In 1906, Albert Einstein announced his special theory of relativity. Soon after Hermann Minkowski, his former college teacher in mathematics developed a new schema for thinking about space and time:
Space-time does not evolve, it simply exists. When we examine a particular object from the stand point of its space-time representation, every particle is located along its world-line. This is a spaghetti-like line that stretches from the past to the future showing the spatial location of the particle at every instant in time.
This world-line exists as a complete object which may be sliced here and there so that you can see where the particle is located in space at a particular instant. Once you determine the complete world line of a particle from the forces acting upon it, you have ‘solved’ for its complete history.
So I was wondering, what if we applied similar thinking to social objects? For example, is it possible to view a particular educational policy, or other, as a social object? Constructed by the relations between social groups such as policymakers, OFSTED, educational academics, leadership teams and classroom practitioners; what links the social groups to the policy is space and time.
Education ministers construct policy ideas in Whitehall in consultation with “think tanks” and special interest groups. The regulator, OFSTED, outlines what is required, of educational institutions. Education institutions recontextualise the object for practice. Finally, at the end of the policy world-line, the classroom practitioner enacts the policy ideas. Same object but different social groups working at different points in a spatiotemporal framework.
Consider feedback as an example. What are the conditions that optimise feedback? In an ideal world, academic educationalists would inform the debate, which would impact upon the formulation of policy. Institutions and classroom practitioners could engage in the discourse. The spatiotemporal relations of feedback would be constantly working to improve practice.
Sadly the “relations” of education could be more effective. Policy making is ideological; some might say quirky. Academic educationalists are written off as “the blob”. Practitioners are stereotyped as uncomprehending believers duped into faux ideologies.
Educational policymakers engage in oft-repeated discourse justified by reference to “robust scientific evidence”. As often as not the evidence is not robust and the arguments offered are highly contested. Making the complex “quirky” is good for sound bites but does not make for great education policy. It does not create the relations that ensure good policy ideas are enacted well in the classroom.