Pragmatist and Proud

I’ve been criticised for calling myself a pragmatist. It has connotations of neutrality. It isn’t political enough. Politics is my weakness. I don’t really have any. It’s not I don’t care about social justice or equality of opportunity. It’s just I’ve adopted a practical philosophy. My approach to life is ‘I can’t change the world but I can work to change my little part of it’.

I didn’t think I needed politics to do a phd. I expected to have to think about knowledge, learn the difference between epistemology and ontology. I thought I’d have to locate myself on the educational spectrum but I didn’t expect my lack of political acumen to be such a barrier to progress.

It’s not enough to want to research my own practice using virtual learning environments, to better support others use of education technology. I have to demonstrate I’m against those with vested interests in automating teaching. It’s not enough to be aware of hidden power structures and work to raise awareness in others so they can adapt their practice accordingly. I have to advocate the failure of education technology in the first place.  Which is a bit like telling me the past 25 years of my working life have been misguided and misplaced.

Not everyone has political bones. My political apathy doesn’t come from privilege. My background is economically poor and socially marginalised. I know how capitalism creates inequality, how it privileges those with financial security and disempowers the poor. I’ve seen how capitalist systems replicate disadvantage, how they construct social ghettos of low opportunity and aspiration. I believe higher education offers opportunities to raise awareness of inequality, to understand the construction of power and control, to uncover the replication and reinforcement of inequality, to support social justice. This is as political as I get. But it’s not enough.

My theory is not deep enough. My criticisms not founded, my arguments too weak and my opinion not important.  Without being grounded in theory, I haven’t earned the right to speak. I thought where I was and what I did was enough.  Actions speaking louder than words and so on. Unless it’s for a phd. Where it seems the words matter more than the actions.

I understand the rationale for theory. The need to avoid the risk of applying theory rather than critically engaging with it. I knew a phd was about questioning, about accepting or rejecting theoretical approaches. But I thought my reading and reflection was enough to get started on my data collection. It seems not. I’m still floating. Not grounded enough. All of which makes it feel like I’ve hardly begun. So if I stop now, while I’m closer to the starting point than I realised, it won’t be such a waste will it? I could keep the politics in a box. Stay pragmatist and proud.  Alternatively, I could investigate the possibility of being both pragmatist and political at the same time.


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