An excellent synthesis

Immoral Education: The Assault On Teachers’ Identities, Autonomy and Efficacy by Simon Gibbs (Routledge; Hb £115.00) reviewed by by Marc Smith

Simon Gibbs has written a compelling and timely account of the UK teaching profession. With teacher recruitment numbers falling and many teachers leaving the profession, this book is certainly a welcome addition to the growing number of works exploring the impact of so-called neo-liberal ideologies on the role of teachers.

Early chapters focus on ideas of self and identity and the interplay between the self and the social groups we find ourselves part of. These early chapter draw on a number psychological, philosophical and occasionally spiritual traditions, often becoming rather abstract and esoteric in nature. Nevertheless, it is easy to see the direction in which Gibbs is taking his discussion.

Gibbs then proceeds to explain how these identities have been eroded through policy and accountability measures and the ultimate ‘dehumanisation’ of education, a profession that should at its heart be about the process of becoming human. Additionally, the notion of ‘othering’ others is seen as damaging to both teachers and young people and as a dangerous barrier to including those most in need of inclusion.

The book concludes with suggestions for how to reverse this dehumanising process by giving autonomy back to teachers, trusting in their ability to ‘open doors through which others may explore wider horizons’. Gibbs looks towards what he views as more progressive education systems, specifically in Finland, as models from which to challenge neo-liberal, market-led approaches to education.

This is not an easy book to follow at times, and I found myself reading some sections more than once. Nevertheless, it represents an excellent synthesis of a wide variety of material. Indeed, the ground covered is vast, from Dewey, Bourdieu, Foucault and Gergen to more recent perspectives from the likes of Geert Biesta, Pasi Sahlberg and Mark Priestley, names that are becoming more familiar to a growing number of research-inclined teachers.

All those involved in education, from academics to teachers, will certainly gain a wider understanding of how recent and not-so-recent changes in education policy have negatively impacted both teachers and the education of our children. Gibbs’s proposals for change, including the scrapping of standardised testing and raising the status of teachers, will certainly strike a chord with many.

- Reviewed by Marc Smith, who is a Chartered Psychologist and teacher

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