Bocca della Verita. Heard of it? Translated it means the Mouth of Truth and is an iconic piece of Rome’s ancient history. It is a carving of a frightening face with an open mouth that is hewn from Pavonazzo marble and can be found in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. Legend has it that anyone who places their hand in the mouth who has told a lie or has questionable intentions, will have it bitten off. It was immortalised in the 1953 film Roman Holiday staring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. There is a scene in the film that see’s Peck placing his right hand inside the mouth. Peck and Hepburn are not initially truthful with one another about their respective identities (princess and a down-on-his-luck expatriate American journalist) but go on to milk the chance meeting to mutually benefit a situation; she wishes to break from her royal duties and live a little of a normal life and he (going undercover) is keen for an interview (the big scoop) with the royal which will land him a $5000 pay check.
Romantic as this all seems, the motives soon become apparent and all manner of folk on both sides are given the run-around and the film ends with normality sadly being restored, with Peck left to ponder what might have been.
Relationships between the profession, edubusinesses and representative bodies are fascinating. They become increasingly murky and opaque when what is at stake is policy formation, an ideology pushed or the same players, straplines and products trotted out to ‘enhance’ our work, inform us more ‘accurately’ or saturate our valuable professional learning time with ‘we have done the thinking for you’.
The reach and market share of organisations such as Corwin, Pearson, Visible Learning etc. is considerable. Their ability to mobilise their brand through individuals, professional bodies and conferences is something to behold. As Hogan, Lingard and Sellar (2013) state;
“Their enhanced significance is linked to the emergence of what Urry (2007, p. 197) defines network capital as “the capacity to engender and sustain social relations with those people who are not necessarily proximate and which generates emotional, financial and practical benefit (although this will often entail various objects and technologies or the means of networking)”. The ability to network is not evenly distributed and requires specific resources. Position in a network, and ultimately power, is dependent on mobilities of different kinds. Mobilities are not necessarily about travel, but rather the movement of people, ideas, objects and information, what Appadurai (1996) referred to as “flows.”
Marten Koomen brilliantly points out that some key figures transcend organisations and mobilise ideas to multiple audiences or camouflage products and philosophy through rhetoric. They have access to the most prominent platforms and opportunities. “Networks across senior educators are of course a lot broader, deeper and opaque operating not only at the board level but also through conference attendance, keynote addresses and participation in consultative groups and workshops”. Such people include Tony Mackay, Tony Cook and John Hattie. You can see the boards across which they traverse in Marten’s post.
What bothers me is that these deeply influential people who possess and mobilise extensive network influence and penetrate huge educational conversations and decisions, may be going unchallenged by the profession at large. Why is this? Are we satisfied with being told what works, what to use, when to do what, what to read, whose research to consume and believe, how to professionally develop and what to think? I sense some brooding resistance on social media, but to what extent are these kernels of pushback being heard and engaged with? How can alternate views of what education can and should be achieve the aim of influencing at the upper echelons of educational narrative in mainstream media? How can we achieve equitable access to opportunities to speak into the educational debate on a large scale without being festooned with life-size posters of edu-guru’s flanking us?
Educational goals which use vernacular such as ‘one years learning from every years teaching’, could lead us to think that those who make such bold proclamations are in the market for systemic support and resources. Why wouldn’t departments sniff out solutions which are all-in-one; a raft of best-selling texts, off-the-shelf research, data management systems, teaching resources, accreditation/certification or leadership modules. Why wouldn’t a department be magnetised to those providers who vigorously market their brand at conferences, across social-media and have the backing or lead from prominent educators? It could also be advantageous if the purchased partnership aligned you with other key players in the markets and gave the impression of systemic provision for improvement and performance and a relatively uncontested field of evidence to justify ones position.
I’m all for professional bodies amalgamating their work as long as the profession is fully involved rather than the recipients of ‘best-in-class’ pre-packaged training that is considered or assumed to be precise, transplantable and contextually neutral. Could ACEL’s newly announced partnership with Corwin be an example of this?
No-one is likely to have their hand bitten off in a metaphorical Bocca della Verita for trying to advance education, but let’s at least be clear about intentions, who is involved and desirable outcomes, outcomes that professionalise us rather than beholden to a business model.