Flipping icebergs: a neo-liberal curriculum?

It feels to me like an iceberg about to tip.
Ultimately this is an argument for qualitative research into the so-called subjective realms of values, beliefs and feelings. Because, in part, I suggest it is the enclosure of the subject for the reward of a few, which is at the root of the general mess we (me? Britain? Liberalism? Society? the globe?) appear to be in (NHS crisis, austerity, higher education funding and regulation, housing, migration, cyber-security, etc).

The theoretical approach or perspective of a neo-liberal curriculum appears to be:

  • Utilitarian (idealist, ratio-driven: promoting the greatest good for the greatest number
  • Pragmatic (what works);
  • Pareto-optimal (80% of the reward or output comes from 20% of the input or effort and the remaining 20% of the output comes from 80% of the input).

Pareto optimisation ultimately determines what (or who) will be externalised from calculations of value and what is just not worth considering. Similar to a law of diminishing returns. Tacit judgements appear to be applied as weightings in favour of certain more valued or desired rewards such as income share and positional authority, which are being distributed “rationally” to an increasingly smaller number of elites in part through enclosures and exclusions.

Argument from this perspective, I suggest, is weak. It fails to define terms because “everyone” [or enough of the right people] knows what we are talking about.” But do they? Many recent innovations in teaching appear to proceed from this perspective, such as: lecture capture, electronic marking and feedback and much of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). The focus is on remediating or enhancing the unit: the individual (indivisible and embodied) teacher and student. This appears to be to the detriment of diverse connection. Connection may be damaged when the subjective is constrained.

If in some Pareto-optimal way enough people do make the same assumptions about an argument as a speaker or writer does, and at the same time general socio-economic trends appear (to around 80% of the right folk, anyway) to be upward (mostly financially), no one cares. Everyone is happy (in a Pareto-optimal sort of way). The speaker or teacher is regarded a “thought leader” or “business guru”. They publish and make a living.

But, if the trends are downward — not benefiting most of the (right/powerful) people (in a Pareto-optimal sort of way) — and I have taken only a pragmatic, utilitarian approach, then I can’t know which bit of my ill-defined theory or model didn’t work and might be the cause of the down-turn. When the excluded hit 80% and it only takes 20% to shift, and you choose the wrong 20%, the iceberg flips.

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