Education in the time of postmodernity or the ephemeral
Kalliopi Economou, Special Educator, Msc Special Education
Modern people in the time of the fourth industrial revolution are called – according to the new economic, social and scientific developments of postmodernity – to shape the world in a complicated and multifarious political, social, economic and cultural reality. The processes that take place are multifaceted and elusive as the absolute truths are now relative and as a result the "grand narrations", the universal and global truths have come to be questioned and distrusted (Lyotard, 1979). Treading the social landscape of this fluid, rapid and multidimensional path to postmodernity through a polyphonic reality full of nullifications – with the decentralization of the gendered subject, the existential fragmentation, the sense of loss of place, the homogeneous mass culture (because of globalization), the emphasis on the surface, the eradication of cultural hierarchies – appears to be difficult (Giddens, 2014). The new, promising technological present does not guarantee the elucidation of this path.
Education tends to lose its old, classic, educational-pedagogical character, as shaped during the period of Modernism, during the dominance of the bourgeois ideal and the movement of Enlightenment, when science played a prominent role in the production of real knowledge and the propulsion of progress and was linked to the processes of rationalization and objectivity. Reason which leads to scientific knowledge will liberate humans and allow them, as an individual and collective subject, to be emancipated, to foresee, control and dominate nature and the arbitrariness of any authority, through the development of patterns of social constitution, which will assist their world (Harvey, 2007). These conceptions of postmodernity were expressed through school education (since school is an expression of a collective will to transmit knowledge, skills and attitudes), which undertook the task of delivering the modernistic vision, ensuring equality, education for all, (mass public education), respect of the rights and liberties of the individual, prosperity, cultivation of democratic ethos and social mobility.
However, this rationalization of knowledge, the development and progress of sciences that aimed at liberation, emancipation and transition to adulthood, facilitated our lives, but did not produce mature adults, as Reason was perceived as mandates of authorities and the dominant production system (Foucault, 1988). Education was connected to the market’s needs, functional efficiency, instrumental logic as well as to the orders of economical development in a rapidly growing industrial-technological society. Technological rationalization was dismissed as rationalization of sovereignty (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1986). The triptych Knowledge-Science-Progress is being challenged. The educational vision of human liberation is altered, and distorted values emerge where effectiveness is viewed as prosperity, uniformity as equality, and competitiveness as individual development. The faith in a unique truth of science fades. Knowledge becomes depersonalized, deconsecrated and is converted to a set of measurable abilities and skills without meaning (Tsafos, 2014).
Postmodernity comes clearly to the forefront at the end of 20th and the beginning of 21st century (Harvey, 2007) bearing the main characteristic of contention of reason, progress, and certitude. Its social and economical point of view is connected to the globalization of culture, the transformation of productive society to consumer society, the restriction of national sovereignty and the flexible ways of capital accumulation. It is also expressed by an explosive growth of technology and, especially, with the possibilities of production and dissemination of information, beyond any restrictions that national borders and time mediations pose (Αsimaki, Koustourakis & Kamarianos, 2011). The value of the circular or basic education is diminishing, information is not transformed into solid and founded knowledge but into fragmented training, in an increasingly fluid and competitive international environment. The fragmentation of cognitive subjects is not merely the result of scientific development and the accumulation of knowledge that has taken place over the years but the result of the fact that science, in the post-modern age, requires less and less the interpretation of facts and data through integrated systems of logically formulated sentences. These trends are also reflected in education.
The effort to adapt educational systems to the demands of the economy and the market results in the view of knowledge as mastering instrumental skills and incredible specializations, which aim at the productive process. Emphasis is placed on education that will serve mainly economical and individual objectives. Knowledge ceases to be defined by criteria of its humanitarian value and its importance for the cultivation of the human mind and spirit, but based on its utilitarian and self-serving dimension. Effectiveness, competition, productivity, liberal individuality, the ephemeral, dominate the scene. Such notions of knowledge do not require or seek to construct holistic views, theories, and systems of thought, but exacerbate confusion and agnosticism. They limit the possibilities of constructing collective social subjects and social goals, and of distinguishing the important from the insignificant, the primary from the secondary, cause from effect. They contribute to the creation of semi-educated individuals (Adorno, 2000), free from collective value commitments and proposals, unable to critically and creatively approach their collective past and to give meaning to the modern world, so as to design a better future as active subjects. Everything is considered equal, equivalent and exchangeable.
The dominance of such a technique, free from moral and value burdens of times past, is fully intertwined with the goal of mass production of materials and consumer goods, while at the same time the individual becomes a sensual collector in order to consume a variety of products and services which are produced unceasingly thanks to the unprecedented potential of technology (Bauman, 2002). Consumerism has nothing to do with the desire to own more and more objects, but with the seduction and excitement caused by the possibility of a new unprecedented sensation: Consumers are collectors of sensations. The transition from the domination of production to the domination of consumption turns man into a collector of experiences that stimulate his senses. People's life strategies are no longer about a long-term goal but about gathering as much individual experience as possible (Baudrillard, 1994).
Jurgen Habermas considers postmodern radical critiques and approaches of reason as inherently weak. He acknowledges the existence of many narratives in today's world, but at the same time he argues that the proposals of Modernity (development of objective science, universal ethics, law and art), have marked the progress of man and still have a long way to go. He suggests to retain them and to learn from mistakes, as the universality and objectivity of knowledge can lead man to just institutions and happiness (Habermas, 1993).
Man, under the influence of these perceptions, is called to redefine his existence, to connect this variety of different knowledge and information, to reflect on the journey of his action and to make it meaningful, taking into account this complex socio-economic reality. To move from individualism and technocratic procedural perception to interaction, collective effort, reflection and synthesis of views, not in a technocratic or procedural manner, but with respect for the cognitive, emotional and socio-economic status of the "Other". Understanding and knowing the other person, requires knowledge of our own personal biography and the elements of shaping our thoughts and attitudes towards learning, the self-perception of emotions that arise but also the ability to empathize with the other person, the fellow human being.
For people working in and for Education and the field of Special Education, to assist this effort, it is necessary to understand the processes that take place and to reflect on a more functional, effective way of producing, distributing, classifying and transmitting knowledge, integrating the "old" with the " new". It is also useful to take advantage of individual-centered views of the postmodern (Syriopoulou-Delli, 2003) and to combine them with a social and moral collectivity for the benefit of mankind.
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