Is it really all about the deal?

We are now truly in the post-truth era. With Brexit becoming a reality and  today’s inauguration of “the Donald”, we are also firmly in the age of ‘’the deal’.

Life, democracy, world peace, nuclear weapons, courgettes – everything we know is about doing deals.  Just how these deals will pan out remains to be seen.  Britain may be “open for business” and ready to do deals; the new US Presidency may be headed by a self proclaimed King of the deal. But from where I’m sitting I am very skeptical about both.

Deals are about about negotiation. Call me crazy, but I’m just not convinced the business aka bullying tactics of the boardroom are really appropriate for nuclear arms negotiations for example. Similarly vacuous soundbites from Mrs May do not really convince me of any strong negotiation position for the UK with the EU and the rest of the world.

But she needs to walk the deal maker walk.  The image of the deal maker is all to often associated with stereotypical (male ) power and imho bullying tactics.   More than ever the deals will spun to suit to political ends and egos.  Winning, or the perception of winning, will be all important.

So where does this leave us in education?  Will we need to embrace ‘the deal’ in new ways? What negotiation tactics can we employ to ensure our future? Consolation which is all were are really offered by governments  around any major change in our provision, structure and funding is not negotiation.

Negotiated Learning is not new, it quite rightly permeates many of our university level  programmes. Education should always be a negotiated process. Education is not about telling people what to do or what to think. Equally it can’t all be customer driven. Part of the joy of being a student is actually not knowing what you need to know. But you don’t realise that until well after you finished particularly any formal education.

Education is about providing learning environments that support engagement and foster confidence, understanding, knowledge sharing, extension and growth.  But that’s really hard to measure. It’s hard to broker a deal based on fuzzy stuff (hello TEF). Easier to tell universities, schools what they need to measure, produce some league tables, give out some medals and let the politicians do their deals.

It’s really hard to know what do write, or say today of all days, maybe this is the start of the end of days.  But I do think what we can and should do as educators is to help empower everyone in our society to articulate and understand the process of negotiation. To question bland, meaningless statements made by politicians, to demand evidence not “gut instinct”.  Most of all we can’t be silent we need to be able to bring the deal makers to task and make sure that the are constantly engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, the electorate.

I still don’t understand what the Brexit deal is for the UK – a direct result of the  failure from both sides during the referendum to engage effectively and meaningfully with the electorate.  Just now all I can see is a few people wanting more of something from the past, but leaving the rest of us with less than we had for the future.

2 thoughts on “Is it really all about the deal?

  1. An excellent post (if I may say so) Sheila. What your post has got me to think about is two quite different meaning of ‘negotiation’ in an educational context. On the one hand we have what you call “negotiated learning” which I see, particularly in HE and other adult learning, as the co-creation of knowledge by teachers and students. And I really like your sentence: “Part of the joy of being a student is actually not knowing what you need to know.” I would take this a step further by saying that part of the joy of being a teacher is actually not always knowing what you need to teach. (But don’t tell any inspectors or senior managers I said that:-) As Williams et al (2011) tell us (http://bit.ly/2jfUPKO): “Since emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event.” So much for prestipulating learning outcomes!

    The second meaning of ‘educational’ negotiation is quite different. It is very much about the idea of deal making, an activity that seems to take up an increasing amount of the time and energy of more senior and highly paid folk in education. I am sure, for example, that there was a huge amount of negotiating/deal making in preparation for the merger of UCL and the IOE a couple of years ago. And it’s interesting to consider the following headline to an article about the UCL/IOE merger, because it relates to your point about “ the image of the deal maker [being] all too often associated with stereotypical (male ) power and… bullying tactics”:

    “Merger will give top London universities added clout” (http://bit.ly/2jGUCn8)

    Surely “clout” is what male power and bullying is all about. I suggest we need less clout and more true negotiation in the world of education.

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