ECER 2012 – Symposia on Education for the Crises

The ECER conference was this year held in Cadiz, Spain.  I heard from various people that it attracted around 2,500 people.  Cadiz is a very beautiful but relatively small city.  By mid week several of the local cafés were running out of food!

The theme of the conference was “The Need for Educational Research to Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All”.    This fitted the double symposium that myself and Keri Facer (University of Bristol) had organized.  Symposium 1 was called “Theorising and Using Crises in Education” and the second was “ Responding to Crisis in Education”.   Both ran on the last day – morning and afternoon – and was in each case very well attended by 50 or more people in a very overheated room without air conditioning.

Each symposium generated discussion on the urgent issues of the day – the impact of austerity on education, on young people’s lives and more widely on freedom, social justice and democracy in organisations, systems and national as well as global forms of government.  We heard from Andonis Zagorianakos (ESRI) about the impact of neoliberal austerity measures on Higher Education in Greece, from Concepción Sánchez-Blanco (University of Coruna) on the impacts on social justice and democracy in early childhood, from Romuald Normand and Jean-Louis Derouet  on the crisis of educational sciences in France and from Antoni Verger and Xavier Bonal on an evaluation methodology used to explore the impacts of markets on educational reform in Latin America and from Susan Roberson on the impacts of neoliberal policies on the governance of UK education through crises.  One paper was not presented due to the illness of the presenter – Panayota Gounari (University of Massachusetts).  Hers again was in the impacts of austerity on Greek higher Education and how legislation was being used to remove certain rights.

In many ways it was all gloomy stuff.  But there was hope too in the development of possible responses.  To know how to handle the crisis, you must first make a good analysis.  This was the intention of all.  In particular, with Jill Schostak and Jean-Luc Gaspard (University of Rennes II) I wanted to bring together a societal, psychological and educational critique that would enable what we called an ‘unwriting’ of the crisis.  What everyone was talking about was the various ways in which neoliberalism had been first ‘unwriting’ the regulations governing markets and ‘unwriting’ the rights of labour unions through removing protective legislation and then ‘writing’ the performance criteria or the ‘duties’ of employees and such professionals as teachers through the development and implementation of policy and legislation.  We wanted to explore the possibility of ‘unwriting’ these in the interests of democracy and how this might be accomplished through research and democratic practices in education.  This theme was further explored psychoanalytically by Wilfried Gontran a doctoral student at Rennes II who is also a very experienced clinical psychoanalyst working with troubled young people.  His insights provided a theoretical framework for thinking about how to work with and unwrite the deeply experienced subjective impacts of crises on people.

Finally Keri Facer provided us with a much more optimistic scenario involving the emergence of alternative approaches education, particularly higher education that were ‘free’ and ‘open’.  However, these as yet were only small scale.  Nevertheless they provided potential models for how to change the practice of education in the promotion of democratic forms of organization.

All this, we hope with be developed for a book – or indeed books – based on the papers and the discussions.  In actual fact the Cadiz symposia were a development of a double symposium that we had organized the previous year at ECER in Berlin as well as at BERA in London.  The papers from that symposium will be published as a special edition of the Power and Education journal that I guest edited called “Schooling and Education after Neo-Liberalism”.

We hope to keep the networks that have emerged and meet at further conferences and perhaps develop our own workshops and research partnerships as time goes on.

John Schostak

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