Friday, 27 July 2018

Learning for learning's sake

Tom Stanton presented a paper at the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) 20th Anniversary Conference, held over 23rd and 24th May, at the University of Derby, UK, on where political and career views intersect. 

If our ideas are neoliberalist, this may make us view career as a means for work, making 'efficient' and 'effective' use of our time. A 'responsible' approach to career would then mean that we are 'ready' for work. But should our careers align with a neoliberalist political view? Could we instead consider career as a politically free space, where we can "run against the grain by offering individuals space for free thought" (Stanton, 2018).

Earlier this year I read a UK report which was about matching graduate skills with workplace requirements. I felt that the report had an underlying implicit assumption that education is a workplace supply chain (Universities UK, 2015); which is also a neoliberal political view. Later I read a LinkedIn post and article by Cecilia Chan who seemed to be saying the same thing: that degree training was technically skill-based, with efficiency and effectiveness as key ingredients to ensure we turn out work-ready graduates: so much so that we should send academics into the 'real world' regularly to give them a reality check of what the world of work is all about.

After reading these pieces, I asked myself "what is higher education for?" Does education, as Descartes thought, cloud our mind? Or does it open it? Is education about teaching people to learn, or about training people to do? They are different processes, with different outcomes, requiring different foci...

I am of the 'free thought' approach to education, which I think is a somewhat meritocratic view. I see education as  a way to teach ourselves to think, to imagine, to create, and to make great connective leaps. Education then leads to research through intellectual freedom. A by-product of undertaking research in the modern tertiary sector is that we upskill and stay in touch with modern practice within our specialty. We also do this by talking to colleagues, going to conferences, reading and writing for journals ...and being members of LinkedIn and other professional platforms. These activities are part of our performance markers at our institutions.

When we learn in a meritocracy, we can take our ability to learn, to imagine, to create and to connect out into the workplace and add value. We have depth, range and extendibility. We are not two dimensional neoliberalist single-use cogs with a fixed use-by date, destined for slotting into a machine when the previous cog fails.

Educators no longer live in ivory towers: zero hour contracts, delivery load,  research outputs, customer service and funding models have put paid to that (or it is certainly so where I work). While there are probably some who can probably still gamify the system and evade upskilling, I suspect that these are the 'in single digit percentage' exceptions, not the rule. 

Then there were those trusty old professors who thought that education's value lay in learning for learning's sake. They inspired, helped us learn because the learning itself was the challenge. They helped us to explore, to synthesise, to ask questions because we could. And much or our research happened because we were free to consider. We took the time to think. I think thpse profs are extinct... but I wish they weren't, because I like their approach. 

I long for a return to learning for learning's sake. Slow learning. Career consideration. Time to imagine.



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