Author Interview: Neil Hopkins

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Neil Hopkins is Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at the University of Bedford where he leads the philosophy of education unit on the BA Education Studies and teaches on the PGCE/Cert Ed in Post Compulsory Education. He is Secretary of the Bedford Branch of PESGB, which runs regular seminars. Here he discusses his latest book, Democratic Socialism and Education.

Questions: Naomi Hodgson

Why did you decide to write ‘Democratic Socialism and Education’?

Democratic socialism has come back on the political radar in Western Europe and North America over the past few years with the prominence of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and the electoral success of parties such as SYRIZA. I wanted to think how this prominence might translate into the field of education

What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?

I wanted to use the book to introduce important ideas from contemporary European socialism, especially the work of Noberto Bobbio, Chantal Mouffe and Axel Honneth. Each of them, in different ways, has questioned the historical basis on which socialism has been erected and advocates new ways of envisaging socialism for the twenty-first century.

These views and ideas are important for education because they question the current trends in state education, especially the emphasis on performativity. I have used the work of all three thinkers to explore how the curriculum, pedagogy, and governance can be re-thought in the light of Dewey’s ideas on democratic education.

And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?

I have been interested in socialism as a political theory for a long time. I wanted to write a book on how socialism could inform the work done in classrooms or workshops. This involved asking myself: ‘Is there anything about the theory that can influence the relationships between teachers and students and how we learn?’ I hope this book provides ideas if not answers.

What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?

I hope people who are interested in the relationship between political theory and education systems will find it useful and thought-provoking. I have written it in an accessible style to try and attract a wide audience. Perhaps the increasing references to socialism in the media recently will also guide some people towards the book.

What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?

I expect it will be of interest to philosophers of education who have a particular interest in political philosophy. However, I also hope it might attract readers from the field of educational policy and teachers who want to explore how political theories can inform teacher professionalism and aspects of teaching practice.

What’s your current project? What’s next?

I have been involved in a two-year project with a group of teachers from Bedford, Copenhagen, and Helsinki looking at issues around teacher identity and pedagogy across the three locations. This has been finalised into a report that is being sent to ERASMUS and the British Council. However, the data is rich so I am working closely with colleagues from the University of Helsinki to see how we can create some articles from the research we have undertaken.

What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?

Philosophy of education ultimately asks us to constantly re-examine what we mean by ‘education’. It matters because without this periodic questioning, we fall into complacency and habit.

Oliver Belas has written a review of Democratic Socialism and Education, which you can access here.

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