This year’s Forum addresses public education across all sectors and will explore issues such as whether it is important to keep education as a public responsibility; who benefits from public education; and why so many countries have moved to privatise education and what has been their lived experience. 

Agenda 15th October 2018

8:30am Coffee and registration
9:15am Welcome & Opening Address
Professor Philip Nolan, President, Maynooth University


Session One: 

Professor Aislinn O’Donnell, Department of Education, Maynooth University
On the very idea of public education: Reflections on pluralism, values, and the commons.

Professor Gert Biesta, Brunel University London
Parent Power, Student Power, Teacher Power? Reclaiming Education

Chair: Professor Kathy Hall, UCC

Plenary session


11:15am Health Break


Session Two: 

Professor Kathleen Lynch, UCD

Why Public Control of Education Matters: Resisting the threats from within and without.

Chair: Ruth Carmody, Department of Education and Skills

Plenary session


1:00pm Lunch


Session Three:

Professor Deborah Britzman, York University, Canada
Affecting Concerns Under Way: Public Education as matters of mental health.

Chair: Alison Hood, Dean of Teaching and Learning, Maynooth University
Plenary session



Summary: Professor Carl Anders Säfström, Maynooth University



Register to attend here

Speaker Biographies

Gert Biesta is Professor of Education at Brunel University London and Visiting Professor at NLA University College, Bergen and the University of Agder, Norway. Since April 2016 he also holds the NIVOZ Professorship for Education at the University of Humanistic Studies, in the Netherlands. He is author of numerous publications including: ‘The Rediscovery of Teaching’ (Routledge, 2017), ‘The Beautiful Risk of Education’ (Routledge, 2014), ‘Good Education in an Age of Measurement’ (Routledge, 2010), and ‘Beyond Learning’ (Routledge, 2006).

Prof Biesta is interested in the relationship between education, democracy and citizenship. His research highlights the crucial role of the question of purpose in education, explores the transformation of education into a system of administration, and in his most recent work, articulates a concept of education that is neither child-centred nor curriculum-centred but world-centred, focusing on making a grown-up existence in and with the world possible – a process in which teaching, not understood as an act of control but an act orientated towards freedom, plays a crucial role.

Parent Power, Student Power, Teacher Power? 
Reclaiming Education as a Public Concern
While many education systems have, for a long time, suffered from a bureaucratic logic, a case can be made that contemporary education is increasingly suffering from a technocratic logic. This is particularly the result of the rise of the Global Education Measurement Industry (GEMI; see Biesta 2015) which tries to indicate which the relative performance of national education systems, thus fuelling rather stiff competition between countries but also putting pressure within countries for schools, teachers and students to ‘perform’ on a narrow set of measurable learning outcomes. While politicians in many countries tend to fall for this logic, teachers are increasingly raising their voice, arguing for a need to ‘flip the system’ and put power back in their hands. While I agree that it is important to free education from the grip of technocracy, I wish to argue that rather than handing over control to one particular group – be it teachers, be it students, be it parents – a case can and should be made to reclaim education as a public concern. What this entails and what this means vis-à-vis different claims to ‘ownership’ of education, is what I seek to discuss in my presentation.

Deborah P. Britzman is Distinguished Research Professor at York University, Canada. Britzman holds the York Research Chair in Pedagogy and Psychosocial Transformation.

She is the author of numerous publications including: ‘Melanie Klein: Early Analysis, Play and the Question of Freedom’ (2016, Springer Press), A Psychoanalyst in the Classroom (2015, SUNY Press), The Very Thought of Education (2009); Practice Makes Practice: Revised Edition’ (2003, SUNY Press), and ‘Lost Subjects, Contested Objects: Toward a Psychoanalytic Inquiry of Learning’ (1998, SUNY Press).

An academic and practising psychoanalyst, Prof Britzman’s research concerns the histories of psychoanalysis with education. Known for her formulation of "difficult knowledge," her studies of the emotional situation of teaching and learning now turn to questions of the history of social toleration, the notion of the social bond and mental health.

Affecting Concerns Under Way: Public Education as matters of mental health

It is impossible to separate the state of public education from the health of the nation and, of course, from the ways in which we protect and care for the life of the mind. And this means that when we speak of public education and how we are affected while we attempt to affect others, the idea of what is public for education and too what is education for the public is contentious. We  are in the fray of political life: dissention over the meanings of  national history, disputes over care for children and adolescents, suspicions, both spoken and disguised,  in attitudes toward family matters, and, in terms of the professions, arguments over whether teachers, administrators, and policy makers are up to the task, whether universities are seen as trusted or bankrupt, and indeed, whether public education creates a past or future. All these anxieties, fantasies, and solutions are the emotional situations that affect public education as a state of mind.
I’ll discuss  emotional situations of public education through transitional scenes of inheriting a past one could not make, experiencing a present affected by what came before, and facing a future one can neither know nor predict.  And I will see these processes as dynamic, describing mental health as what life is like for the self and the world. My lecture then makes a case for public education as a state of mind and mental health as implicitly relational. I ask, what is public education with reparative capacities that can link promises of care and toleration to the creation of new social bonds tied to the valence of thinking?

Professor Kathleen Lynch is an academic and an activist, who’s work is guided by the belief that the purpose of scholarship and research is not just to understand the world but to change it for the good of all humanity. To this end, she worked with colleagues to establish the UCD Equality Studies Centre in 1990 and the UCD School of Social Justice in 2005, creating academic spaces that would develop emancipatory teaching and research practices. Outside of the university, she has worked with non-governmental organisations and statutory bodies, nationally and internationally, to challenge inequalities and promote social justice. She is Principal Investigator for an Horizon 2020 project on the study of solidarity in Europe (SOLIDUS) 2015-2018.

Recent publications include ‘New Managerialism in Education: Commercialization, Carelessness and Gender,’ co-authored with Bernie Grummell and Dympna Devine, (2012, 2015 end ed.); ‘Equality: From Theory to Action’ (2004, 2009 2nd ed.) and ‘Affective Equality: Love Care and Injustice’ (2009). 'Affective Equality' was published in Spanish in 2012 and in Korean in 2016, and was awarded Best Book in the Social Sciences prize from the Academy of Sciences in 2017. 

Why Public Control of Education Matters: Resisting the threats from within and without

Education must be under public democratic control for several reasons: first, because, not only is it a human right, it is also the means to realising other rights, including the right to political, economic and cultural participation; second, because education has an intrinsic value for the development of the individual, enabling the person to exercise capabilities, choices and freedoms; third, because education enables individuals and groups to overcome other social disadvantages and prior discriminations; fourth, because education credentials are vital for accessing other goods, especially employment.

Finally, the public control of education matters because education is not just a personal good, it is a major public good: it enriches cultural, social, political and economic life and without it the body public would be greatly impoverished, culturally and materially. It has a unique capacity to enable and enhance critical thinking, which, in turn, enables the public to hold those in power to account. Public control of education is vital to protect its critical capacities.
In this presentation I would outline some of the major threats to public education arising from the power of global capitalist interests, and from the vested interests of professionals and others, whose wealth and power is greatly enhanced when education is privatised.

I will examine the challenges facing those committed to public education, outlining reasons why they need to protect it from the vested interests, including commercial bodies that regard education as a new source of profit-making, and professional interest groups (within and without education) whose careers are enhanced in a more commercialised system.
Education is, at its foundation, a distributive process: it opens new ways of knowing the world, facilitating new forms of consciousness and giving access to knowledge. Given this, those who work in education have a public service duty to be proactive in defending its foundations as a public good, enabling the unnamed, unknown, unspoken, and unthinkable to be thinkable and visible to all, not just to those who can afford to pay for it. This places a moral obligation on educationalists to protect its epistemological and ontological foundations by resisting attempts to undermine it as a human right and public service. There is a need for resistance from the inside; without it, education is in danger of being incorporated into the market as an instrument of capitalism and profiteering, a simple provider of human capital.

I ask the question, who is protecting the public interest in public education? What happens when those who are assigned a role as protectors of public interests cease to do so?
Aislinn O'Donnell is Professor of Education in Maynooth University. Her research and scholarship is focused on the questions of democracy, ethics, experience and education. Her recent research is centred on developing educational responses to counter-extremist and counter-terrorist policies, and she is currently working on the relationships between values, the public, and education. She is particularly interested in exploring innovative and experimental approaches to teaching philosophy and to developing communities of enquiry.

Aislinn has developed a number of creative research and teaching projects that seek to introduce philosophy to settings like the prison, probation projects, and drug projects. She collaborates on an ongoing project called "Art and Philosophy in the Classroom" that introduces children and young people to contemporary art, philosophy and aesthetic practice. She is currently co-leading The Enquiring Classroom, an ERASMUS+ funded project. ( that addresses questions of integration, cohesion, identity, democracy and belonging in Europe. Her philosophical scholarship is centred on the work of Deleuze, Spinoza, and Arendt, and she maintains an ongoing engagement with contemporary art practice.

On the very idea of public education: Reflections on pluralism, values, and the commons
At a time when the democratic project is not only being questioned but attacked, and when secularism is pitted against the sacred, the concept of the public education that I offer here invites other forms of educational exchange and pedagogical encounters that sustain what Gert Biesta calls the beautiful risk of education, opening us to one another and to our common world, without wilfully ignoring injustices, past and present. In this way, educational spaces provide a temporary and provisional 'shelter' that allow us to think and talk about difficult questions, rather than moving us too quickly into the agonism of the public sphere of politics.  
This talk will introduce another way of imagining public education, one relevant for the Irish context and responsive to, albeit critical of, contemporary discourses of core or shared values in European discourses. It engages with the idea of the commons in order to reflect on the very nature of the educational enterprise, an enterprise concerned with the inter-generational project of passing on and telling the stories of our common history, the natural and cultural history of humankind, in all its beauty and horror, so that the next generation can decide what it will preserve, what it will renew, what it will re-imagine, and what it will create. In this way, I seek to show how and why public education matters today.