Critical Reflections

As a teacher in Scotland, I am contractually bound by the GTCS standards where there is level of criticality expected in “the need to ask critical questions of educational policies and practices and to examine our attitudes and beliefs.” (P6)

Further to this, the standards for Leadership and Management also suggest that:

“Leaders have an enhanced understanding of the dynamics of political power and influence in the relationship between schools and society, and the consequent implications for the work of their organisation.” (P10)

I think the proposal and advocacy for this level of critical thought and awareness of the power relationship in education is encouraging. This speaks to a transformative, progressive view of teaching which empowers its teachers and leaders to engage with the system. To escape the every day humdrum, the (very real) procedural/operational concerns what Dewey referred to as the “anaesthetic”. We need to ensure that we exercise our right as educators in Scotland, to be critical of the systems that we operate within. The recent developments for our colleagues south of the border should be sobering and concerning.

Schools in England have been told they cannot teach about anti-capitalism and will see any attempt at doing so as equivalent to endorsing illegal activity. The claim here is the teachers should be politically neutral and should not take a political stance on any matter. However, I would like to argue that this is impossible. Education is inherently political. Claiming neutrality, is political. Banishing anti-capitalist thought is political.

If we were to analyse this through a Scottish lens, where in our very Standards we are reminded of the dynamics of ‘political power’, and we are reminded to ‘ask critical questions’, I hope that there would be a collective and fiery outrage at such limitations on our professionalism.

You only need to look to twitter to see that there was such an outrage from progressive and critical teaching colleagues in England, and it remains to be seen how much impact such a policy will have. Teachers always have the ability to make what Foucault referred to as counter moves in this power game. The implementation gap between official, government mandated policy and their practical enactment in schools is an exercise in critical reflection.

However, it is only with this critical reflection on policy and procedure that we are able to look behind the curtain and see the Great and Powerful Oz at work. We need to be as critical and reflective of all policies, not just the blatantly divisive. We need to challenge and interrogate all aspects of our profession to avoid subservience to status quo. We need to challenge the seemingly sensible or mundane, for it is here that we truly understand the relationship between schools and society.

We have clear license in our standards, and the moral imperative to engage in this level of critical thought. It is vital to escape the anaesthetic-like effect of the daily struggle, described by Dewey, which allows us to move from passively enacting policy to actively engaging and creating openings and possibilities.

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