Why do we need to know things? In their article, ‘Exploring the Complex Interaction Between Governance and Knowledge Education’, Mihály Fazekas and Tracey Burns point out the varying ways in which ‘knowledge’ and ‘governance’ are inter-related through education and educational policy. Firstly, and most obviously, knowledge, which Fazekas and Burns term as ‘understanding’ and application of ‘information/data’, is necessary for any policy-making processes. These policy-making processes happen off the back of ‘worldviews’, putting into play beliefs, paradigms, and ‘epistemic communities’–indicating that governance happens not only with and through knowledge, but as knowledge. Basically put:
Policy beliefs, paradigms or worldviews as specific forms of knowledge are powerful mediums of governance. They not only define policy subsystems, groups of policy makers such as advocacy coalitions, issue networks, or epistemic communities, they also limit the range of alternatives and types of knowledge that policy makers are willing to consider. (p.16)
Educational policy tells us not only what we need to know but, and arguably primarily, how we need to reflect upon that knowledge. Policy tells us how we will know the things we know. Policy tells us that we will know ‘things’. Learning for exams is a policy-structured way of knowing, as is holding a strip of magnesium over a bunsen burner or learning a poem by heart.
If we think of knowledge as ‘data’ or ‘understanding’, or ‘information’ that we process, use, apply and question, then we have to see this reflexive perspective on ‘knowledge’ as situating our learning within a specific framework of policies about learning and knowledge as process, use, application and questioning. This is where the discussion of knowledge becomes self-interrogative. The idea of ‘knowledge’ as the catch-all for processes such as those described above must itself be seen as the product of educational policy. That is, the very idea that we have ‘knowledge’ and that we use and apply and question this thing that we can possess, is itself a policy belief, a paradigm and a worldview.
Policy is hence a mode of knowledge production and knowledge production (ie, education) is a mode of governance. Stephen J. Ball picks up on these issues in his work on the emergence of the modern state and the construction of modern education. Education as he sees it is a key vehicle of the modern state, used since the nineteenth-century to manage populations, to make citizens, and to instate order, control and discipline. The funding of education, as mentioned in a previous post, is a route to controlling education–and in this respect the funds allocated to education must be seen as mediating the governance over a state’s population. Similarly, the performative turn toward ‘quality’ and ‘standards’ in education highlights the profiteering possibilities opened up by financial governance of knowledge production. If control is executed through money, then financial competitiveness and capital gain can become a necessary fallout or playing field of educational institutions that are re-centred around (because squeezed, sapped and bullied…) economically.
This re-centring is where it get really interesting. Because ‘Trump pedagogy’–the neo-fascist rhetoric of the far-right– changes all of this. In the lead up to his election and in subsequent reflections upon his success, writer Tad Tietze identified Trump as an ‘anti-politician’. Tietze suggests that we can unravel ‘the Trump paradox’ by seeing Trump as a politician who rides the wave of political discontent that has followed the 2008 crash; openly slating politicians, politics, and political institutions. In this respect, Trump vocalises an overlapping rhetoric of political discontent with Nigel Farage and those who, in the lead up the disastrous EU referendum in the UK, mocked ‘experts’ and ‘the establishment’. Tietze accounts Trump’s ‘anti-politics’ as the reason for his election. We have to be careful not to overstate this case. As Bill Crane was to later write, we must be careful not to allow ‘anti-politics’ to eclipse Trump’s otherwise transparent moves to populate the white house with recognised white supremacists.
Yet, the idea of Trump pedagogy as anti-politics has a distinct effect on the perceived relationship between knowledge and governance. The idea that neo-fascism has been successful thanks to its self-presentation as an anti-political, anti-expert, anti-knowledge movement, suggests that the seemingly secure hegemony of knowing as a secured and securing act of understanding information and data, is becoming dislodged by a hegemonic shift toward not-knowing and not-understanding. Anti-knowledge is in the UK and the States the majority voted dominant discourse of knowledge production. Anti-knowledge is the majority voted driver of policy decisions, policy beliefs and worldviews. Anti-knowledge is the new knowledge.
The question with which I opened, ‘Why do we need to know things?’, hinges upon the benefits of ‘appropriately’ engaging with and ‘appropriately’ benefitting from social processes of knowledge production, from education. The question remains somewhat unanswered, but perhaps it is irrelevant. With the rise of neo-fascist movements that present racist and bigoted politics as ‘anti-politics’, the question of why we need to know things has modulated into a new form, hastened in by these political movements. The question in the age of Trump is… ‘Why do we need to not know things?’
That is: What social possibilities are promised to those who engage with processes of anti-knowledge production, with processes of knowledge desiccation? What knowledge is marginalised by these exclusionary processes of anti-knowledge production? And how is this re-centring of the Western world, around anti-knowledge, going to affect the previous knowledge-centred policies that shape primary, secondary, further and higher educational establishments and institutions?
Fazekas, M. and T. Burns (2012), “Exploring the Complex Interaction Between Governance and Knowledge in Education”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 67, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k9flcx2l340-en
Stephen J. Ball,