BACK THE LANGUAGE
why Suzy Harriss revival of an old aphorism
about the malleability of careers education
is now as relevant as ever
people to move on in their working lives may or may not now be called
It might be...
careers - information
career - guidance
life-role relevant - education
vocational - advice
or any combination of one of these adjectives with one of these
But whatever we call it, is all meant to be help. And
it is all offered to people who are in process of moving on in their
lives. Youd think, after a century of trying to work out how
to do it, we would be now have worked out what to call it.
Harris helps to explains why. Her book about policy for careers
education is an important contribution to a conversation with too
few voices. She traces the history of policy involvement in careers
The past is only worth visiting if it helps us to understand the
present. Sometimes it does. Suzy Harris devotes pages of her book
to the Schools Council Careers Education and Guidance Project. It
was active in the 70s, and was one of the most creative -
and least understood - initiatives in careers work. (I may be biased
here: one of its directors, John Storey, is now the other grandfather
to my youngest granddaughter!) A key element in Johns project
was a series of simulated newspapers, with news items, quizzes,
self-help questionnaires, games, correspondence columns, pictures
and all kinds of features. (Think of the current classroom material
The Real Game - but with strong story lines).
A newspaper was probably a better idea then than it would be now;
but it sure-enough raised issues for working life - how it works,
who does what, and what things are like for its people. The designers
wanted not just to equip learners to fit in, but to understand -
and to be active. A criticism at the time was that teachers could
not safely be left to engage young minds in such dynamics.
project became one of the places where education, business and political
interests first came into serious conversation with each other.
One of the most telling remarks about that process was, at that
time, made by an evaluator - Inge Bates. The concept of careers
education, she said, is infinitely malleable. If she
was right about that, careers education will, since then, have proven
capable of taking on whatever shape whatever strong hand cares to
press upon it.
Suzy Harris says this has happened. And it is because, she says,
careers education is a contested concept. She develops
the point with further tales - of the Technical and Vocational Education
Initiative, the Education Reform Act, and the privatisation of the
Careers Service. Her book was written before the proposals for citizenship
and Connexions were published. But she has more than enough to go
change, she says, impacts policy, which then seeks to influence
education. And careers education has been easy to bounce around
because it has lacked a robust intellectual foundation.
is both right and wrong in the detail. Basic ideas in careers education
are, you might agree, a bit of a rag-bag. Those who are so disposed
can find fragments of structuralism, humanism,
symbolic interactionism, hermeneutics and
constructivism underpinning our work. We are a happy
hunting ground for the "...ologies". They are sometimes
helpful, sometimes not. Its not that we lack ideas, it is
that we have pretty-well failed to get them sorted into any coherent
and usable framework. This is despite the various attempts made
by the training, research and development institutes, by a strong
academic literature, and by the open-learning pack Careers Work,.
But Suzy seems to know little of any of this. I'm not entirely sure
that much of it would have substantially change the direction of
And this is because contesting voices will not be silenced.
Because careers work is about who gets to do what in our society,
it evokes issues for personal autonomy, work-and-learning, equal
opportunities, and attachment-and-exclusion. And it can also be
related to educational standards and the economic performance. These
issues compels the interest of interested parties; and that provokes
debate requires it. Whatever line you take, there is something
to get excited about. And powerful people are getting agitated.
The bouncing around of careers work was pretty-well inevitable.
is certainly true is that the ..ologies - when written
up in obscure, pedantic, hair-splitting and jargon-ridden form -
were out of the frame. So it has not been difficult to promote a
new vocabulary to signpost our work. 'Careership - an attempt
at verbal hijacking if ever there was one - was said to be about
skills with no mention of feelings; choice
with no mention of culture; information
with no mention of learning. The deeper, more dynamic
and less tractable issues - like transfer-of-learning, social-class
and alternative forms of work - were ignored. Policy and its most
powerful constituencies needed clear, measurable and economically
relevant outcomes. The rest has been - at least for a while - silence.
stands still, and turn-of-the-millennium proposals on citizenship
and Connexions wont work on the basis of this simple-mindedness.
So Suzy Harriss thesis is useful: what has gone wrong has
gone wrong at the level of ideas. We need to understand all of this
in order in order to know what to do about it.
is ideas, and it is the words we use to express them. The first
casualty of war is said to be truth. A first tactic in debate is
the to take control of the terms. A useful strategy in any conflict-of-interest
is to get control of the language. Language is not merely a neutral
communication-tool. Words frame the way we take things to be. To
redirect our journey, with no signpost for feelings,
culture or crime, may seem to simplify our
route. But it wont take us far in either Connexions or citizenship.
anything, we've probably already had too much of the ...ologies.
What we lack is a coherent organisation of our most basic ideas.
We do need to learn the lessons of the late-twentieth century. But
moving on is about being flexible, not malleable. It also means
knowing which way is forward. And for that we need good
signposts - in the right language - pointing us to where we need
eloquently demonstrates why.
Careers Education: Contesting Policy and Practice
London: Paul Chapman
ISBN 1-85396-438-7 1-85396-390-9 (pbk)
review is a condensation of two Point of Departure articles
The NICEC Career Research and Development Journal -
nos. 6, 2002 & 8, 2003
YOU ARE IN THE MAGAZINE SECTION
of the Career-learning Café
'a good read'
review of thinking for contemporary
careers work and citizenship
a longer one
back to café career magazine
- a good read