Applying Foucault to Education

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Though Foucault himself never wrote an extended history of the institution of education, he easily could have. Education, like the prison and sexuality, is fundamental in shaping modern western society and in its effects on subjects. Foucault refers to educational practices quite frequently in “Discipline and Punish“, pointing out similarities between penitential and educational practice. The aim of this paper is to draw out and explain some of the major theoretical insights that are useful in a Foucauldian analysis of educational institutions and practices. In particular, I will discuss observation and the Panopticon, the discipline and training of the body, including timetables, the creation of appropriate subjects and the organization of those subjects, the examination, and the creation of disciplinary knowledge based on the bodies of the educational subject drawing from “Discourse on Language”. I will conclude with a discussion of what sorts of investigations into education I might make using a Foucauldian analysis; in particular, I am interested in the phenomenon of standardized testing. Just as Foucault insisted that, since the prison is so inept at its stated goal of reforming prisoners, there must be some other goal, I focus not on education’s stated goals, but on its often-implicit actual results. In both the prison and the school, power is inscribed on the bodies of subjects to create particular sorts of subjects and produce knowledge about those subjects.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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