In many EU countries, the pandemics has represented a window of opportunity for the (re)emergence of a distinctive problematization of the 20th Century school form in the public and policy debate. Such a problematization challenges the basic assumptions of the mode of existence of the school as a gathering and establishes the digital as the ‘magic’ to remake education.
The digital is part of a powerful emergence of a discourse of school reform that articulates itself on:
- a form of technological determinism, which attributes to digital technologies the power (and right) to shape teaching and learning and align them to the needs of contemporary societies;
- a subtle and pervasive discourse of newness, which delegitimizes the existent and invites to think change as radical discontinuity;
- a mechanics and disruptive conception of innovation, that identifies in the massive introduction of digital technologies the necessary ‘shock’ to modernize a school form which is assumed to be out of time and ineffective.
The pervasiveness of such a discourse has been paralleled by an acceleration in the digitalization of education. Schools, teachers and students are connecting themselves to a variegated ensemble of digital technologies and platforms that are re-infrastructuring the classroom-centred education. The technologically-determinist discourse of school reform is making such an acceleration possible and offering the tools for making sense of it. Related to that, the pandemic can be interpreted also as a global educational experiment that allowed the production of a unprecedent amount of data on the functioning of online teaching and learning, that will be used to make evaluative judgements on the quality, effectiveness and advantages of online teaching and learning.
Within this historical contingency, we make a claim for a critical and affirmative public sociology of digital schooling that contributed to the emergence of a counter-problematization of the mode of existence of contemporary school. A key move for us is to create a discursive space for enrolling public institutions, multi-disciplinary expertise and the education profession in a socially emancipative and neo-communitarian project of school reform that included the digital as one transformative educational force among others.
A critical and affirmative sociological point of view could give the following contributions to the emergence of such a reform agenda:
- bringing to the public debate an idea of the school and schooling as assemblage, a contingent gathering of epistemic, technical and ethical elements (architectures; devices for organizing space and time; educational techniques and ethics; management and surveillance practices; pedagogical relationships; administrative and evaluative procedures) put together under historical circumstances. Such an idea invites to think the digital as an heterogeneous set of epistemic, technical and ethical elements contributing relationally to the educational re-configuration of the school;
- overcoming binary oppositions and a dualistic mode of thinking (e.g. tradition vs innovation; digital vs analogic; techno-enthusiasts vs apocalyptics) and adopt a generalized critical and affirmative standpoint. This standpoint would imply, in our view, an experimental engagement with change, that works at the limits of contemporary school and schooling and opens up a realm of educational inquiry. Such an inquiry puts the digital (as one element of educational configurations) to a test of reality and grasp the points where educational change is possible and desirable, determining the precise form that this change could take. It would be part of a collective and multi-perspectival reconsideration of our educational, political and ethical relation to the actually existing school system;
- supporting the adoption of a participatory and dispersed model of innovation that opens the space for the collective construction of an education-centred, socially emancipative and neo-communitarian project of school reform. This project should include the digital as one transformative force among others, positioning and understanding it within an historically-situated game of continuities and discontinuities between the curricular, pedagogical, evaluative and ethico-political elements that constitute the school and schooling.
What a critical and affirmative public sociology of digital schooling would work for, in sum, is the emergence of a multi-disciplinary collaboration and participatory action research that brings together educational and professional communities with expertise from complementary disciplines in a process of school-making whose standpoint is the care and promotion of the educational.
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Affiliation of the authors: University of Naples Federico II/L@b-ed and IRPPS-CNR/L@b-ed.