Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies


Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies


Article excerpt

New Zealand education continues to be impacted by change and so-called innovative practices. Recent examples include moves towards National Standards in primary schools, the introduction of charter (renamed "partnership") schools, mooted school closures in Christchurch, and TeachFirst NZ in teacher education. Most have their models in overseas practices, and are underpinned by a philosophical stance which maintains that a competitive, market-driven, and often privately funded education system is the only, and best, way forward for New Zealand's economy. In times like these our public intellectuals in education perform a more important role than ever before.

Edward Said, the renowned literary critic and public intellectual par excellence, in his fourth lecture in the series entitled "Professionals and Amateurs" (1996), asked whether there is or can be,

anything like an independent, autonomously functioning intellectual, one who is not beholden to, and therefore constrained by, his or her affiliations with universities that pay salaries, political parties that demand loyalty to the party line, think tanks that while they offer freedom to do research perhaps more subtly compromise judgement and restrain critical voice, (pp. 67-68)

He suggests that, perhaps, the most important aspect of being society's conscience lies in being open about this and engaging critically with the responsibilities that come with such an awareness. This aligns with the ongoing struggle for a measure of independent thought in neoliberal economies, especially small ones like that of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Said maintains that the space for dissent and challenge has shrunk in recent decades, and he encourages activities that are fuelled by care and affection, rather than by profit and what he calls selfish and narrow specialization:

The intellectual today ought to be an amateur, someone who considers that to be a thinking and concerned member of society one is entitled to raise moral issues at the heart of even the most technical and professionalised activity as it involves one's country, its power, its mode of interacting with its citizens as well as with other societies. In addition, the intellectual's spirit as an amateur can enter and transform the merely professional routine most of us go through into something much more lively and radical; instead of doing what one is supposed to do one can ask why one does it, who benefits from it, how can it reconnect with a personal project and original thoughts ... there is no getting around authority and power, and no getting around the intellectual's relationship to them. How does the intellectual address authority: as a professional supplicant or as its unrewarded, amateurish conscience? (pp. 82-83)

Kanu and Glor (2006) too, discuss the potential agency of amateur intellectuals. They see teaching as highly complex work, with teachers having to function in what they describe as fragmented ways - and this being caused by the requirements of the knowledge economy. Their argument is that teachers need to transform themselves into amateur intellectuals who are skeptical of political and social trends, and who raise any moral issues at the heart of technical and professional activities. According to these authors, teachers must learn to:

teach in ways they were not taught, commit to continuous learning and reflection, and work and learn both alone and in professional teams where they can raise moral questions about practice and access knowledge from the collective intelligence of the team. (p. 103)

One of the tasks of intellectuals is to stimulate debate by engaging critically with issues from a range of perspectives (Said, 1996). Kanu and Glor (2006) advocate the importance for intellectuals of an awareness of power relations, plus an ethical commitment to the "overall good".

In the light of these perspectives, it is timely and important to reflect on what is happening in New Zealand education, and what is envisaged. …

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