Well being and values group report back

Monday, 03 March 2014

The Values of education: A rich and diverse system

The highly competitive, fractured and politicised English education system poses an immense challenge for those seeking a new educational settlement.  It will require not only a new approach to education policy, but also a new policy and practice style that places wider education purposes and values at the centre of the debate. 

Asking the fundamental question ‘what is education for’ could be a key to creating a new consensus between teachers/lecturers, parents, learners and wider social partners such as higher education and employers.  Overarching values and purpose have been suggested by various education reviews and by civil society groups in recent years, but have not been taken seriously by successive governments.  In this process of consensus making, therefore, politicians should realize that their contribution best made from the background rather than in the foreground, seeing their role in the creation of the space for public deliberation rather than as political micro-managers.

The guiding values of Compass – Equality, democracy, wellbeing, lifelong learning, and sustainability

As a contribution to a values-led approach to change, Compass has identified five pillar values that underlie its vision of the Good Society and that can inform policy and practice.  Values, we take to be the principles that guide our behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life.  Halstead (1996 p5) defines it as the:

principles, fundamental convictions, ideals, standards or life stances which act as a guide to behaviour or as reference points in decision-making or the evaluation of beliefs or action

Despite operating as our guiding principles or criteria for life, we often act without consciously considering our values. Nevertheless our values are considered to inform our beliefs, attitudes, and intended behaviour.

The five are not  separate but interweave in order to shape and inform an education system that not only assists learners with the concrete skills and experience to make the most of their lives, but primarily helps people to learn  how to live with themselves, each other and together how to transform their society and world.  The promotion of the Good Society requires an education system characterised by the production of a  profound sense of the five values outlined here, along with the building of community, co-operation and trust.

It is important to recognise that having values involves emotional commitment. One may have a commitment to a value, say, equality. It is possible to discuss what this would mean, but at this point the value is considered at an intellectual level. To help tackle inequalities a person would have to be involved in trying to influence others and take actions with others. In a sense, what really matters is how one furthers the value in life. So, to focus on sexism, which would involve a commitment to improving one’s attitudes and interactions with males and females, lesbian and gays. Interacting with people of different sexualities can involve a person having to working with their feelings at a deep emotional level. This is putting values-into-action in order to effect change both in oneself, and in society, and are essential aspects of progressing a value. 

There is an implication for schools, it is not enough to have policies the pupils are aware of, they have to be engaged emotionally with each other, or with aspects of the particular value.

1.  Equality and social justice

Equality is one of the central issues in educational values as people are more likely to achieve their potential if they work and learn together in harmony.  We have a humanistic approach that sees all of us as equally worthy and in a much more equal society we can better live together and have transformative capacities.  If equality is valued difference can be used as a resource that provides interest, creativity and enjoyment.  The alternative is that difference can be a source of anxiety that is used to oppress and dominate groups and individuals.  Hence the promotion of equality and social justice is essential for people of all ages to appreciate, trust and learn from each other in mutual support.

Fairness and equality has many dimensions, including gender, social class and ethnic background.  Our approach will be grounded in understanding the importance of education in challenging social injustice.  We will ensure that our analyses and recommendations take into account the reality of race, gender, class, sexuality and disability and provide structures that will both challenge and support the challenge to secure radical forms of education that have social justice at their core.  It means treating people with respect and recognising differences.  One simple level is that there should be a fair distribution of resources.  However, to gain social justice requires much more than this.

It can be argued that the difference between ethnic groups has to be central to social justice.  Groups in society suffer at the hands of others through oppression and domination which leads to injustice.  The experiences of different forms of oppression can give rise to different concepts of justice. For example, people experiencing racism have felt-oppressions and, therefore, have needs that only they can define.  For this reason, while distribution may be important, an essential component of equity is that people have a voice of representation that can be heard and taken account of.

The differences have to be acknowledged and attended to, not ignored.  For example, gay people do not wish to be assimilated in a way that denies their difference, but to have their difference recognised and accepted.  This is, of course, central to their self-identity and self-esteem.  Difference should be affirmed, but this means having to avoid the usual situation where minority or oppressed groups are defined as ‘different’ as part of a way of oppressing them.

All groups should be able to participate and have a voice in solving society’s problems, a key element being that they are listened to.  Consequently people have to be able to empathise with each other; this is a politics of recognition where people can recognise and understand how others feel.  People have to come together in collective communication in a spirit of co-operation and feelings of mutual tolerance to have an adequate representation of identities. 

All groups of people should be able to participate and have a voice in both identifying and solving society’s problems and their own, including those of students.  Consequently people have to be able to empathise with each other; this is a politics of recognition, where people can recognise and understand how others feel.  The way that people can feel their identities are accepted is to feel comfortable with both the differentiation that occurs because of the varied cultural practices, but also the communality they feel for each other across the boundaries.  Hence some form of  deliberative or participatory democracy would be essential. People have to come together in collective communication, in the spirit of co-operation and equal respect to have different ideas (re)presented in deciding how to establish social justice.  We value democracy therefore, precisely as a means of making this happen, of producing equality, social justice and self-determination.

A democracy characterised by inclusiveness, popular control, transparency and consideration of difference encompasses both redistribution and recognition, both equality and difference, of culture and political economy.  It requires that all forms of discrimination and domination be made visible, rejected and that people are able to have power over their own lives and express their feelings freely.  Hence equity is not just about having equal opportunities, but having a relational social justice that values diversity.

2. Democracy

Developing a more democratic society could be the basis for longer-term societal transformation and the establishment of a greater equality and social justice.  A new set of social relations is played out within a more democratic society is the basis for longer-term societal transformation.  It is important, however, to appreciate different ways democracy is done, of which three stand out, that in themselves often overlap and combine.

A. Representative democracy – where people vote for a representative, as in parliament, local council or school board.  Issues concern the centralization of power that has taken place under neo-liberalism, despite its rhetoric of devolution, and how both parliament and local (and regional) government need to become more democratic and effective.

B. Participatory/Direct democracywhere people as individuals have a direct say and vote in political decisions and policies that affect their lives directly.  It is a form of organisation so that all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision-making and so broadens the range of people involved.  Examples would include binding referendums, the kind of radical budget making deployed in Porto Alegre in Brazil and closer to home in the decision assemblies of Citizens UK.

C. Deliberative democracywhere to make legitimate decisions it is considered that authentic deliberation must be involve, not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting.  In authentic deliberation among decision-makers the aim is to be free from distortions of unequal political power, such as the power of a person because they are wealthy or have the support of interest groups.  Deliberative democracy is not just trying to reach decisions through rational argument to find the common good.  Most forms of communication would be accepted if they were non-coercive, strive to link personal viewpoints to larger principles, encouraged reflection and tried to make sense to others who do not share the speaker’s framework.   Hence, evidence would include personal stories, rhetoric, and humour as part of an argument.  Moreover, if 10 men and two women were in a group there would be a concern for how men’ and women’s voices could be equally heard – as well as any other group if possible.  Groups like Climate Camp, Occupy and UK Uncut have practiced forms of deliberative democracy.

In many cases participatory and deliberative democracy are seen as interchangeable. In both cases there is a direct link to social justice (see 5) below), where people are to have a genuine dialogue with voices of representation from different groups who meet with a real aim of recognising the different viewpoints.  Developing social and emotional skills can help these processes.

However, we should also be aware of what can be called the tyranny of democracy. Most changes in society occur because of people who think the unthinkable. So, for example, the research on sex by Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson, would never have been done if put to a democratic vote in their institutions. One aspect is to consider how democracy can support change as well as stability.

In terms of education one could consider, for example, if local democracy is representative, but could certain aspects be participatory?  For example, if pupils are allocated to schools by a local authority, could all school Heads meet to participate in a discussion of the allocation to put their viewpoints on if the allocation is fair?  One of the central issues facing the Education Inquiry is to what extent should pupils, students and adults play a part in school and college organisation and what type or combinations of democratic practice should be used.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all forms of democracy, and sometimes decision have to be made. However, the documents produced by Compass should demonstrate an understanding of the forms and combinations of democracy that they are using, why, and how they serve the purpose of furthering the cause of education and the values incorporated.

3. Wellbeing

There are many definitions of wellbeing and one interpretation is that wellbeing (or Well-being) covers emotional, social, personal and health-related issues.  However, the Coalition Government has defined  ‘National Wellbeing’ of the individual as an outcome and determinant of socio-economic policy.  As such, it reflects economic productivity that can be measured on an individual basis.  This illustrates how a definition can be cultural and could have political overtones.  On the other hand wellbeing can be seen as multifaceted incorporating aspects such as intellectual, physical, social, emotional, spiritual and personal. 

In general one aspect of wellbeing can be that people, whatever their employment status, feel they have sufficient economic provision, and that each person should reach their social and emotional potential. Research has shown that the conditions for people to flourish and experience worthwhile lives is bound up with family and community-based interactions. The formation of affirmative relationships of all forms have a positive impact on wellbeing.  Hence, wellbeing can be considered as an individual and a communal attribute.  It would involve equity so that all individuals were valued and the wellbeing of one group not gained at the expense of another.  One aspect is that social and emotional development is considered as cultural. Wellbeing is a process and includes the recognition that it is both an individual and collective development. It is a dynamic process that includes equality and social justice and incorporates an understanding of and challenging of  power differentials.

Many aspects of wellbeing underpin the Compass vision.  Equality and social justice are aspects of wellbeing, and people who are grounded emotionally are more able to contribute to democratic processes (2) and appreciate the need for a sustainable society (5) with lifelong learning (4).  Any policy on education could consider how the system will encourage the development of wellbeing, given the principles above.

The Wellbeing Values Group is working on a document to fully explain the issues.

  1. 4.  Lifelong learning: Creativity, Collaboration and Critical Thinking

The propagation of creativity and life-long learning are linked, as both require a change from education being a ‘delivery’ of ‘transmitted’ knowledge.  We must enable learners to see themselves as co-operative groups of creative, independent, critical thinkers, who can become self-motivating, support each other, be team members and work autonomously. Successfully, consistently embedding these skills through education in society will result in the production of a common wisdom.

Creativity requires people to be self-directing and open to change.  This concept moves education from being an event to becoming a process and will be a feature of the all the Working Groups attentions.  These skills are part of lifelong learning and learning for the future.  There are calls internationally for education to help pupils develop what are called 21st Century skills, or employability skills. These include developing the qualities for team work, creativity, co-operation across diversity, independence and self motivation. The term often used is the “four C’s” of 21st century skills: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication.  These are directly connected to 5) Education for a sustainable society.

Thinking skills can be characterised in many ways and are part of being creative.  Creativity is a complex process that often appear to be done by individual in isolation but is commonly achieved in groups.  This is particularly true in industry and commerce where people from different backgrounds come together to work on a project.  In general they have to be critical thinkers.  Hence education should move from closed and bounded to open and exploratory, and include a critical pedagogy.  It is the dramatic systemisation of unlocking the innovative and creative skills of all learners upon which the Compass project is focused.

  1. 5.  Sustainability: a relationship with the natural environment

There are many debates about the movement to a sustainable society.  Some are predominantly focused around resource efficiency through recycling, re-use and reduction and the circular economy. While others move further to encompass wider aspects of sustainability, integrating social considerations, wellbeing and questioning  the consumerists society as is that drives the current resource use and state of the planet (declining wildlife, biodiversity etc).  However, it is beyond this brief description to go into the many debates about sustainability, which are multi-dimensional, contextual and culturally dependent.

Overall, though, people’ attitudes are important.  They can be motivated largely by extrinsic values such as the need for money, power, concerns about image, social status and authority.  These can, but do not have to, lead to a focus on self to the exclusion of caring about others and nature. Conversely, celebrating wildlife, getting people outdoors into natural space and presenting a vision where people and nature thrive alongside each other encourages people to develop a relationship with the natural environment that they will feel more strongly about protecting. Therefore, people can be motivated through their relationship with nature and other intrinsic values to act more sustainably themselves and want others to do the same.

 Our approach would recognise that to move toward a sustainable society we need foster a relationship with the natural world, to care for the environment alongside equality of people, their attitudes and resources.  The purpose of the project must to be to create a cultural and physical environment in which sustainability and the future of the planet are built in.

Similarly, it is important that in an educational context we make pupils aware that the values they choose can have an effect on sustainability, and to help pupils understand how environmental sustainability, social and emotional sustainability, and values are linked.

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