Bourdieusian argument about being literate- FUNCTIONAL SKILLS

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Bourdieusian argument about being literate- FUNCTIONAL SKILLS
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  Graeme Athey- University of Bath 1 | Page  To be, or not to be ‘functional’   that is the question - a Bourdieusian argument about being literate. In this paper, I suggest that until we review the intricate relationship between language, cultural identity and status in relation to the processes used to assess competency or indeed functionality; literacy education in the Further Education sector will never move beyond being anything other than learning by rote and recall. In showing this to be the case, I put forward that the current pedagogy for literacy education is tantamount to an abuse of power in relation to conferred status and capacity as a result of reproduction in society. This proposal reflects the theoretical framework of Bourdieu and Passeron (1977; 1990 ) who propose ‘  All pedagogic action is, objectively, symbolic violence insofar as it is the imposition of a cultural arbitrary by an arbitrary power  ’   (p.5). This suggestion underpins the central argument of this paper, which I express as follows: 1.    Any endeavour to impose processes of social order, such as ‘literacy’ resulting in being conferred literate represents an imposition of symbolic violence. Further, the process misappropriates the multi-faceted nature of context, situation and nature of linguistic repertoires or competence. 2.    Attempting to measure, assess or bestow the label of ‘literate’ or ‘functional’ fails to take into account the inherent difficulties in measuring any individual’s language ability in an educational establishment. Bourdieu and Passeron (1990) depict education as a process of inculcation. They extend this belief with the suggestion that any attempt to produce correct (i.e. literate) reproduction is an example of a tacit imposition of authority. Furthermore, notions of right and wrong forms of language explained later in this paper as the centre on which to base these assumptions of what constitutes being literate only further the imposition.  Graeme Athey- University of Bath 2 | Page  To further develop this proposition I draw upon the works of Dewey (1938; 1997) to reinforce the suggestion that the very nature of literacy education, more importantly the challenges of assessing such an education, have not changed despite numerous reforms to British education in the last century. The following summarises an inherent concern regarding the missed opportunity to review and develop our understanding and application of education rather than facilitating (or reproducing) what has gone before. ‘The subject matter of education consists of bodies of information and of skills that have been worked out in the past; therefore the chief business of the school is to transmit them to the new generation.’ Dewey, J. (1997; p.17) This paper will take an abridged journey through British literacy education arriving at the latest reforms pioneering Functional Skills qualifications. In addition, it will highlight the inaccurate assumption that by mastering the conventions of language use in an educational field does not confer fluency. Further, that the nature of assessing such competence is contradictory to the understandings of fluency and functionality, which engender a capacity to adapt and manipulate language-use to fit situations and experiences rather than by arbitrarily measuring competence in isolation which fails to account for such skill. The final section of this paper will discuss a wider understanding of functionality by exploring the notion of multimodality as a lens by which to review the current pedagogy for literacy education and develop proposals for literacy education in the 21 st  century. So, how did we get here? Despite many reforms to education, there stills remains a group of people for whom the system does not fit. Despite GCSE achievement, improving year on year there remain young people labelled as illiterate who are unable to meet the exacting standards or outcomes of educational assessment and testing.  Graeme Athey- University of Bath 3 | Page  The 14-19 Reform came into statute in 2005 extolling the importance of functional literacy with its key focus being on functionality and transferability of skills beyond education into the economic employment arena. The following from the Secondary Education website provides an example of such an invective. “  The teaching and learning of Functional Skills encourages and develops what young people need to succeed in the workplace and everyday life. They also provide a good basis for those going on to further and higher education. ”    www.seced.co.uk  In attempting to try and contextualise the importance placed on this reform I refer to the Times Educational Supplement in which the author summates their comprehension of the impact of such revision. "The 14-19 diploma is the most radical education reform since the abolition of O-levels and creation of the national curriculum."    30 March 2007, Times Educational Supplement  This marked departure from literary appreciation seems tenable until you begin to consider how, we as educators measure achievement, competency and functionality. Traditionally literacy education inhabits two arenas: literature   crudely put, being an appreciation of written texts and an exploration into sub plot and character development and its counterpart being language  , focusing on grammar, punctuation, spelling, and a person’s capacity to use language by following its conventions in speaking and listening, reading and writing. Literacy in the form of Functional Skills, replace the previous arenas of literacy education by aiming to provide transferability and real-life contextualised functionality. This is a departure from traditional understandings of literacy education. The solution isn’t as simple as  providing supposed opportunities for contextual, real-life learning opportunities and opens up discussions regarding what is considered and qualifies as functional and how do we measure or assess these skills and competences as educators?  Graeme Athey- University of Bath 4 | Page  This conversation seeks us to challenge further the continuing assumptions that equate literary competence with status and to question what being functional means. I seek to strengthen a belief that literacy and literacy education (relating to assessment and practice) need updating to reflect the social context of the 21 st  century. I would like to draw attention to the impact of the New Literacy Studies (NLS) (Gee, 1991; Street 1993a; 1993b; 1993c;1995) and in particular the advancements made by Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001; 2010) concerning ‘Multimodality’ as a mechanism, with  which to frame the overdue update of the pedagogy surrounding 21 st  century FE literacy education. Street et al (date) suggest the study of language and literacy be contextualised to social practice rather than a discrete set of skills imparted through education.  A particular focus of the work of the NLS was to consider the implication of context on language use and the inherent differences of varying social groups and situations. This basic tenet underpins the shift in considering language as dialogic. This conversely highlights the artificiality of enforced language use and assessment in socially constructed situations such as scenario-based examinations, a point discussed later in this paper. They do however, recognise a distinction between previous considerations of language education but differentiate these as: ‘autonomous’ which accounts for a consequential understanding of a literacy that defines how we decode situations and ‘ideological’ recognising deeply entrenched discourses such as power and identity that evolve and change in response to meanings, definition and boundaries. This polarity reminds us that the very nature of being literate is socially constructed so therefore with some objectivity we should be able broaden or review the ideologies that surround its status and arbitrary conflation with social capacity. The NLS proposes that greater relations are made between the knowledge and skills of the young people involved in literacy education and that a more dialogic understanding of literacy and more importantly the notion of social literacy; which still  Graeme Athey- University of Bath 5 | Page  seem to be buzz words in the proposals of current Government reform despite almost a decade having passed. The problem we encounter here is that ‘correct’   or ‘proper’   English practice is so deeply entrenched in history that an established  ‘norm’ has become accepted and fixed whilst the social use has evolved over time. Here we witness an archaic system that seems to have permeated the very heart of Britain and to attempt to review or update its function and use somehow compromises social identify and pride. Dewey (1938) makes this point in the 1930s when he suggests that education in Britain is taught as a finished product, thus negating the time and context when these ideals were constructed. There seems to be little account for the distance travelled in the last seventy years and the impact of the advancements in knowledge and technology. This intransigent process must be unravelled and indeed, there have been attempts to do so but what seems peculiar is that throughout the last century major government intervention and policy aimed to review, modernise and further develop literacy and literacy education. However, in practice the empty words and promises somehow seemed to stimulate a seesaw between policy and practice with little actually changing. Today we are still in flux regarding the development of a truly learner and progression-centred approach to literacy that will provide people with a broad skills-base allowing them to manipulate, transfer and apply their proficiency to wider contexts. Literacy as mechanism-Historical and political perspective on literacy education In order to cross-examine the alleged progress made in the nature of literacy education and furthermore the notion of being literate, it is important for us to consider key policies and acts that assisted in the construction of this literacy education landscape. The 1870 Elementary Education  Act instigated free education for all 5-12 year olds. The premise was largely group-based and consisted of copy- writing and mainly what would now be described as ‘chalk and talk’   (or rote and
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