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The Social Justice Philosophy

In The Conversation Issue 4, I interviewed Sara Davey, CEO of the Leading Edge Academies Partnership. (The full interview can be heard on the YouTube Channel, or on the Podcast page of this website.) One of the things we discussed was her philosophy of education that underpins the values of the MAT.

The first idea is that of the enlightenment, human flourishing. Schools should be a place where students are given opportunities to become more fully human, to realise their potential, develop their passions, appreciate music, art, literature, and all things that we might decide make one more fully human. But she argues that this is not enough. What really needs to happen is the development and transformation of communities leading to whole-scale social justice. It is not a necessary corollary that social justice and community transformation occur as a result of schools producing enlightened individuals but certainly that could not happen without first allowing students to flourish.

Whilst I might later discuss these ideas and other philosophies of education, what I really wanted to do here was explore a question that sprang to mind as I listened back to the conversation with Sara.

If the vision and values of a school or MAT like the Leading Edge Academies Partnership, are based on social justice and a desire to see communities transformed; how does a school achieve that aim?

The first part of this complex problem may be to look at how widely spread the philosophical vision is amongst the staff. In my experience of 20 years of teaching in 4 different schools I cannot recall a time when the philosophy of education was discussed or even mentioned in a whole staff context. More often than not, complex ideas and philosophies that underpin the vision and values of a school are reduced to epithets or slogans or alliterative lists. Do staff even recognise the intellectual foundation, which one hopes is rigorous, that underlies such necessarily reductive headlines? One of the aims of The Conversation project is to provide space for this kind of talk. Education is an intellectual profession, not just in terms of pedagogy, but also in terms of the philosophy of purpose giving rise to the curriculum and its intent, implementation and impact. Whilst I recognise the necessity of reductive mission statements, I think it is essential that staff are fully cognisant of the intellectual basis of them, even being a part of the discussions to create them. This is easier said than done in schools.

The second issue is related to how the philosophical values of a school are then implemented throughout the curriculum. Margaret Wheatley talks of organisations being fractal. Each small component of a school bears the characteristics of the organisation. This means that every interaction every relationship, every lesson, every meeting, every assembly will reveal the actual values of the school. What we must ensure then is that the vision and values are so embedded in the culture and intellectual framework of staff and students that each fractal bears the hallmarks of the philosophy of enlightenment and social justice. Without suitable consideration of first engaging staff with the intellectual basis of a school's vision and value system you could hardly expect to see them modelled in every relationship, interaction and lesson.

The third point of consideration would be to ask how a school would see the impact of its vision in the community which it serves. What would social justice arising from enlightened, flourishing humans produced by schools look like for the community? It seems to me that this is another question that is easier posed than answered. But if schools could recognise and celebrate instances of this, they would model for current students a future to look forward to.

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