Educating Bobby

In the Willy Russell play Educating Rita (1980), later a film (1983), Frank, the academic, confronts his student, Rita, with the line, “..found a culture, have you Rita? Found a better song to sing? No, you found a different song to sing..”. 

There is plenty of change afoot in ‘professionalising’ policing, not least the new graduate entry (only) routes. There has been a lot of debate about such change; here we offer up an opinion piece with a different angle, that may provoke a bit more healthy debate – do let us know what you think!

Rita signs up to an Open University course because she is feeling at a dead-end in her hairdressing job. She wants change; she wants to be a better person and wants education to take her there. Frank, a rather disillusioned lecturer, initially tries to dissuade her, not because he has no confidence in Rita but in his teaching. It’s a story that echoes George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalian, a play first aired in 1913, that itself was influenced by others, including a Greek mythological figure. All of these influences are focussed on class division and social mobility. They all also identify that the process of change happens from within a person, as well as any external trappings. In Rita’s case, she flourishes and in many ways outgrows Frank: a bitter sweet yet appropriate ending for a good educational experience.

There are those who suggest teaching, and being taught, is akin to a parent child relationship (Wentzel, 2002). Indeed, in teaching and learning circles you’ll hear the term pedagogy used an awful lot – this word, which comes from the Greek root meaning ‘leading a child’, is about how teaching is done. It does kind of presuppose that the teacher knows stuff and the student doesn’t and the teacher will give them bits of education a bit at a time. You might consider this a model where ‘education’ – or ‘teaching’ gets done to you.

There are some others who suggest that the words education and schooling get a bit conflated; when they’re really different things that overlap (Pritchett, 2013). That parent-child approach (pedgagogy) no doubt has a rightful place in schooling. But what about when we grow up and have amassed various life experiences? Educationalists have taken account of that. Folk like Malcolm Knowles developed theories from Alexander Kapp and Eugen Rosentock-Huessy, to discuss andragogy – from the Greek ‘to lead a man [adult]’ as a way of better understanding adult learning, as distinct from pedagogy

You may already be getting bored and questioning what any of this has got to do with policing. Point taken. Yet consider – do we want new police professionals undertaking pedagogy or andragogy? Are they to be told what to do then go and do it, or are they to be ‘trained’ as adults? Are our new police professionals entering like a Rita to sing a better or different tune?

Just whilst we’re on a role let’s introduce a third, and final, ‘gogy’ to the mix. Heutagogy. This comes from the Greek (roughly) to ‘lead to discoveries’, and although there are some variations, it has become recognised as a form of self-determined learning (Kenyon and Hase, 2001). This means the learner is at the centre of the action, and they, in many ways, find their own way.

Australian Stuart Hase has done as much as anyone to develop the application of heutagogical principles into professional education, such as nursing. The relevance being that professionals in the 21st century need to be equipped how (rather than what) to think critically and find things out as they go along. After all  being told (once) will hardly equip them for their career; particularly in a dynamic, complex and high pressure work environment.    

Hase isn’t the only one who thinks like this; others, such as Bandura (1989) say human agency is what allows people to be motivated, to reflect, be creative and decide things. Being able to pull out what is relevant in  making decisions, for example, is really key to be an effective police professional. Dodge (2007) also helps us out with his neurophysiological work on ‘brain elasticity’, where the observation of the anatomy of thinking in the brain has helped inform us about the activity of learning.

Then we’ve got Willis (2006) and Benfenati (2007) who have helped us understand the relevance of neuronal pathways; which Kahneman (2011) points out influence each other through thinking ‘associations’. Jung-Beeman (2004) has also showed us that cognitive leaps are also possible – insights sometimes based on little information. 

All of these concepts help  inform how thinking takes place. And – bottom line – this is an internalised process. We do our thinking – and that thinking is our learning. Learning is not about being ‘taught’ by someone all the time.

Rock & Schwartz (2006) produced some interesting findings that help explain in the thinking process that learning something ‘new’ has to get over all sorts of internal resistance. Why? Because humans tend to be pattern seekers and the mind might interpret that ‘learning’ as change – a threat – and if that new thing is beyond their existing experience they might want to revert back to something they’re more sure of – to be safe.  

You probably figured a lot of this already, but there you go – there is some science to back it up. ‘So what’ you thinking? Well the point of all this is to make the point that pedagogy is simply not good enough for a 21st century professional. Andragogy goes some of the way but really we need policing professionals equipped to a heutagogical state. They need to be equipped how to think critically, amass their own information, take their own rational decisions, and learn as they go.

Again, you might say that’s obvious. What’s not so obvious then maybe is that if that’s the outcome we desire for our new professionals, then we need to recognise we’ve been educating Bobby in the wrong way for a while now…Just as policing won’t arrest its way out of crime, we won’t teach our way to giving our future professionals a better education. The new generation of learners need to be able to learn with agility and autonomy: so is policing learning finally growing up?



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