The Pedagogy of the Depressed
A Critique and Riposte – The Edinburgh Papers 2008
The papers under the general title “Reclaiming Social Purpose in Community Education” were written by members of staff from three University Departments with a vested interest in the education of Community Learning and Development workers formerly known as Community Education Workers In all, four universities Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde were represented at a seminar in the University of Edinburgh on 9th November 2007 at which seven papers were presented.
The Edinburgh Papers are published by Reclaiming Social Purpose Group. An electronic copy of the papers can be obtained by contacting either: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
The initial section of the publication ‘Learning for Democracy Ten Propositions and Ten Proposals” is written in that patronising way beloved of those who teach rather than act. The propositions and proposals could easily have come from George Bush’s or Tony Blair’s speeches on their justification for the invasion of Iraq’. They continually reiterated their commitment to bring democracy to Iraq. The results of the invasion tell a different story as to why they wished to invade and it had little to do with democracy. Maybe it was just bad timing but the word ‘Democracy’ has had a rough time recently. These papers, with their elitist views, whilst claiming a total belief in ‘democracy’ did nothing to rescue the word from its position in the political gutter. While there was not a lot to disagree with in the Proposals and Propositions, they are essentially vacuous and after reading the papers it is clear that they were no more than a series of clichés with virtually nothing to provide substance. No concrete proposals for real change toward establishing a democratic way of moving forward emerged from the discussions.
The first paper: – “Community Education a Mirror and a Shield” by David Wallace – University of Strathclyde establishes the tenor of a good deal of what is to follow. In the first paragraph of his introduction he informs us that “the loss of Community Education and its influences in Scottish discourse, policy and in practice. has “been serially discussed with likeminded friends and colleagues in the field, with partners in research activity and with academic colleagues – representing a fair cross section from the Community Education firmament”.
In short all those in his view who matter in his world of Community Education. Aside from the breathtaking assertion as to the importance of Community Education in the “Scottish discourse (of) policy and practice” and the fact that no evidence is provided to substantiate such a claim. Not even a hint as to where and with whom this discourse takes place suggests that the author may require a reality check. More importantly, the ‘Community Education firmament’ appears to be missing a few vital components Crucially but not surprisingly, there is no mention of the communities that these people are supposed to serve. In fact as one reads the papers, it becomes clear that “communities” are simply used as a prop for the contributors’ agenda. Once identified, however, the pretentiously labelled “Academy” embarked on a series of discussions culminating in a symposium and subsequently the production of “The Edinburgh Papers”. This group, according to Wallace would “balance the current policy agenda and – table an alternative vision for Community Education”. The author asserts that the “Community Education academics” will ensure that the primacy of Community Education will be re-instated.
No matter, the newly minted self appointed “Academy” is going places and sees itself as an extremely important influence in the Scottish political world. It does, however, raise the question about their role over the years as Community Education has sunk the position of servants to what has been described as “audit funding and inspection regimes”. After all it has been evident for some time that this is where it has been going. Often with the complicity of members of the ‘Academy’.
The second paper is ‘Reclaiming Social Purpose: Framing the Discussion’ – Ian Martin, University of Edinburgh. There is an interesting shift in this article’s use of language, analytical style (he has one) historical context (there is one). Martin provides a much broader framework from which to work. There is a certain intellectual rigour which invites discussion whether one agrees with his point of view or not. The paper is relatively short and to the point and goes against the grain of most of the articles in the set. Thankfully he does not sound as though somebody ‘stole his scone’ which appears to be a recurring theme in most of the contributions.
The third paper ‘Policy, Politics and Practice: Community Development’ – Mae Shaw, University of Edinburgh moves the discussion on to a well constructed and informative analysis of community development. The author, however, does not address the position of where Community Development, Work/Education is going and leaves this reader wondering about whether there is a future for genuine community involvement in whatever form. For me it also raises questions about where this endeavour has been in the past forty years, where it has gone wrong and whether it’s worth pursuing. Certainly Shaw’s analysis of Community Development is satisfying and current problems are sensibly and clearly spelt out.
This certainly helps our understanding and clarifies problems, enabling the reader to look at various strands of work with the help of a distillation of theory and practice in a fairly broad context. In short she does what a good teacher does and makes no grandiose claims to be the arbiter of the future of community work in any of its forms. And as a bonus her paper is written almost entirely in English. A blessed relief! What however is puzzling is her faith in the professional model of the community worker. A common theme in these papers as the authors warm to their task of defending their position.
The fourth paper is ‘Adult Education in Scotland’ – Kathy MacLachlan, University of Glasgow. This contribution is adult education at its most worthy but not necessarily particularly relevant to the matter being addressed. There is little evidence of the questions arising from the title of the endeavour ‘Reclaiming Social Purpose in Community Education’ being addressed. The paper has the feel of the Fabian Society about it and would I’m sure to be appreciated as a presentation at one of their meetings. The author’s suggestions for action are well within the standard traditions of left leaning think tanks but bear little relevance to the major problems facing many communities. They certainly don’t tackle the deep rooted problems facing community work. Her views of the future are firmly based in a traditional university culture. This simply does not address any Community Work agenda that attempts to work with community groups to change substantially the balance of power and establish the communities’ agendas.
The fifth contribution is a paper entitled ‘Work with Young People’ -Annette Coburn, University of Strathclyde. According to Coburn, there is an “emergence of a form of youth work that is about controlling and containing young people rather than empowering and liberating them”. This statement early on in the paper raises a number of questions about the author’s understanding of the history and purpose of Youth Work.
As far as I can determine, control and containment have always been a central element in Youth Work. This is hardly surprising when those in power have consistently used youth organisations in an attempt to subdue the young as they saw them as agin authority and a threat to the status quo. Surely, the instruments and vehicles of control have changed over time. From Baden-Powell and William Smith (founders of the Boy Scouts and Boys Brigade) through to the liberated sixties; the “responsible” eighties and nineties and into a new century; control has been at the heart of youth work practice; from the bible to the psychology and sociology text books; religion and the study of human behaviour have been used in attempts to control the young. Sad though it is, this urge to control seems to possess most adults whatever the era or their political stripe.
The paper displays a remarkably a historical account of Youth Work with little attention paid to its development through the years or its importance politically and its place in the control of the young. Currently, the author argues, that “policies and service development (are) driven by outcomes, outputs and inspection regimes…which created “fear and apathy amongst professionals who collude often unknowingly with policy agendas that have created ‘busy work’ around industries of protection and diversion of young people.” It seems ironic for one so committed to ‘the Profession’ to tell us that professionals didn’t have the nous to work out what policy agendas are in place and the implication of these agendas for young people. If accurate, and I suspect the description is true then we are indeed in deep trouble. It would appear that we have reached a situation where the ‘professionals’ are simply victims of the policy machine, impotent in the face of arbitrary changes in policy. More worryingly, it would appear that they collude unknowingly in the demise of any work of value – a very depressing picture indeed. This situation raises a number of serious questions, not least about the education that these ‘professionals’ have received from those who the author tells us are “academics (who) are well placed to mount (a) challenge through dialogue with the Scottish Government”. I think it fair, given their previous form, to wonder whether this group are ‘fit for purpose’.
The paper goes on to discuss various writings on Youth Work and some interesting examples are highlighted. A recent piece of research notes that the Youth Workers were surprised “that young people were routinely watched by adults” – only able to access areas when supervised by staff”. In short the much vaunted ‘professional workers’ could not recognise the simple fact that “disciplinary surveillance” was built into their routine work. Never mind, surely a piece of research will inform them of this fact. Coburn refers to a good deal of research which reinforces the view that Youth Work is indeed infested by adults wanting to control.
She condemns work which at its heart is about ‘control, surveillance and regulation.’ In these terms there is much to agree with as one surveys the depressing picture she describes. The problem with this article, however is that the author sees the solution as more professionalism, research and more publications along with the political clout of the “Academy.” This solution may keep the University departments in business; provide work for those who teach the seemingly unexamined dogma that to build a profession is to produce good workers and to carry out copious pieces of research to little effect. As far as providing answers for the sorry state of community work. It will not do.
The sixth contribution is: ‘Rearticulating Professional identity’- Lynn Tett, University of Edinburgh. The author’s inauspicious start to this paper tells us that ‘Community Education as a profession is rooted in the interests and experiences of people in communities. No hint of self interest here then. I suppose it’s altruism all the way for Community Education workers and their teachers. In addition no self-criticism is hinted at, as is usual in these laudatory articles. So we are left to rely on the writer’s taken for granted world which, in this case. is encapsulated in the holy grail of professional identity, a subject dear to the hearts of those involved in the “Academy”. At this point a rough sketch of what comes through when members of the “Academy” invoke their mantra of professionalism may help. The story goes something like this:
– Professionals are good and what the professionals do is of great importance.
-Professionals are extremely competent.
-Their work is therefore of a high standard.
-They work in a disinterested fashion with only the Community’s interest in mind.
-They are educated to a high standard and ethical values are imparted throughout their course.
-These high standards are usually measured by the length of their degree programmes.
-This is evidenced by, among other institutional indices, the fact that University Departments are developing longer courses and ever higher degrees, a clear sign of academic machismo.
In league with the professional validation body (Community Education Validation and Endorsement CeVe) they attempt to make their ‘profession’ more and more exclusive by erecting more barriers at entry and making the language of Community Education almost completely incomprehensible. Given the current changes in the world of Community Work, particularly with the establishment of a Standards Council. We can be assured that the march to higher degrees with less and less relevance will be being led by these democrats of the ”Academy” and if history tells us anything they will get their way.
Unless a halt is called to this process we will simply be left with a more discredited system of educating Community Workers than at present. This will in turn adversely affect the chances of those who live in the poorer areas of our society and wish to get a job working in the Community There is substantial evidence to show that the longer the Higher Education course, the less likely those with few resources will apply. Not that this will bother the ‘Academy’ as far as one can see from their elitist stance as spelt out in the Edinburgh Papers.
According to George Bernard Shaw “all professionals are a conspiracy against the laity.” Friedson in his book – “Profession of Medicine” argues that ‘expertise is more and more in danger of being used as a mask for privilege and power rather than as it claims, as a mode of advancing the public interest.” Friedson (1970). There is a great deal of literature written about the professions and the progress of professionalisation which makes it patently obvious that the aspiration to attain professional status has as much to do with elitism as it has with expertise. It is a political process which ties the aspirant group into the establishment which then demands their allegiance. The irony is that it would take ‘a blue moon in the sky’ for the “Academy” to achieve all of the rewards accruing to fully legitimised professions as outlined in the literature.
To return more directly to the paper under review. According to Tett, Ian Martin (2001) “has introduced the notion of community education as a dissenting vocation that takes the side of the ordinary people against the forces that seek to dominate oppress and exploit them.” It must come as a great relief to the ‘ordinary people’ that their oppression, domination and exploitation is being noted and they have on their side a Profession of Community Education. This view is self satisfied and verging on arrogance. It does, however, seem to be in accord with the general tone of the writing in the Edinburgh papers. The evidence would, however, appear to contradict such a view, it would seem more likely that Community Education is supinely collapsing into servitude rather than working in partnership with the people who they are supposed to work with.
After establishing her view of the primacy of a professional identity, Tett informs us that “what appears to be developing currently in Community Education is a division of labour between full time professional staff, whose work is of a more managerial nature, and part-time staff who undertake face-to-face work with individuals and groups.” She then provides a convoluted explanation for this backed by recent research findings. (Tett et al 2007). It occurs to me that Professor Tett needs to get out more.
The fact that a substantial number of full time Community Education workers hide behind their desks while part-timers and volunteers undertake work with those who use community centres, roam the streets, or live in bad housing has been a fact of life for at least the past 30 years. Why this should be the case has, in my view, little to do with their early and mid career crises and more to do with a number of often related problems- bad management, sheer laziness, lack of vision, no clarity of purpose, local authority control, lack of ability to relate to those with whom they work. Essentially, problems that Universities should be interested in rather than scratching around to research something that has for a long time has been self-evident.
Finally, Tett’s solution to the problems she identifies as far as one can see is more professionalisation. As has already been noted this will surely take the form of more courses, steeper academic entry requirements, Honours Degrees galore, in short more work for the Universities. According to Coburn’s paper ‘Busy Work around the Industries of Protection, Regulation and Diversion.” After all what else is the re articulation of professional identity but, like some suicide attempts, a cry for help.
The seventh and final paper entitled: ‘Ten Propositions and Ten Proposals’- Akwugo Emejulu, University of Strathclyde. This paper introduces the 10 propositions and 10 proposals rewritten after discussion. It would appear that not a lot has changed although interestingly at some point ‘practitioners’ have become ‘professionals’ – the thought police must have been in attendance. I would dearly like to know what (we) are reclaiming when Emujulu talks about ‘dissenting professional identity’. This is a contradiction in terms. As has been pointed out before the definition of ‘professional’ includes as a basic tenet, the adherence to the status quo and an acceptance of the rewards which flow from this position. Certainly, Community Education has invested a great deal in establishing as much of the paraphernalia of a profession as is possible. So make up your mind! I don’t see this contradiction holding water, it simply spells ignorance or myopia, neither of which are excusable in what is an important issue in Community work.
I would now like to look at whether the ‘Academy’ has moved toward fulfilling their intentions. To some extent their concerns are laudable and no doubt worth exploring at this juncture in the history of our so called ‘empowering profession.’ This label (used in the title of Charlie McConnell’s book “The making of an Empowering Profession” (1996) and in successive issues; 1997 and 2002) sums up a major problem for those who are employed in Community Work and more importantly for those who live in the communities who are supposedly being empowered. For me the word ‘empowering’ has a whiff of patronage about it and professional the stamp of elitism. No questions are raised in the various contributions about the assertions that Community Education is anything other than a profession and its workers are in the business of empowering those with whom they work.
The overall impression given in these papers is of a group who are defensive of a Community Education that never existed or if it did, has never escaped from the confines of the Universities into the world in which most people live. This is reinforced by the a historicism running through the papers as again and again, either implicitly or explicitly the contributors refer to a time when there was an effective, highly professional and democratically oriented Community Education service working with communities in Scotland. And that this is being destroyed by policies and practices alien to the democratic ways of the service: Not so! This is simply a myth.
As far as one can deduce from practice, community work is like the Curates egg, good in parts. Certainly some very good work has been done over the years. This despite the obstacles placed in the communities’ path, while dealing with the very difficult situations. Often this is caused by the ambiguous position that they are in where the problems they confront frequently demand that they bite the hand that feeds them.
As far as Community Education as an entity is concerned it is in my view, a spent force. That is if it ever was a potent force. A major problem has been the central contradiction of a ‘service’ tied into a power structure through the control exercised by the major employers and funded by the government. Its rhetoric has always been around a commitment to the community’s agenda and often within that to those who lack power. The result of this often conveniently ignored contradiction has been the inability to pursue the logic of a commitment to those with little power and few resources. This would almost certainly cause problems and is usually discouraged. Instead those with a vested interest in the preservation of the status quo have followed the conventional route of attempting to establish an elite group whose major task was to serve that status quo often in the name of democracy.
In simple terms they decided whose side they were on and you can be assured it wasn’t on the side of the communities that they claim a commitment to serve.
Too simple – yes it is too simple, unfortunately that fundamental decision to follow the well worn path of establishing a profession helped emaciate Community Work as a genuine educational force. There are of course other forces at work whose aims are inimical to initiatives that aimed at establishing a much wider involvement of people in the affairs which influence their lives. The Edinburgh Papers set out to reclaim the social purpose of Community Education and to do so they invoked democracy as a key element in this reclamation. In contrast to their fine aspirations, however, the underlying tone of the papers is both elitist and patronising. This is mingled with fear of what they (rightly in my view) see as the growth of an even more grotesque phenomenon which has arrived with an even more opaque language and even less interest in involving the community.
These are the heralds of the SIP’s (Social Inclusion Partnerships) CPP’s (Community Planning Partnerships) CHCP (Community Health and Care Partnerships) etc. They are bold, brash and in the main, ignorant of involving people in important decisions that affect their lives. Instead they have elevated the tick box to an art and in doing so used it as evidence of involving the community. They are indeed exponents of “outcomes, outputs and inspection regimes “ (Coburn, 2007) and all sorts of other nonsense. Their view of monitoring or evaluating the work being undertaken is like the accusation often made of accountants that they know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” (Wilde 1892, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Act 3) As far as one can see their way of dealing with the so called “socially excluded” makes no bones about the contempt in which they are held. The problem is that they are scarily like progeny of Community Education without the humanistic gloss. If that’s where the future lies then it is indeed the death knell of anything one would dignify with the title Community Work.
Somewhere some people lost the plot and instead of nurturing the ability, integrity, commitment, experience and humanity of those who wished to get positively involved with people who for whatever reason were having a rough time. They turned the whole thing into a charade where competition, elitism and the hunger for power became paramount. Thus creating room for the charade that is New Labour’s answer to involving the poor in there own affairs.
From the acceptance of the recommendation that “Entry to the career of community education worker should be limited to graduates” the Carnegie Report 1977. The battle to have integrity, talent and ability as benchmarks of a worker gave way to mediocrity as the standard. Fortunately some of those who possessed the original qualities still applied and were accepted but overall the focus changed and along with the change so did the quality. And certainly not for the better.
While there is no way of going back and that is just as well. I must admit that I am loath to think that Community Work will wither on some bureaucratic vine constructed by New Labour. Fortunately, whether the values of community work survive is not down to the current hegemony whose stewardship is to say the least questionable. If, however, the values underpinning Community work need to be nurtured the recipe spelt out in the Edinburgh Papers simply won’t do. It is rather ironic that the situation Community Education is in reminds me of New Labour. Change is desperately needed with no sign of anything happening. Why? Because what is being proposed is more of the same and in both cases the empire was built on sand and people can sense it. If the Edinburgh Papers do anything it may be to at least kick start a debate which could act with other developments as a catalyst for fundamental change. If not then the withering will come sooner rather than later. The real tragedy lies in the misuse of resources that could have encouraged people to get involved and instead effectively excluded them.
Bob Hamilton has worked in a variety of Community Work jobs over the past 40 years. During this time he has had responsibility for the delivery of a number of Certificate, Diploma and Degree programmes in Community Work and has contributed to other undergraduate and post graduate courses. As Head of the Youth and Community Department in Aberdeen College of Education, and working with local authorities in the North of Scotland, he was responsible for the development of a 3-year work based Community Work diploma. This was funded by the ‘first in Europe’ programme run by the European Social Fund. Subsequently, he was involved in it’s metamorphosis into a work based Degree programme based in the University of Glasgow. He is currently working as a Tutor and as a part time Development worker.