There’s a lot of talk at the moment about open education engaging with critical perspectives. Hallelujah I say because we really do need to understand more deeply how digital and networked technologies are materially reconfiguring society and if openness is a force for good or is somehow unwittingly entangled in dishing up just another rendition of structural inequality. Or something like that.
In hasty preparation for #OER18 and participation in the #breakopen session entitled ‘Breaking open: conversations about ethics, epistemology, equity and power‘, which aims to “explore timely, perhaps uncomfortable questions”, I’ve just read back over the recent publication by Mariana Funes and Jenny Mackness, ‘When inclusion excludes: a counter narrative of open education’. It’s a fascinating article that deserves proper engagement from the open education community. In the first instance, it outlines how holding to the aspirational narrative of open education might work in a way that enables individuals to hold two contradictory opinions at the same time. That is, to acknowledge the aspirational narrative of open education whilst at the same time acknowledging that the operational norms of the internet, which configures what actually happens on the ground, might not in fact be working to break down the exclusionary practices that open education seeks to advance.
Then, drawing on the work of Haidt (2016), a further point that Funes and Mackness make is the idea that social justice, as the primary telos of open education rather than truth, might actually be inappropriate because a social justice orientation in effect advances exclusion and homogeneity.
“Well-intended individuals and groups make ‘a temple’ of this social justice/open telos, circling around it generating a polarising effect. Participants become moral magnets, grouping in the safety of echo chambers and losing the potential for diversity in their milieu.” The concern is that an all-encompassing and uncritical belief in social justice discourages diversity and inhibits individuals within the movement from engaging with sceptics, that is beliefs or opinions, sometimes objectionable ones, held by others in other areas or disciplines and thus outside the temple. For example, Marxist scholars might regard open educational practices as a form of labour or commodification of social life, whilst economic anthropologists would have something to say about sharing as an economic mode of transfer, and also, some individuals might even be of the opinion that the purpose of education is not social justice at all … or, now that I come to think of it, this position could also inhibit engagement with heretics within the movement. After all, I myself have some sympathy with these views. Any way, the long and the short of the argument is that true critique requires proper engagement with others who embody opposing worldviews. It’s not enough to tip them a nod every now and again because, as cognitive psychology research shows, individuals are prone to ‘motivated reasoning’, which means they prefer to look for confirmation of their own worldview rather than actively pursuing its disconfirmation as a validating tactic, if you see what I mean. On this point, Funes and Mackness argue that ‘institutional disconfirmation’ needs to be an aim of open education.
They conclude by saying “our belief, as scholars, is that more crital voices that embody opposing views from the outside and within a discipline are needed if we are to realise the early aspirations of digital networks for a more open, democratic, education”. Yes ladies, I wholeheartedly agree, and I hope I have done justice to the argument you present and the sentiment with which it was intended, but, like I said, I’m doing a bit of hasty preparation/ reflection. Any way, I’m looking forward to the discussion and to seeing how things develop. It’s intended that the conversation is continued next week at OE Global as well.