Education and Culture · Education and Politics · OFSTED · Philosophy of education · Policy and Practice

Social objects, Space-time and Quirks in Educational policy making

QuirkyIn 1906, soon after Albert Einstein announced his special theory of relativity, his former college teacher in mathematics, Hermann Minkowski, developed a new scheme 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, as you do or maybe you don’t, 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 policy makers, OFSTED, educational academics, leadership teams and classroom practitioners. What links the social groups to the policy is space and time.

Education ministers construct educational policy ideas in Whitehall. Aided, no doubt, by think tanks and special interest groups. The regulator (OFSTED) outlines what is required, of educational institutions. The educational institution recontextualises the object for practice and finally at the end of the policy world-line the classroom practitioner enacts the policy idea in the classroom. Same object but different groups working at different points in a spatio-temporal 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 spatio-temporal relations of feedback would be constantly working to improve practice.

Sadly the “relations” of education could work a lot better. Policy making is ideological. Some might say quirky. Academic educationalists are written off as “the blob”. Practitioners are stereotyped as uncomprehending believers duped into a faux ideology called progressivism. The industry watchdog launches into thinly veiled propoganda campaigns to the effect that “it’s not us guv honest, it’s them (educational leaders) wot’s doing it”.

Educational policy makers often engage in, oft repeated, wafting discourse citing such things as “robust scientific evidence” to back up their points. As often as not the evidence is not robust and the points made highly contested. Making the complex “quirky” is good for sound bites but does not make for great education. It does not create the relations that ensure good policy ideas are enacted well in classroom practice.

Good quality “robust” debate, as opposed to endlessly re-iterated polemics, drives the education conversation forward.


The use of a physics metaphor does not mean this blog is about physics.



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