Educational Futures: Dominant and Contesting Visions, London, Routledge, 2005
Two central propositions are put forward in this wlecome addition to the Routledge Futures in Education series. First that there are ‘foundational problems in the Western project of expansion and technologism’ and second that failing to explore real alternatives ‘puts humanity at risk’. Both are entirely reasonable. Put positively, the detailed exploration of such alternatives opens up new options for education.
The author begins by defining a research framework, reviewing the historical futures context and considering historical futures discourses in education. She then moves on to consider ways in which current educational discourses, particularly the ‘globalisation discourse’ and the ‘information technology revolution’ support currently hegemonic views of education. Given their current dominance, these are entirely appropriate foci for critique. This is important work for at least two reasons. First, it is vital to understand why current educational theory and practice occur in a diminished frame within which there are few real choices and from which there often appears no credible escape. Second, because work of this kind provides a rationale for the exploration of different ways of conceiving education. The substance of the book lies in the way it illuminates the nature of these dilemmas and the reality, or ‘oppositional potential’ it bestows upon currently under-regarded alternatives.
Three such alternatives to the mainstream hegemonic discourse are examined. These are the feminist alternative, the recovery of indigenous alternatives and, finally, spiritual education. Each is covered thoroughly. The author’s sensitivity to aspects of the indigenous account that she identifies as being inaccessible to those outside such traditions is particularly impressive. Nor does rhetoric intrude on this long and painstaking examination of ‘different ways of knowing’. The author, throughout, maintains an admirable objectivity, while also being clear about her own views and positions. She is also willing, at times, to take issue with substantive sources and this enhances the authority of the text. In other words, she is not merely taking material at face value. She considers all sources with a combination of sympathy and discrimination.
There is no doubt that this book is a valuable contribution to knowledge. Critical futures thinking, in-depth analysis of taken-for-granted assumptions, and a vastly expanded sense of possibility that emerges, are almost completely absent from conventional educational thinking, discourse and action. But this book makes it abundantly clear why current approaches are fundamentally unhelpful in the context of serious global and civilisational concerns and, equally, why other perspectives are needed to ‘open up’ the futures domain to new horizons of possibility.
It is the author’s humanity, as much as her intellectual prowess, however, that impresses one. The continued intelligent assertion of such humanity in the face of so many powerful, but abstract and destabilising forces in the world is absolutely vital. In short, this is a substantive, original and welcome book. The ideas it contains should be considered in depth – and then acted upon – by educators across the board.