Review: Other Education
James Bar Bowen
This journal, launched in October 2012, hosted by the University of Stirling in Scotland has lofty ambitions. The main editors, Helen Lees and Gert Biesta, are academics in the field of education who have detected a gap in the academic education debate regarding 'difference'. Precisely what they mean by this will undoubtedly come clear as the journal takes shape and matures, but from the outset they profess to 'tell the truth' and to 'be brave and unafraid'. The education debate always needs dissenting voices, new perspectives and people who are willing to ask the difficult questions, and for offering such a forum, Other Education has to be highly commended. The language and references used in many of the papers suggest that they are thinking about the same things and support many of the same goals as Lib Ed regarding education debates. Keywords include trust, control, cooperation, democracy, ethics and so on; often referenced are Freire, Goodman, Gribble, Holt, Illich, Jegge and Neill as well as a number of postmodernist and poststructuralist writers.
As a lay person (i.e. a non-academic working in the field of education) I found my first forays into the journal by turns rewarding, informative, philosophical and sometimes confusing. The journal consists of a range of papers written by academics and non-academics alike, with no hierarchy or particular signposting to differentiate the two, but, and this is where I would offer hopefully constructive criticism, some of the papers are clearly philosophical academic treatises on such issues as the 'other' in education; others are practical discussions of issues and ideas around home education, power relationships within the classroom and without, and so on. The titles of the papers are sometimes clear about the subject matter; others are, perhaps deliberately, more obscure or poetic, hoping to draw readers in by intriguing them or posing difficult questions. However, given the range and complexity of the subject matter, as well as the number of papers included, such an approach is not useful for anyone who has specific interests within this field, and especially for someone who has limited time to read such a journal. This problem is further exacerbated by the 'abstracts' for each paper. Again, some are clear and to the point, summarising in a short paragraph what will follow. I understand the need not play your best cards in your introduction, but the role of the abstract is surely to summarise what will follow, not to vaguely hint at it, leaving the potential reader in doubt as to what will follow.
Some of the papers are entertaining and erudite, but on occasion I came away thinking 'so what?' This, I feel, was due to the fact that either I felt they were saying nothing new (which is fine, because maybe this is some people's first experience of these ideas), but more importantly that the papers did not deliver what was promised by the title or the abstract.
I hope Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives will grow and thrive in its ambitions to further the education debate in a variety of directions, particularly regarding alternatives and 'otherness'. However, I also hope that the editors will address some of the problems I have indicated above, particularly regarding signposting, focus, and clarity, as well as avoiding the pitfall of being overly academic in style and content when many of the debates need to be transparent and accessible to a much wider audience.
I would recommend this journal to academics and students of the philosophy of education, but I hope that future issues will also be of interest to and accessible to a less specialised audience – education practitioners, students, home educators and interested others. We will keep you informed!