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complexity theory (1)

Jennifer Gidley is a futurist-educator of the highest calibre as a thinker and with great experience in educational alternatives and critique of education systems that are largely a couple of hundred years out-of-date with the challenges young people face in the early 21st century. I agree and applaud so much of what she has offered over the years, including her latest book Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (2017).

That said, my brief book review here is going to focus on what I think are major flaws in her philosophy of education, her use of Integral Theory, and developmental psychology discourse in general. The quickest way to say my critique in a nutshell is: Gidley is a political liberalist and it influences most every interpretation of education, of Integral Theory (e.g., of Ken Wilber's work) and of developmental psychology and evolution I read in her work. In other words, she is so enthralled with cognitive development of the higher orders (e.g., vision-logic, postformalism, fifth-order thinking) to analyze and solve the world's problems, she ends up not very radical at all. I find her quite a liberal thinker. I also find this true of Integral Circles and Schools of thought today, most everywhere. They are "gutted" for consumer culture (i.e., marketability) not so much for radical pursuit of the "truth" and liberation. Sure, she is critical of neoliberalism and its take-over of much of education today. Good. But it is not a very sophisticated critique or a good ideological and political critique (using critical theory) as background context for how she pursues educational philosophy and postformalism in general. I like Kincheloe & Steinberg's views of postformalism somewhat better in terms of critical and radical perspectives [1].

So, I am disappointed again in an integral book on education, that is supposed to be for the betterment of future generations. I am not pleased how she defaults on "love" as so core to her integral future curriculum design and how she says nothing of any depth about "fear"--many of you reading this will know that I am a big critical of all kinds of folks using the love-default and general pc positivism [2] in their philosophies to save the world. But let me return to the "politics" that she so ignores (or skirts around). 

To keep this critique short (someday I may write a longer critique of this book): Gidley's book does not have in the Index terms like "oppression" or "emancipation" or better yet, "liberation." I find this tells of just how "gutted" and "watered down" his her philosophy, theorizing of "integral" and her thinking in general. Her curriculum is anything but radical from this perspective, because she has no philosophy (or psychology) of oppression and liberation at the core of her curriculum conceptualization. I am convinced her training as a professional psychologist all these decades has muted and liberalized her radical-edge which is truly sitting there in her work and writing but not quite blossoming; she seems afraid to let it out. And, of course, one would be much less financially successful if they took the liberation path fully and spoke truths that are prophetic and very uncomfortable to the masses and even the liberal leftists, etc. 

For my part, I put the 'Fear' Project as the major oppressive force on the planet. It is worse in negative impact today than ever before because of complex structuration and new media means of public pedagogy that puts people in so much fear that it hampers how they perceive, think, learn, and believe and act on fear-based messages from elites and others. Unfortunately, most do not see the fear ('fear') construction everyday. It is called the context of the postmodern era--that is, the context of the "culture of fear." (Again, I have written lots about that). Gidley doesn't mention this context at all. She operates without a radical identification of oppression and liberation. I end my critique there. It is not a book worthy of a future that she wants and most of us want where people are "free" and a healthy sane and sustainable society is potentially unfolding. She thinks cognitive development (leading) and some emotional and social development etc. will take us out of this nightmare of the culture of fear--or, at least, it appears to me she thinks so. The politics of such cognitive development (and healing of cognitive pathologies of the old paradigms) is not an easy task and will not be accomplished without a powerful "shadow" work. I do not see Gidley entertain depths like this in her book and any of her writing. 

Yes, much of her book can be useful in the future of curriculum design, teaching and learning theories, etc. Fine. But neoliberalism, which she admits is gutting Education everywhere in very negative ways, has to be 'hooked' to its root in a society extremely anxious, if not terrified of the future--especially, of economic security. That is, a culture of fear and neoliberalism cannot be unhooked as she does--or ignores the fact of it. Many critics (like Henry Giroux) have said as much as I am. However, none of the educational critics has given a critical integral attention to analyzing how fear ('fear') moves in and shapes all things today on massive scales to micro scales of operations. Education is a reproducer of that fear-based structuration--that is, what I have called the 'Fear' project. So, we need a counterhegemonic Fearlessness Project--and Movement. 

Honestly, I would rather Gidley (and her many followers) look carefully at how to build a curriculum and philosophy for a liberational futures and not get so distracted by complex futures. That's my ultimate critique of this book and Gidley's project. I think with good open dialogue, her and I and others may bring our work together and move forward in a truly prophetic and pragmatic futures education for all... one that has a theory of oppression and liberation at the core--not complexity alone. 

Notes

1. Kincheloe, J. L. & Steinberg, S. R. (2011). A tentative description of post-formal thinking. In K. Hayes et al. (Eds.), Key works in critical pedagogy: Joe L. Kincheloe (pp. 53-76). Amsterdam, Holland: Sense Publishers.

2. My complex theorizing on "positivism" is way beyond the rational positivism notion in epistemology but includes cultural hegemonic formations of everything from political correctness (and identity politics), be gentle loving and caring and be positive (e.g., positiive thinking) ideologies that have flooded North American culture (at least) for the past 3 or more decades. It is like one cannot say anything really "critical" because victim culture that accompanies the positivism ideology will attack you for being mean and saying something offensive to some one (while, they themselves attack with viciousness because you are not conforming to their positivism). 

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