Security Discourse and the School's Goal of Formative Development
- Radicalization and Violent Extremism
Since the beginning of the 21st century, words like security, extremism, radicalization, and terrorism have dominated news and debates. Following 9/11 and several terrorist attacks in European countries, preventing extremism and terrorism has become a high-priority security issue. At the same time, there is an observable rise in hate speech and xenophobia, particularly against immigrant groups. Many countries are witnessing growing anti-immigration politics, leading to the normalization and naturalization of the connection between immigration and security concerns. The comprehensive political focus on prevention has resulted in a security discourse influencing various political fields, including civil ones (Kundnani 2012, Davies 2016, Davis 2014, Ragazzi 2017).
The question of prevention also encompasses the role of schools. The EU's Radicalisation and Awareness Network (RAN), established by the European Commission in 2011, aims to create a platform for sharing research, initiatives, and collaboration for preventing radicalization. As a result, most European countries have developed national action plans against radicalization and violent extremism.
“Many countries are witnessing growing anti-immigration politics, leading to the normalization and naturalization of the connection between immigration and security concerns.
RAN has particularly emphasized the importance of the front line in early prevention, referring to professionals who work directly with children and young people. This involves teachers and has sparked debates about the school's preventive role and democratic mission (European Commission, RAN Edu, 2019).
The primary example of the impact of the security political discourse on schools is Prevent, a part of the British Contest program. It is a comprehensive effort to prevent violent extremism in England through information sharing and collaboration across sectors. Teachers are trained to identify various signs of early radicalization and are strongly encouraged to report concerns so that security authorities can access information about students' attitudes, actions, and expressions (HM Government, 2015).
Security Discourse in the Face of the Goal-Directed School
Hovdenak and Stray (2015) argue that neoliberalism has created an ideological shift where education is seen as global, and school systems are influenced by international guidelines and comparisons. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an influential organization, and today's schools encounter PISA tests, "assessment for learning," "lifelong learning," and a focus on individual adaptation, rights thinking, flexibility, and adaptability. The school has received clear goal-directed management, towards more competency goals and more tests (pp. 51-53 and 61-64). Governance can be understood as controlling the quality in schools, the quality of teachers, and creating educated citizens serving the state's needs. Or, as Foros (2016) writes: The fundamental question has become, "What works? What produces results?" (p.39).
“The idea of goal-directed management implies that one can presuppose the goal of education.
The idea of goal-directed management implies that one can presuppose the goal of education. Biesta (2014) problematizes such an understanding of school, where the goal is to limit risk. Limiting risk, he argues, comes from neoliberalism, OECD, and the increased demands and expectations of teachers and what education should contribute. He claims that goal-directed management actually involves an "efficient production of pre-defined learning outcomes" (p.23), and in this impatience, we forget what education is about. Subjectification liberates the student, and the result cannot be calculated. In this way, Biesta claims that education is risky (Biesta, 2014, p.25).
Christian Beck (2013) asks the question, "Is today's academic pedagogy a space for criticism, or is it entirely adapted to power?" He argues that today's education serves the existing market control. Beck claims that this can contribute to losing sight of the power perspective and resistance, and that students and teachers become less autonomous.
What is a common denominator in a security political discourse, radicalization discourse, and today's school policies? Gert Biesta claims that measurability is at the center, and an individual-centered educational pedagogy fits well into a neoliberal school policy (Biesta 2014, p.91).
“Individuals who do not fit into the established system are diagnosed, treated, or repaired, instead of seeing what in the structure precisely makes individual people "ill."
The overarching approach that characterizes a security political discourse is individual-centered. Biesta (2014) uses the term medicalization. This is a term used in healthcare but is relevant in this context since the term shows how problems are explained through biomedical, individual causal factors (Kirkevold, 2014, snl.no). Thus, the medicalization discourse and the radicalization discourse can be criticized for keeping the discussion at the individual level; individuals who do not fit into the established system are diagnosed, treated, or repaired, instead of seeing what in the structure precisely makes individual people "ill." If structural explanations are involved, this can illustrate how marginalization, anger, or vulnerability can also be a result of structural guidelines and perceived agency.
Why can the security discourse be problematic in schools?
According to the British HM Government (2018), around 7,300 people in the UK were reported to be a cause for concern during 2017 and 2018. The education sector reported more concerns than the police themselves. The largest group was Muslim boys, and the percentage under 15 years old was 27%. Lynn Davies (2016a) claims that such programs can reinforce the suspicion of Muslim students, but also that students' fear of being recorded by the teacher can diminish the democratic classroom and dampen important discussions, where even more extreme attitudes can be encountered and tested. If the school cannot be an arena for exploration with an extensive space for opinions, attitudes may be shared in other forums where they are not challenged and discussed.
“If the school cannot be an arena for exploration with an extensive space for opinions, attitudes may be shared in other forums where they are not challenged and discussed.
Researcher on extremism at the Segerstad Institute, Christer Mattson (2018), argues that the discourse on terrorism and radicalization is a product of politicians wanting to show action on the issue of terrorism, and that the term belongs more to a policy level than the academic one. Mattson believes that the concept of radicalization lacks scientific, critical examination, and that extensive prevention programs like Prevent are risky since we do not know enough about the radicalization process and the consequences these measures may have. Furthermore, he claims that the focus on radicalization contributes to individualization and decontextualization (pp.26-32). When radicalization is understood as a process inside the individual and a path the individual takes, it can create a perception that the problem lies with the individual, similarly to how Biesta describes diagnosis in the medicalization discourse. When measures are directed solely at the individual, the challenge is detached from society and the structural level.
Increased securitization can have consequences for teachers' perspectives on students and the extent to which the classroom continues to be a democratic practice arena. A pedagogy with little systemic criticism may be more susceptible to a security political discourse that understands today's challenges and solutions at an individual level. This can make individuals experience marginalization and can have counterproductive consequences.
The security discourse influences the discussion on what the school's preventive task should be but also challenges the role and perspective of pedagogy and the teaching profession, especially in the face of diversity. The focus on security and the radicalization discourse can easily be placed in a neoliberal school policy centered around the individual's responsibility and measurability. Structural and systemic causative factors remain unilluminated; thus, the solution also becomes individual- and risk-oriented. Security political doctrines can contribute to the suspicion of students and may weaken the democratic space, creating marginalization. A critical pedagogy that includes power dynamics and the structural level can help balance the educational pedagogy for formative development in schools today, and provide alternative perspectives on exclusion and marginalization. Critical pedagogy can also generate engagement, a willingness to change, and meaning among students.
Biesta, G. J. J. (2014). Utdanningens vidunderlige risiko. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.
HM Government (2015) Preventing Duty Guidance for England and Wales. London: HSMO. Hentet fra: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445977/3799_Revised_Prevent_Duty_Guidance__England_Wales_V2-Interactive.pdf
HM Government (2018) Individuals referred to and supported through the Prevent Programme, April 2017 to March 2018. Hentet fra: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/763254/individuals-referred-supported-prevent-programme-apr2017-mar2018-hosb3118.pdf
Hovdenak S. og Stray. J. (2015) Hva skjer med skolen? Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.
Kirkevold, M. (2009, 13. februar). medikalisering. I Store medisinske leksikon. Hentet fra https://sml.snl.no/medikalisering
Mattson, C. (2018). Extremisten i klasserummet. Gøteborg Universitet.