Watching the watchmen watch the watchmen

The significant media coverage over the last three to four weeks of the the 100’s letter raises questions regarding both ‘impact’ and what it is to ‘engage the public’[1]. Furthermore, as some commentaries have already pointed out, are we to deduce from this that the only impact deemed valuable and viable is that which is not politically contentious or disruptive to policy?”[2]

As Research Associate, “enemy of promise”, and one of the one hundred signatories of the letter from academics across the field of education research to the Independent, 20th March 2013[3] I would like to explore a few ideas with you, my “knowledge hating contemporaries[4]”, in the hope that you will have your own points to make on this issue. What the letter set in motion, antagonisms, may at some level seem rather predictable. However, what seems particular, in and amongst the agitation expressed through the conservatively aligned media, are some rather curious notions of ‘common sense’, epistemic certainty, notions of nation, vertical pedagogies, conflations of schooling and education, and bullish attempts to silence critical considerations of the state of affairs, by referring to it as ‘bad academia’[5].

The general argument of the letter sent to the Independent[6] , drew attention to the narrowness of Gove’s schooling agenda, suggesting that it would ignore the learner; take little account of children and young people’s potential interests and capacities; and provide little time or space for them to explore the ways in which the abstract ideas they should ‘learn by heart’, would relate to their experience, lives and activities.

However, this moderately toned, and clearly positioned letter was described as ‘terrifying’ in an article in the Telegraph , entitled “Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts – The academics who criticised rote learning are wrong – it is at the heart of all knowledge”. The article, penned by an alumni of North Bridge House prep school, Westminster School, Magdalen College and the  Bullingdon Club , positions ‘academics’ on a sliding scale of perversely idiotic cotton-headed-ninny-muggins to rampant Marxists who are killing reason with ‘Ideology’. However, the piece raises the important question, albeit through schoolboy latin: ‘Who will watch the watchmen?. From listening to seminars and presentations within the field of educational research, the watchfulness and  governmentality already enacting and acting upon the ‘watchmen’ seems to require a repositioning, if not of the question, then of the subjects and objects the question pertains to and the role of critical thought, and thinkers, in organising that question.

Sarah Dyke 

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