Remaking education in (post) Covid times
by Anna Pilson
Bayley (2018, p. 245) offers researchers the provocation that “in such urgent times, theory itself is not enough” – introspection must be turned outwards to search for tangible action. My chapter argues that similarly, in educational practice, we must look beyond the classroom and contextualise education on a more-than-human scale in order to try and (re)imagine it in the post-COVID world. Our lives are inextricably linked with our environment and the intangible forces that impact on our daily existence: geopolitics, ecology, biology. This is where my chapter’s focus on post-humanism comes in. This critical theoretical stance questions the dominance of humans in our world, asking us to think beyond stereotypical understanding of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ as the ideal form that humans take, and that humans occupy the apex of the natural power hierarchy. This, therefore, at first glance may appear to be incompatible with our education, which objectifies children via a conceptualisation of success as becoming a ‘productive adult’ – one who demonstrates agency, contributes to the economy, lives independently, reproduces.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated to us that human endeavour remains essentially subservient to non-human (micro)biology. We as a species can never live ‘independently’; we are inter-dependent entities who are inextricably interconnected with others - including non-human others (Braidotti, 2013, p. 48). This was brutally highlighted to humanity by the COVID-19 outbreak, which slowed down economies and pressured infrastructures to breaking point in one devastatingly fell swoop. The violent power of non-human forces was truly evident. Yet its impact simultaneously uncovered the violence of humanistic systems. While everyone was subject to the same rules and legislation, their impact was felt differently depending on socio-economic and geographical situation and nowhere more clearly than in the compulsory education system.
There has been a myriad of evidence demonstrating the inequality engendered by the pandemic. The treatment of the disabled community as a whole by the government has been subject to a “narrative of absence” (Pilson, 2020, np) ignoring need (such as depriving visually impaired people of priority supermarket access) and removing support (e.g. relaxing the requirement for schools to provide what disabled children are legally entitled to as stated in their Education and Health Care Plans in the 2020 Coronavirus Act). I must be clear, here, that I envisage an education system that is underpinned by a drive for equity rather than equality. One that acknowledges difference and puts in place strategies that are personalised but response-able (Haraway, 2016) – that is, recognises the “moral force of the other to respond” (Taylor, 2018, p. 81). In my understanding of response-ability, the “other” referred to to represents disabled children and how the pandemic has further positioned disability as “abject and other” (Liddiard, 2020, np).
Now that the vaccine programme in the UK is firmly entrenched, the focus of policymakers has not been to ascertain what lessons have been learned during the pandemic, but rather to panic about what hasn’t. With the ‘Catch-Up Curriculum’ focusing on literacy and numeracy, rather than the wider ‘non-academic’ skills and experiences lost, the potentiality for a transformative approach to inclusive education is in danger of being ignored.
In order to rectify this, I would extend scholar Jasmine Ulmer’s 2017 question regarding what it means to do research in an epoch in which humans are a geological force with planetary impact, and ask what it means to educate during such “revolting times” (Fine, 2016). It is clear that, despite appearances, for the foreseeable future we cannot (and should not wish to) return to ‘normality’, regardless of governmental policy. The emergency stop that COVID-19 forced the juddering juggernaut of the British education system into should be used as a pitstop, not simply to mend the dents in chassis and to allow it to carry on its planned route, but to take apart the engine and rebuild it, so that it motors on an “enlarged sense of ethics [which] emerges when ecology and environmentalism are included in considerations of what matters and who counts” (Taylor, 2018, p. 5)”.
Bayley, A. (2018). Posthuman Pedagogies in Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. London: Polity Press.
Fine, M. (2016). Just methods in revolting times. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 13(4), 347-365. DOI: /10.1080/14780887.2016.1219800
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Liddiard, K. (2020). Surviving ableism in Covid Times. Disability and COVID-19: the global impacts. University of Sheffield, iHuman. Blog post for the University of Sheffield iHuman research collective on the impact of Covid-19 on Britain's disabled and clinically extremely vulnerable community. https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/ihuman/covid-19-blog/surviving-ableism-covid-times
Pilson, A. (2020, April 21). Covid-19 and vision impairment in Britain: a narrative of absence. Disability and COVID-19: the global impacts. University of Sheffield, iHuman. Blog post for the University of Sheffield iHuman research collective on the impact of Covid-19 on Britain's blind and visually impaired community. http://ihuman.group.shef.ac.uk/vision-impairment-in-britain/
Taylor, C. A. (2018). Each Intra-Action Matters: Towards a Posthuman Ethics for Enlarging Response-ability in Higher Education Pedagogic Practice-ings: Posthumanist, Feminist and Materialist Perspectives in Higher Education. In V. Bozalek, R. Braidotti, T. Shefer and M. Zembylas (Eds.), Socially Just Pedagogies: Posthumanist, Feminist and Materialist Perspectives in Higher Education (pp. 81-96). London: Bloomsbury.
Ulmer, J. B. (2017) Posthumanism as a research methodology: Inquiry in the Anthropocene. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 30(9), 832-848, DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2017.1336806
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