I hope that everyone left the conference last Saturday as invigorated as I was. It was worth all the efforts that went into from so many.
Two moments were particularly salient for me.
Early on, Michael Scroggins read a passage from Cremin that I have read many time but which struck me as if I heard if for the first time. The passage closes the section of the “definition of education” in his Public education but it goes much further. Cremin wrote:
”Everyday in every part of the world people set out to teach something to others or to study something themselves. . . They deserve a theory specifically addressed to their problems and purposes, one that will assist them to act intelligently, ever hopeful of the possibilities but fully aware of the limitations and risks that attend their efforts.”(1976:30)
I take this as further evidence that Cremin was indeed part of the movement that keeps renewing what anthropologists of education are doing. He wrote this at about the time when Ray McDermott was watching Adam and heard him say “Anybody who wants to try to make it a good day today, say ‘Aye’” (Varenne & McDermott 1998: 39). Adam did not have a good day that day, but he was “ever hopeful,” and McDermott has been looking for the theory of education that people like Adam deserve.
The other salient moment for me came during the last session when Jill Koyama talked about her research into things that fall apart—particularly policies by institutional actors (in Latour’s sense) that stresses other actors to the point that everyone involved will have very bad days. For Adam, it had been enlightened researchers attempting to undermine the grounding of intelligence testing and, in the process, making a space for the enactment of “education as race” with winners and crying legitimate losers.
Cremin was an optimist. Koyama presents herself, I’d say, as a pessimist. McDermott insists that kids (teachers, assistant principals, etc.) “make sense.”
But both Cremin and Koyama, like McDermott and all those I recruit into the “movement,” insist that we build theories that will “assist” (note the verb) people “act intelligently.” McDermott may have written “act ‘sensibly’” reminding us of course that people always make sense even when (particularly when?) their conditions are made difficult.
So, things fall apart (why-ever). As Garfinkel once put it “when you screw around, then you get instructed” (2002: 250). That is, if a cafeteria line falls apart then everyone starts working on telling everyone what they should do next so that they can make it a good day (and not have to repair what ought not to be broken so that, perhaps, more complicated matters can get repaired). The cost of that repair work is what Garfinkel was not concerned with. Nor was he quite concerned with the work of those who dis-order (why-ever again; intentions is not the issue). Not with the possibility that re-orderings (through instruction, etc.) might also producing dis-orderings (resistance, etc.).
A theory of education that may help us assist people as they educate themselves, will have to take into account these matters too and many of the papers presented at the conference are a step in that direction (as well as a demonstration indeed that data-driven research cannot possibly shed lights on these matters!),