’. This public-spirited call for academics to engage in democracy was underscored by the implicit threat that the engine of the higher-education model is spluttering and survival will require adaptation.  Karel suggested that universities ensure that they resource non-standard things, outputs for non-academic organisations and working pro bono for NGOs etc.  Although there was no template for what to do, Karle stated, there is “Something profoundly wrong with an academic professional not working for non-academic audiences or engaging with corporations or civil society”. So, go out there, “There’s always a conversation you can go and disrupt.”

James Duggan

PS: If you would like to read more about this check out ‘BUSINESS ELITES AND UNDEMOCRACY IN BRITAIN

STEM Culture and the Real STEM Crisis

Most of us don’t grow up to be engineers and mathematicians but we do grow up learning STEM culture. In the US, education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are now commonly known by the acronym STEM. STEM endures a long and multifaceted relationship with the political economy, education, and military industrial complex of empires and nation-states. At least since the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, initiatives in US education, government and industry have tried to harness STEM (and schooling), often as technical practices of progress. The results of STEM policy practices—as both development and exploitation—depend on one’s perspective. As Vine Deloria, Jr explains, some STEM innovations constructed as novel within a Western discourse of science would be naïve within Tribal and Indigenous frameworks.

For decades numerous grants and contracts have funded STEM initiatives, not only to advance STEM, but also to increase a public interest in STEM, and especially to broaden participation in STEM among traditionally underrepresented populations—women, African Americans, Latino/as, Native Americans/American Indians, and persons with disabilities. For contemporary examples, see the 2003 National Science Board’s workshop Broadening Participation in Science and Engineering Research and Education and the 2010 President’s council of Advisors on Science and Technology report to the president: Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in STEM for America’s Future.

A renewed focus on STEM in education and society reflects the fact that educational achievement and STEM advances continue to be markers of political and economic competiveness in our interconnected world. Systematically referenced to economic parameters, a myopic focus on STEM to the detriment of other knowledges is in part how STEM culture remains both elusive and pervasive. Problems, solutions, and even the questions that can be asked, often begin and end with STEM. Arguably, STEM is as social, uncertain, political, and aesthetic as other ways of interpreting and changing the world, but it is often positioned as disinterested, rational and sure in finding solutions for long-term, complex challenges. Despite STEM culture (or perhaps because of it), education, government, and industry regularly report a STEM crisis, and then return to STEM to solve it.

Enter an Anthropologist of Educational Policy Practice

In 2007, I began a six-year collaboration as the co-principal investigator of two multi-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grants (NSF 09-598; NSF 11-509) aimed at diversifying STEM—part of NSF’s response to the STEM crisis. As the research methodologist and diversity and education specialist, I worked with a team of engineers, postdoctoral students and graduate students at a large state research university in the Southern region of the US to provide and evaluate engineering research experiences for teachers and undergraduates. Partner-participants included 27 STEM high school teachers, and their students, at10 high schools in six minority-majority school districts, as well as 31 STEM undergraduates from 18 institutions in more than 10 states from Massachusetts to California.

My work in proposing, planning, implementing and evaluating these grant projects serve as a case-study of policy-based funding for STEM education and research—and a way of understanding what I am calling grant-science (Daza, 2013) and STEM culture as policy practice. For this short piece, I focus on the centrality of such policy practice for high school STEM teachers. The problem of analyzing this data in isolation might be to blame teachers, but critical ethnography identifies the dilemma of social, political, economic, and historical contexts within which they teach.

“Teaching in the public school setting today is extremely challenging”

A teacher in the project describes engineering: “Engineering is about efficiency…. Efficiency is taking the strong enough structure at a low price versus the strongest structure and high cost.” But what about the cost of efficiency (or perhaps an engineering affect) on education? Teachers find it “very difficult to have the freedom of doing [research projects] in [their] classrooms that are so rigidly driven from the district administrations to teach the same ‘cookie cutter’ lessons on same topics and of course [standards] driven as well.” The result is “teaching too much of [the content] in isolation and not enough application. The tendency is also to cover the material for tests.”

Math sticks with students better if there is some kind of application with it. For example, calculus makes more sense because there is application and they own it more.

Students’ problem is with the algebra in calculus. Because that stuff was just drill and practice, drill and practice. They learned it for a test and they forgot those basic algebra skills because they never applied them.

We lose kids. They never get to the calculus class.

Teachers confess. “My habit of the last 10 years or so has been to stress the subject material and not concentrate on activities and self discovery lessons because of concerns about time constraints. … After the last two summers, I am reminded of the importance of self discovery for my students and their success.” Imagine the thousands of students in this class over the last 10 years. Still, teachers keep “looking for effective ways to do more research with students without using a lot of time.”

Space permits only cursory insight into these high school STEM teachers (13 females and 14 males), who participated in six-week summer engineering research experiences as part of an NSF Research Experience for Teachers grant in 2008–10. Most (19 of 27) teachers identified as White; four as African American; two as Latino/a; and one as Asian; the Asian female teacher identified as Middle Easterner and two male teachers identified as Black and American Indian and Black and Latino, respectfully. They teach high school STEM subjects, such as biology, chemistry, physics, technology, geometry, trig/calculus and algebra. Most had between 4–14 years of teaching experience; there were three teachers with less than three years of experience and three with more than 15 years of experience. 20 teachers continued to participate in grant-related activities after the summer program at their high schools, districts, and the university. Many teachers continue to maintain their connection with the university beyond the project, earning masters degrees at the university and mentoring undergraduates on another project.

STEM Policy Practice for and against Diversity and Creative and Critical Thinking

In shaping STEM policy practice, actors such as the Obama administration, the National Science Foundation, and industry leaders (eg, Bill Gates on education) lament teaching to the test and call for diversity, innovation, and creative and critical thinking. Unfortunately, their policy-based educational funding hinders these aims, as well as drives disinterest. Despite efforts to diversify STEM education and fields at all levels for decades, populations traditionally underrepresented in STEM remain underrepresented and Whites outnumber all minorities by almost three to one across all STEM disciplines and careers (Weatherton, Daza and Pham, 2011). At the same time, high performing youth across all groups appear to be gravitating away from STEM fields. Why? In part, STEM culture responds to its own crisis, ignoring context. And policy-based educational funding is currently a reflection of neoliberal scientism (Daza, 20122013). Its general over-reliance on economic and quantitative understandings of highly contingent lived experiences of learning in schools leads to over-use and- confidence of high-staked standardized testing in decision-making (and research and policy practice) and is itself a product of STEM culture that alienates youth and teachers. Such policy-based funding for STEM education and research has grave implications. As I have written about elsewhere, diversity is a commodity in obtaining funding rather than broadening STEM (Daza, 2013). There is an emphasis on short-term, applicable, and efficient initiatives that fit funding cycles and can be measured as a good use of tax-payer money. See, for examples, Megan Tracy’s “NSF, Peer Review and Debates over Congressional Oversight” in AN and a critique of the Recovery Act’s Race to the Top policy-based, competitive funding.

Training our imaginations now for the future cannot begin and end with policy-based educational funding systematically referenced to STEM and economic parameters. This is the real STEM crisis. Although STEM culture is not one fixed thing, in education its perversion for the appearance of scientific rigor has contributed to high-stakes testing, prescriptive curriculum, the erosion of creativity and critical thinking, and the decreased relevance of arts, humanities, and social sciences. Educational research has been impoverished by a lack of federal funding in general and policy-based funding’s limited understanding of the role of context in particular. Anthropologists of STEM education, research, and policy emphasize the centrality of contexts. Programs, policies, and curricula are not static but dynamic, context-specific entities. Before we can ask whether or not a program or policy works, we need to know what actually happens on the ground. Anthropology contributes to understanding how STEM policy practices in education and research are mediated across different contexts. Working across disciplinary boundaries is challenging, but complicity with STEM is also infiltration into STEM culture (Daza, 2012).

Stephanie Daza 

This was originally posted in Anthropology News.

Project Meeting Pori

Finland is a global educational powerhouse, a shining beacon of excellence based on a series of sensible (i.e., progressive/ left/ socially just) principles relating to respecting teacher professionalism and pupil equality (read an account here)… that somehow in England we seem to ignore, avoid or misapply the lessons.  So it was a fitting location for the month 19 meeting of the MAGICAL project.

The MAGICAL project is an EU-funded project that brings together the Institute of Educational Technology (Italy), the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), ESRI (MMU), and Tampere University of Technology (Finland).  The focus of the project is to explore the potential of collaborative game making in developing 21st Century or transversal skills (i.e., collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and digital literacy) in primary and lower secondary students.  Part of the project is to develop an innovative collaborative game-making portal called ‘MAGOS’, that will enable young people to develop online games in distributed groups in real time.

During the visit, the project team was invited to attend an audience with Krista Kiurun, the Finnish minister for education.  (If you can speak Finnish you can read about the meeting here.)   We heard the minister talk about the challenges facing the Finnish educational system in particular a looming digital divide between students in Finland and the challenges of maintaining excellence with the prospect of the digital disruption of education and society more broadly.  photoThe meeting was held at SkillPixel’s office the ‘home of the Finnish educational Internet industry’ where they’re developing a programme where students learn by teaching an artificially-intelligent avatar how to do maths and in time other subjects also.  It was interesting to see how Finn’s are thinking through how they can build on the country’s prestigious international reputation for education in order to sell educational packages to countries and consumers around the world.  So we can expect to see more and more Finnish companies offering resources to give your child a slice of the world’s best education.

Nicola Whitton is the UK country-lead for MAGICAL, and Susan Bermingham and James Duggan represented ESRI at the Pori meeting.

James Duggan

Don’t just hear me. Listen! – Co-operative Education Against the Crises

Don’t just hear me.  Listen!  That was the demand made by young people from a local co-operative school at the “Co-operative Education against the Crises” conference.  It was held as a joint event attended by 80 plus people between ESRI and the Co-operative College at the Manchester CIS Tower, July 4, 2013.  All had come because they wanted to explore alternatives to the current market driven, competitive, authoritarian policies not just in education but across society being imposed under the names of ‘austerity’, ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’.mike apple 2

Michael Apple gave the keynote talk.  He told us that Wisconsin, where he worked as a professor in the University, was historically the centre of co-operative activity and organization in the USA.  He told us about the struggles, his work with gangs in Latin America, his strategy of responding immediately to oppressive policies.  You have to be organized and have a network able to write to newspapers and broadcasters immediately with views, strategies and evidence that provide a counter to the oppressive policies and practices being advocated or imposed by politicians and corporations.  Again, it is about voice:  being heard and having people listen.

In the workshops and open discussions following the talk and later in the afternoon in the open sessions people stressed the dangers of economic and political policies for social work, for schools, for health, for people’s health and well being and for democracy.  But they also stressed the hope, the energy and the potential for an alternative vision.  During one of the open sessions a young school student talked forcefully and powerfully about how her life had been turned round after listening to a talk at her school on co-operativism as a way of life.  She admitted to having been a bully, to have never been longer than one year at a school.  What had impressed her was the way in which co-operative principles and practices were about each person having a voice, a real voice where people listened and took that voice into account.  It was important because a friend of hers who felt he had no voice, had committed suicide.

So many people, in every organization whether in the private or the public sectors, feel they have no voice against the managerialist demands for increased performance at decreased cost.  The feeling of powerless and of vulnerability drive some to suicide.  The association of neoliberal policies, macho management and the lack of voice with suicide have been increasingly noticed by researchers and professionals.  In particular it has been shown that since the financial crisis and due to the impact of austerity measures suicides across Europe have increased (see the concern for example in: Brady 2013; Meikle 2013; Midgley 2007; Wachman and Wright 2012; McKee, Karanikolos, Belcher, Stuckles 2012)

There is a key choice to be made between two visions of society and the ways in which each person has a voice in that society.  The first is a society that is managed by elites through organisations in government, the public and the private sectors that have a command and control structure.  Rather than voice, there are performance criteria to be achieved, and compliance committees, procedures and mechanisms.  When the vast majority of organisations are run from the top, very few voices count in the real decision making processes and for all others in the organisation their voices are silenced as management by surveillance of performance and behavior in the interests of the institution or the corporate dominates.  Voice is absent except perhaps through union protests that are highly regulated and managed through state laws and contained through policing.

mervyn 2The alternative vision of society is neither a fantasy nor a utopia.  It exists, as pointed out by Mervyn Wilson of the Co-operative College, in the lives of a billion people across the world who are members of co-operatives.  The 300 hundred largest co-operatives, he told us, have a combined income of $1.6 trillion.  But what exactly does this mean in terms of a vision for society?  It means a society composed of organisations that practice the core values of co-operativism:  self help, self responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.  It further means:  honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.  Do all co-operative organisations today practice these all the time?  Unlikely.  However, if democracy in organisations is taken seriously as an organizing principle, then all voices will count in the decision making.  That means nothing less than a revolution in society.  The change is from the freedom of elites to command and control all others towards a society where all individuals have a free and equal voice in the processes of decision making.  Is this possible?

Political theorists and elites have always pointed towards the problem of scale in democracy.  You cannot have thousands, let alone millions of people discussing and voting on every thing.  It is simply impractical, they say.  Yet, is it impractical to suggest that in organisations the principles and procedures of democracy could be employed?  There are many thousands of co-operatives that seem to suggest that increasing the degree of democracy is both possible and practical.  What if we tried harder?  What if we demanded a voice, a free and equal voice alongside all others in all the organisations that impact upon our daily lives? crowd

Education has a crucial role to play in creating the conditions for a given vision of society.  How many of our children experience democracy first hand at work in schools?  When they leave school what experiences, skills and knowledge of democratic organization can they draw upon as resources for their everyday lives in their work, home and community lives?  These are questions that are particularly pertinent to co-operative schools.  When young people leave school, what resources, skills, knowledge and experiences can they draw upon to set up their own co-operatives?  If a school is co-operatively organised in all its details and in all its activities, then new generations of people will be well fitted to create their own co-operative projects to meet the needs of their selves and their communities.  If that were to take place on the large scale, then we would have the seeds for a new vision of society that is both practical and dynamic.  At present there are nearly 500 co-operative schools in the UK.  Within a couple of years it is anticipated that number will be 1000.  That suggests the vision is beginning to take off and that democratically organized co-operative schools can make a real difference to the lives of their young people and their communities.

So what do we do next?

Follow the link to see the Next Steps.

John Schostak

For more information and to review the ‘next steps’ from the event follow the link to the website.

Imogen Tyler – The Riots of the Underclass or what’s to be done with the residuum?

Dr Imogen Tyler (Lancaster University) presented ‘The Riots of the Underclass?: Stigmatisation, Mediation and the Government of Poverty and Disadvantage in Neoliberal Britain’ at the ESRI seminar, on the 12th June.  A talk taken from the last chapter of her recent book ‘Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain’.

7609229236_433e7d8f14It is now clear. The scores are in. The earlier claims that ‘the rising tide would lift all boats’ was evidently footnoted in some rightwing think tank policy document ‘the rising tide will lift all boats, for the prompt Viking burial of the “wasted humans”’ (Bauman 2004: 5) – the miners, dockers and other sections of the residuum no longer required by global capitalism, and doomed to be left behind and excluded.  We are overwhelmed by evidence that neoliberal policies reinforce inequality and exacerbate exclusion, that the vampire squid of global capitalism routinely preys upon and divests our communities of wealth.  Why then, Dr Tyler asked, is there a consensus around the apparent legitimacy of an economy that excludes so many?  And, how has this consensus been secured?

Dr Tyler’s talk clarified the processes by which media representations secure the consent for inequality, indeed develop a consensus around the legitimacy of excluding particular groups from a meaningful and secure place in society.  This process was explained with reference to the riots of 2011, which were almost immediately greeted by a media consensus that this was the riot of the underclass.  The rioters were described in a ‘scum semiotics’ as, ‘Scum, thugs, feral rats, wolves, an army of ants on their BlackBerrys… the dehumanising epithets flew like bricks through a JD Sports window last week’ (Connolly 2011).

Once the cause – the underclass – was quickly determined and vigorously defended the discourse shifted towards promoting an increasingly draconian and vengeful response from the hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade.  In Imogen’s words sections of the public and media binged on ‘penal pornography’ that redounded with images of rioters looting and ‘getting away with it’ and rogues’ galleries of accused rioters on national papers, such as the Sun’s ‘Shop a Moron’, as part of their ‘Name and Shame a Rioter’ campaign. Screen shot 2013-06-20 at 14.26.29

The longer term consequences of the response to the riots was for them to be taken as a justification for continuing and further entrenching the neoliberal project that has, ironically and tragically, arguably been a cause of the social discord and exclusion to which the young people were responding.  The representations of the riots and the rioters’ viewpoints varied but one common theme was the lack of jobs.

One rioter explained:

I literally went there to say, ‘All right then, well, everyone’s getting free stuff, I’m joining in’, like, ’cos, it’s fucking my area. These fucking shops, like, I’ve given them a hundred CVs … not one job. That’s why I left my house (Lewis et al 2011: 26).

David Cameron also located the riots as a consequence of the lack of jobs for young people:

[There] is a moral hazard in our welfare system – people thinking they can be as irresponsible as they like because the state will always bail them out. … I want us to look at toughening up the conditions for those who are out of work and receiving benefits and speeding up our efforts to get all those who can work back to work (Stratton 2011).

The government’s response has been to expand the £5bn ‘The Work Programme’ that deems disabled people fit to work and that unemployed young people should work for free.

The talk was equal parts depressing, persuasive, comprehensive and overwhelming.  From descriptions of journalists, commentators, politicians and judges working in concert (Gilroy 2011) to represent the riots as the underclass and disburse rough justice on those caught up in it.  There were asides on how production companies generate huge profits by running programmes like My Big Fat Gipsy Wedding, which lead to spikes in abuse and attacks on members of the travelling community, or who production companies choose to appear on News Night and how issues are portrayed.

As ever at ESRI, in the post-talk discussion there were questions about what are the current alternatives, with reference to both UKipper nationalism and ‘Macunians in the sunshine’ seeing off the EDL.  Dr. Tyler explained that there are alternatives in micro-political fronts forged by gender and queer groups, and various forms of resistance against austerity policies.  In more theoretical terms, this includes a re-articulation of class (drawing on Williams and Ranciere) and exploring the historical and political variations in the institutionalisation of the commons in addition to the intersections of commonality to bring people together. SNN2513GX1-682_1396696a

For me the crux of the matter is the role of the knowledge workers – including here the journalists and wider peddlers of discourse – in reproducing or resisting the neoliberal hegemony. During the riots, blond-haired defender of privilege Boris Johnson joined others in warning academics and commentators not to explain the riots through economic and sociological arguments.  To discuss was to justify.  This was criminality pure and simple.  Academics and those on the left in general were rather more tongue-tied and timid.  It is for those committed to social justice to counter these explanations and develop alternative representations. Most importantly, academics must communicate and defend these viewpoints during these times of crises when the focus is firmly and cynically placed on the ‘underclass’ before these spectres are relegated and marginalised to the familiar spotlights of the Jeremy Kyle show, tabloid stories of benefit fraud and the cultural quirks of the feckless and indolent.

James Duggan

Badass Teacher Association: Viral Movement

In the last two weeks, a closed Facebook group of Badass Teachers has grown to nearly 19,000 members. (A screen shot of the groups description is pasted at the end of this post.) The name itself has generated a discussion of “professionalism,” leading to a post by one of BAT’s founders, Mark Naison, that anyone unhappy with the name might start her/his own organization. In fact, he reported that he had tried to start another organization called “Dump Duncan” (  and it never took off. It has less than 2000 members on Facebook.

I know the feeling…

In the US, many educators were optimistic for national leadership on education, when Barack Obama was elected to his first term. Many of us had heard, and were encouraged, that Kris Gutierrez was among his first advisors. Alas, hope is audacious!

Obama appointed Arne Duncan, which many (now and then) refer to as his basketball buddy, rather than an educator. Kenneth Saltman and Henry Giroux describe the situation early on in 2008.

Some of us tried to start an organization (part activist, part advocacy, part academic) to engage education at various levels–local, state and federal. We had several meetings in DFW,Texas and Chicago, Illinois, but our “movement” never got off the ground,  either. Here’s a link to the inactive website:

Timing and Naming….BATS–the BADASS TEACHER ASSOCIATION–is one to watch…it has legs, energy, members (Although Naison posted today that he’s not able to add any more new members and wondered if that was deliberate intervention to thwart the group.)

I have been interested in the diversity within this group reflected in the posts….

One post that struck me promoted the Freedom Writers film and materials as Badass. I couldn’t disagree more. For me, Freedom Writer’s is a White teacher savoir narrative. It also points out the problem with individualizing the responsibility for social inequity at the level of the teacher.

Another post suggested that we needed two organization, one for Republican fiscal conservatives and another for Democrats.

Finally, while I celebrate teachers, and especially Badass ones (and we need hero/resistant narratives, too), I like the way Aurora Levins-Morales (1998, 31) puts it: Stories of accommodation, collaboration and outright defeat are just as important because they give us ways to understand our position as caused rather than just existing.  For example, one post suggested that we needed to proofread all of our posts (that texting-style) would be inappropriate and used against us. For me, this marked the insecurity of teachers and the unrealistic expectations placed on teachers by the public, as well as a focus on the surface rather than substance that plagues education today at all levels.

Among many uncertainties about the work/change this group may be able to produce, what seems clear to me is the challenge of working across difference in large social movements.


Stephanie Daza

This post was taken from Dr. Stephanie Daza’s blog