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Gert Biesta never disappoints. This work is the fourth instalment in his monograph trilogy on education – and if that sounds counterintuitive, so be it, because his work is always refreshingly counterintuitive. The book sets itself the task of defining teaching in ways that are not predetermined by the current discourse of neoliberal education that fetishes the notion of ‘learning’ and erodes the authority and wisdom of the teacher. Biesta draws on the work of Arendt, Levinas, Friere and Ranciere to give philosophical heft to his case for the teacher as a person who ‘calls forth the subject-ness of the student by interrupting its egocentrism, its being-with-itself and for-itself’ (p. 56). The teacher is thus a crucial figure in the educational relationship who seeks the student’s ‘grown-up-ness’ as a ‘subject’ in the world (pp. 8-9). Biesta refuses the current, seductive paradigm that argues we must reject the teacher as a control freak in favour of celebrating the student as a free agent: he argues this is a false binary that sells teacher and student short. He concludes with the notion of ‘dissensus’ (drawn from Ranciere) as ‘a teacherly gesture’ because it is ‘a way of asking the impossible from the child or student if, that is, we do not think of the impossible as what is not possible but rather conceive of it, following Derrida, as that which cannot be foreseen as a possibility, cannot be calculated or predicted from the here and now’ (pp. 83-84). We need more books like this that offer us theories of teaching and learning to consider that lie outside the rhetorics of measurement and student satisfaction.
Ben Williamson’s book on the digitisation and datafication of the education sector is an early example of what is already becoming an avalanche of books in this field. It is essential reading for those who want a scholarly and confronting introduction to how business and data are changing the face of teaching and learning. Williamson guides the reader through the new ‘data imaginaries’ that are reshaping education. He clarifies the roles of software, code, algorithm and machine learning in the evolution of formal education under the influence of private industry. He describes the rhetorics of personalised learning, predictive analytics, efficiency, solutionism, consumer choice and bio-pedagogy as part of a complex blend of regulatory authorities, corporations and government departments. The interrelationships of personnel and visionary and economic agendas from Google, IBM (and Watson), Pearson (and Learning Curve and Knewton), Edtech, AltSchool, PISA, OECD, MySchool and ClassDojo are just part of the fabric of the new data imaginaries that are intent on reshaping the sector. This is a book not to be missed for those who want insight into the current and emerging forms and ideologies of education.
Gary Watt, Shakespeare's Acts of Will: Law, Testament and Properties of Performance, (Bloomsbury, 2016).
As we see in plays like The Merchant of Venice – and more generally in today’s incessant popularisation of legal TV drama – the performance of law is inevitably theatrical. This book homes in on the relationship between Shakespearean drama and the performance of will. Gary Watt is ‘concerned with the cultural practices – and specifically the creative practices – that connect theatre to law and connect both theatre and law to the wider world of the witnessing public’ (p. 2). The book takes into account a bigger, ‘imaginative dimension’ of law, which ‘expresses substantial matters of justice and order in practical forms and in creative performances that are open to communal participation’ (p. 181). Shakespeare’s Acts of Will is quite an ambitious monograph as it seeks to encompass not only a focus on the performativity of law, but its manifestation in twenty-first century performance, as well as what the author refers to as the ‘materiality’ of performance, in addition to a focus on the tension between tradition and trade, and passing reflections on Shakespeare himself. Because of this, at times the chapters can seem to digress between these several points, and require the reader’s close attention. The interspersing of the analysis with analysis of modern performances at times felt slightly jarring, however the author’s legal expertise provides for some fascinating insights into early modern law and theatre. Read the full review here.
James Shapiro, The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 (Simon and Schuster, 2015).
Gert Biesta, The Beautiful Risk of Education (Paradigm, 2014).
For those interested in the philosophy of education in a modern context this new book from Gert Biesta is a must read. The bite-size chapters explore a series of evocative themes – creativity, communication, teaching, learning, emancipation, democracy, and virtuosity – in a style that is lucid and yet theoretically subtle. The book contributes strongly to current discussions of subjectivity, risk and weakness in education. Once you’ve read Beautiful Risk, you might want to take a look at Tyson E. Lewis’ thought-provoking review in Educational Theory 64.3 (2014). Lewis responds to Biesta by setting in play some important issues relating to the ‘weakness’ of education, aesthetics and educational philosophizing.
Matt Copeland, Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking in Middle and High School (Stenhouse Publishers, 2005).
This book was published in 2005 but remains a blissfully clear introduction and practical guide to ‘socratic circles’ in the classroom. It includes illuminating examples of student discussions and templates for assessment and reflection. A virtue of the book is its readability and comprehensiveness arising from an author who is speaking from years of experience in running ‘socratic circles.’
Scott Camazine, Jean-Louis Deneubourg, Nigel R. Franks, James Sneyd, Guy Theraulaz, Eric Bonabeau, Self-Organisation in Biological Systems (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001).
This book forms part of the Princeton Studies in Complexity series, and is a refreshingly clear and engaging treatment of the phenomenon of self-organisation (which they define as: "a process in which pattern at the global level of a system emerges solely from numerous interactions among the lower-level components of the system" - p.8). The book is divided into two useful sections: Part I explores the theoretical underpinnings of this complexivist approach to biological systems, while Part II looks at the systems themselves, from fireflies to termites. This is a superb exploration of the potential of complexity theory, and will prove fascinating for anyone interested in understanding how our natural world works.
Fiona Ritchie, Women and Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2014).