BLOG 25/11/16 Not only, sir, this your all-licensed fool; THE
SYNTAX OF POWER AND THE OU
It has been brought to my attention that a number of ~~~~~ students have
been using Facebook to discuss TMA 01. Not only have students been asking
questions on Facebook that would more appropriately have been raised in their ~~~~~
cluster forum, but also other students have been answering those questions in,
effectively, the role of a tutor".
This missive has very recently been sent (via a course newsletter) to the learners on an OU
module. I have tried to let it rest on my mind,but as a tutor in the OU and more
importantly, one of its learners, have FAILED TO DO SO. Why I thought?
I think it is because of the combination of notions of authority and
power in the portrayed notion of tutor identity. this phenomenon was once examined by the wonderful
Sian Bayne in Bayne (2005) in which she demonstrated the gap between learners
and tutors on OU online interactions. The former learned through the play of
identity afforded by forums, the other not. Why? Because 'tutor identity' was fixed
(discourse analysis seemed to show) in models of authority.
In my view those models are uncomfortably mixed, as it authority
unexamined, were easily to fall into an exercise of pure power.
But there is something in the syntax too of our note to learners that worried me. What is it?
The rhythms of prose and verse have sung in my head since grammar school – it took
some doing and it seemed a transformation of identity too far, but then in the
1960s transformation of class and status (the working class boy made good) were
both painful and in some sense delicious – accessing new potential powers . It
was work but now it’s some kind of secret joy, but also worry (now I no longer
What rankled here was the ‘Not only … but also’ clause. It seemed a
means of suggesting the enormity of some error or sin that it was difficult to
specify. But what is that sin? Transgression of role – a learner has dared to
act ‘as if’ a tutor.
This is I suddenly remembered the position of Lear –
losing authority but seeking to retain some shadow of it from studied refection
on his life. What does he get from his daughter – a ‘not only but also’ clause,
that appears in its order and organization to attempt to control the very riot
of excess to which it points.
(to LEAR) Not only, sir, this your all-licensed fool,
But other of your insolent retinue
Do hourly carp and quarrel, breaking forth
In rank and not-to-be-endurèd riots. Sir,
I had thought by making this well known unto you
To have found a safe redress, but now grow fearful
By what yourself too late have spoke and done
That you protect this course and put it on
By your allowance—which if you should, the fault
Would not ’scape censure, nor the redresses sleep
Which in the tender of a wholesome weal
Might in their working do you that offense,
Which else were shame, that then necessity
Will call discreet proceeding.
That is what I was hearing in the shadow of the module leader. Do not
presume to do as I do – do not take on the role of teacher. Why, we might ask.
It is not appropriate? Because it
constitutes an anomaly in the hierarchy of authority power dreams to be sacred
and unchangeable. It is ‘not to be endured riot’ for someone to take on the
role of protector where power is, in fact none. The fact of powerlessness lies
in the effect of Goneril’s imaginings of an order that will harm those who
disturb it :
Might in their working do you that offense
You will be put down – put in your place, act within the license I give
you – or all ‘necessity’ will seem harsh to you. The same powers our module
leader takes on in their syntax and lexis – attention, and proper distribution
of the relative rights to raise and answer questions. Challenged by learners,
that same module leader said they were doing it for learners' own good. Having taken
it in the subject Academic Board, all agreed that ‘prevention was better
than cure’. However, the ‘cure’ is the same hidden threat as that now possessed
by Goneril – to exclude and unhouse – to threaten any chance of identity at all
if you do not take the one I give you. Lear on the heath in the storm. The
threat of deinstitutionalisation – the threat of loss of ‘degree’.
Once noble, Open University! How can you support this discourse? I can
just about stomach the hatred of Facebook. I don’t like Facebook that much
myself but of the right to cross boundaries – that is another matter. In a
sense, great educationalists (Vygotsky, Bruner, and Engestrom) teach us that
learning is transgression and boundary-crossing. That which needs ‘scaffolding’
will be that that requests it be taken down or that THAT FINDS a better way of
providing it amongst peers – without the costs of patronage it once had (another
All the best
Bayne, S (2005) Deceit, desire and control: the identities of learners and teachers in cyberspace in Land, R and Bayne, S (eds) Education in Cyberspace. London: RoutledgeFalmer