Pedagogy: A new youth engagement or social fascism?

The heading is not simply bombastic. Walter Lorenz – foremost pedagogy academic, and author of Social Work in a Changing Europe – asked:

Is social pedagogy essentially the embodiment of dominant societal interests which regard all educational projects, schools, kindergarten or adult education, as a way of taking its values to all sections of the population and of exercising more effective social control; or is social pedagogy the critical conscience of pedagogy, the thorn in the flesh of official agenda, an emancipatory programme for self-directed learning processes inside and outside the education system geared towards the transformation of society?(p. 93)

As Sunker and Otto in their book Education and Fascism. Political identity and social education in Nazi Germany noticed, social pedagogy was used by the Nazi’s as a way of social manipulation, to address and enforce their dominant ideology on to children.

But what we consider social engineering is not limited to fascist ideologies alone. Pat Petrie et al in their book Working with children in care: European perspectives note that all ‘pedagogies aim at producing a certain type of person, and a certain ideal of society’ (p. 156).

Though, of course, this is not the necessary direction of pedagogy. Paulo Freire in his great 1972 book Pedagogy of the Oppressed made the point of applying critical pedagogy – which is opposed to what he identified as the “banking” approach – an approach predicated on students being considered empty bank accounts that should remain open to deposits made by the teacher. Instead Freire promoted students to challenge the teacher, not perceiving students as blank-slates, but rather as persons with identities, peculiarities, subjectivities, and a thirst for critical dialogue.

In a series of reflections from practitioners printed by ThemPra, the University of Lincoln, and Essex County Council, example excerpts from pedagogues’ diaries show that their way of operating pedagogy is by inviting children (particularly children in care) to voice their opinons, and achieve happiness by being the authors of their own environments.

Like anything pedagogy can be abused by practitioners (the extreme of which is obviously force feeding ones own views to a child), but isn’t harnessing a child’s voice the job of a participation or advocacy worker? The DCSF, along with the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) at the Insitute of Education University of London, are running a social pedagogy pilot in London, Hampshire, Bournemouth, Dudley, Blackburn and Darwen, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Liverpool and Lancashire, as well as private and volunteer providers until 2011, as recommended in the Care Matters White Paper. But what will social pedagogy achieve? Hopefully a progressive education, influenced by best practice across Europe, however it does carry risks – namely achieving nothing at all.

In such spendthrift times, it is difficult to judge whether risks like this are worth taking and paying for, but there is no question that room should be made to promote a child’s happiness and societal awareness, and social pedagogy is one such measure in gaining this. My instinct is that if it has achieved success abroad (notibly Denmark and Germany) then it is worth implementing here, I just hope that the outcome idicators, due to be published in 2011, testify to its worth.

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