Flipping the System: Part Three

I’m on a roll – I’ve just finished reading the third chapter in Flipping the System. This chapter, entitled Flipping the System but in which direction? is by Gert Biesta, an education academic that I’ve long admired for his work in the fields of philosophy, pedagogy and democracy. I cited Gert quite a bit in my own thesis.

Biesta’s chapter begins by agreeing with the central premise of the collection: that is, we need to flip the system because education is increasingly out of balance and also out of control. He identifies the way that education systems – and governments, too, for that matter – have handed over the definition of what counts as good education to technocrats, who value what is being measured, rather than measuring what is valuable.

Biesta is quick to point out that even technocrats probably began with the best of intentions. He places this in the context of the social justice argument, where he explained that almost everyone would agree with the proposition that every child should have access to good education. This then leads to the question of how we might make sure that all education is of good quality, which necessarily entails a judgement, which, of course leads to the need to measure. Unfortunately, at some point, as stated earlier, we started to measure that which was easy to measure, rather than that which is important to measure (but harder).

Biesta then considers which groups might be involved in ‘flipping the system’. He identifies the role of parents and diagnoses that they have more recently peen positioned as customers in the education market, rather than participants. He very astutely identifies that education is only recently considered a market – and there are significant differences between public goods and markets. Most notably, he writes that markets don’t generally ask whether what customers say they want is actually what they should be wanting. This leads to a thoughtful analysis of democracy as more than simply popular rule. He describes it as a ‘qualitative matter’ that focuses on whether the rights of the individual can be supported by the broader community.

Biesta also considers the role of students – and has some interesting ideas about the difference between education and learning – and also teachers and teacher power.

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