Let me explain neoliberalism for you, Avis Glaze (#slf13)
In the film Toy Story 2, as he's about to leave to help save other toys, Mrs Potato Head tells her husband that she's "packing his angry eyes, just in case". Imagine me wearing my angry eyes right now.
Before we begin, let me explain that I've got more than a passing interest in Scottish Education. This is my fifth year at the Scottish Learning Festival and, indeed, I've been so impressed with the direction of travel in education north of the border that we're currently in the process of selling our house to eventually move up there.
So it struck me as a bit odd that the inaugural Robert Owen award for innovation in education at the Scottish Learning Festival should go, not to a Scottish educator, but to someone who's spent most of their time working in Ontario, Canada. When it was being presented I thought I must just have missed something and that Dr. Avis Glaze had, in fact, more of a connection to Scottish education than having been taught by a Scot in the private school she attended in Jamaica.
But, perhaps I didn't miss anything, for in her keynote (which I kind of stumbled into on my way to a different session) the audience was subjected to a sugar-coated neoliberal view of education. It would be unfair to criticise her style of presentation, but I'll do so anyway. Imagine lots of text on a slide. Imagine being told that "I'm only on slide 32 out of more than a hundred". Imagine no coherent narrative, just a bunch of quasi-academic quotations. Imagine a room full of teachers being told that the profession needs better graduates entering the profession. Imagine a slap in the face. That's what we got, along with a series of disarming smiles.
So, when it came to the Q&A session afterwards, despite knowing that the logic of the situation would cast me as a pantomime villain, I asked Dr. Glaze why, when you search Google, the word 'neoliberalism' is suggested alongside 'Ontario education'. She evidently didn't know what the term meant and turned the question on me. As I tried to explain she claimed not to understand or hear me. Convenient.
Thankfully, we live in 2013 when those who hold power by being onstage only wield it for the time they hold the microphone. They don't necessarily have the final say. So let me explain what neoliberalism is for you, Dr. Glaze. Oh, and if you're concerned that this is no more than a polemic, you might want to check out these relevant academic papers I found after 30 seconds of searching: here, here, her and here.
Neoliberalism is essentially free-market capitalism, an unfettered belief that the 'invisible hand' of the market will solve social and economic problems. It's also associated (at least in the UK/Europe) with fairly right-wing, conservative tendencies, which Dr. Glaze betrayed in her presentation.
The problem is, that it's extremely difficult to argue on a public stage against a neoliberal. They talk about values. They talk about competition. They talk about 'cutting bureaucracy'. What they don't talk about is defunding public services, of intolerance to any kind of political or social 'deviance', of what is, in effect, the privatisation of everything.
This may be an over-reaction to what was, after all, a fairly well-received presentation. And I'm sure Dr. Glaze is a 'nice person' (and I'm probably not). It just annoys me that after glimpses of market-friendly words in the opening speech of Michael Russell (the Cabinet Secretary for Education) they're lauding somebody with views that I see as antithetical to the Curriculum for Excellence.
There seems to be a trend in events I've been to recently: there's no real critique. And that worries me.