Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are YOU ready for Public Education 2.0?

Kevin Lynch, vice-chair of Canada's BMO financial group, recently contributed an editorial to the Globe and Mail arguing that public education should be ready for "Education 2.0". On the one hand, he should be commended for offering a justification of the value of public education in a context where many are eager to privatize. However, it is worth questioning the extent to which the value of public education can be so easily detached from its content. For example, among his suggestions for public education 2.0 include:

1. Curricula tied to labor market forecasts
2. Outcome based and "managed for quantifiable results"
3. Focused on innovation in industry and in "the knowledge economy"

I don't want to outrightly dismiss all of Lynch's predictions, and we certainly need allies for public education who come from a variety of backgrounds. However, in thinking through what "public education 2.0" would look like, it's worth asking if the conception of education on offer really has public value. Perhaps if by 'public' education, he means education for "global finance capital"?

I am sure that for some, Lynch is a bit of an easy target. His proposed reforms are common within industry and we can marshal all sorts of arguments showing that his (implied?) views on the value of public education are fairly anemic. But it does raise an interesting (or at least, strategic) problem: if in our political economy the kind of people that can offer real clout in terms of protecting public education just are those people who also have "corporatist" views on how public education should be operationalized and managed, and further, their support of public education is conditional on reforms that fall within such views, it puts those that seriously want to protect a robust conception public education from outright privatization in a difficult position. This is increasingly so as austerity measures in liberal democratic states become normalized.

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