Is the death of the teacher (in Norway) inevitable?
Over the last few years I have come to the realisation that the Norwegian education system is potentially one of the last remaining bastions of safety for teachers. Its system still places teacher autonomy and professionalism at its core. In this post apocalyptic (or neoliberalism) educational world we live in, Norway’s education system is the educational equivalent of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings, Zion in the Matrix, or even Narva in the year 1700 as the Swedes defended against the Russians with odds of 4-1. Many of Norway’s neighbours have fallen to the allure of neoliberalism, even Norway’s eternal ally Storbritannia has succumbed to the rise of this ideology, with its education system on its knees. The impact of such an approach to education is best summed up by Evers and Kneyber in their book Flip the System:
“It is clear that the neoliberal shift in reform has led, in a more postmodern sense, to the death of the teacher (Biesta 2013): the death of the very idea that a teacher has something to contribute, the very idea that the teacher has a meaningful voice in regard to his work, to what he wants to achieve through his work, and by which means he achieves it. Although it is a common and oft-cited belief that the quality of a system is determined by its teachers, that particular belief is of no benefit to teachers. In the neoliberal perspective, the teacher is viewed as a trained monkey, and it is simply a question finding the right stick to beat him with, or the right brand of peanuts, to make him do the desired dance in front of the audience. The teacher is no longer viewed as a professional...So clearly the old days where teachers decide on matters of curriculum, and delivery without any kind of accountability, are over. By and large, through neoliberal reform teachers’ professional identities have been monopolized in many countries by aspects of managerial professionalism.”
My worry is that in some quarters of the Norwegian education system there is an attitude of why fix it if it ain’t broken; such carelessness and complacency will ultimately lead to the downfall of a system that should be nurtured and improved. Let’s assume that the system has its flaws and requires reviewing and improving, who should be responsible for this? Again, my worry is that rather than lead this improvement, some teachers will employ a protectionism mentality underlined by an air of stubbornness: “You can’t make us!” Such a mindset will (in my opinion) only undermine the professional standing of teachers, and deepen the resolve and determination of politicians and administrators to change to a top down profession rather than a bottom up profession leading to the demise of teacher autonomy.
Having autonomy means having a responsibility to take ownership of the profession so that teachers can call it so. Teachers need to challenge the rise of government involvement and administration expertise by continuing to upskill and develop teacher expertise. This needs to be self motivated, purposeful, with a renewed mindset about what it means to be a professional. Professionals in such professions as medicine, engineering, architecture and law seek to constantly improve their knowledge, and the application of such knowledge. If teachers are not viewed in such regard by politicians, and the public, then the future is bleak. But if teachers do not hold this view of themselves then the future is inevitable; the death of the teacher.
For further information on neoliberalism and its impact on education I suggest you read Flip the System. Furthermore, a number of the contributors to the book are presenting at the researchEd Conference in Oslo on the 22nd April, further information can be found here.