Hegemony in the library

Recently I have been reflecting on Schön’s ideas around ‘reflection-on-practice’ (1983) and trying to come to grips with what it means to ‘critically reflect’. In general, I am enjoying the process as I read my books and discuss the ideas with my friends and colleagues both here at EARI and NEARI and with others besides.

However, I do feel a certain sense of frustration, when it comes to accessing good, up-to-date literature on critical reflection. As an ordinary, practising teacher I have limited access to any academic libraries and therefore, sourcing literature is a problem. As a paid-up member of the Teaching Council of Ireland (the professional standards body for teaching that promotes and regulates the profession), I am entitled to limited access to EBSCO, for which I am hugely grateful. But, access is limited. It is very frustrating when I search for a paper on a particular topic, and find that while it may be listed on ‘our’ version of EBSCO, it is not available to view or download for us ordinary teacher, especially those who wish to adhere to copyright legislation.

I decided I would try to do something about my dilemma: I would become a member of an academic library and pay whatever fees were required to gain access to a library and online journals.

Readers, you can imagine my delight when I discovered that I could become an alumni member of my old alma mater; visit the library; read the books and even, believe it or not, access online journals! However, my joy quickly evaporated as I came to learn that I could not borrow any books; could not access the online journals from home; could not bring my laptop into the library to access online journals nor even print any sections from journals accessed from within the building!

As I returned discontentedly (and crankily) to my own pile of bought books and slightly out of date academic papers, Chomsky’s words around an education system that keeps ‘people from asking questions that matter’, (Chomsky 2000, p.24) came to mind. I wondered how I could reflect on my practice; question any underpinning assumptions regarding my practice; and become a critical thinker, unless I had adequate access to the literature. I speculated about how educators are expected to keep abreast of current thinking in education, unless they can access current journals. I wondered if my exclusion from online libraries was more than just a major inconvenience, or was something more sinister afoot.

Freire (2003) believed that issues of power, oppression and culture existed in many aspects of education, and he sought to unravel their existence and I began to think that, perhaps, I too am a victim of power and oppression in a culture that presumes that educators do not need to read. The word ‘hegemony’ floated into my thoughts. Gramsci (1971) has been instrumental in developing our understanding of ‘hegemony’ and Brookfield described it as: ‘The assumptions we accept unquestioningly as commonsense are sometimes the same ones that have been constructed by a dominant group or class to keep us servile and marginalised’ (2009: 295). Brookfield suggests that for reflection on practice to be critical, it needs to call power relations and hegemonic dimensions into question.

So I began to ask myself some questions (that matter) as I reflected critically:

I wonder why we think it is acceptable for educators to have limited access to the literature on education?

I wonder who makes up the rules for academic libraries?

Who really thinks it is good for us to be excluded from academic libraries?

Who are the powers-that-be that benefit from a teaching population that is not allowed access to current thinking in education?

Why is this situation acceptable to (nearly) everyone?


Brookfield, S. (2009) ‘The concept of critical reflection: promises and contradictions’, European Journal of Social Work, 12:3, 293-304

Chomsky, N. (2000) Chomsky on Miseduation, Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield

Freire, P. (2003) ‘From Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ in A. Darder, M. Baltodani and R.D. Torres, (eds), The Critical Pedagogy Reader, London: RoutledgeFalmer, 57- 68

Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the prison notebooks. Ed. Q. Hoare and G.N. Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Schön, D. (1983) The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.

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4 comments on “Hegemony in the library
  1. I absolutely and totally agree mairin. Keep the teachers where we need them chugging away at the coal face. Make them disconnect from the brain thirsty part of themselves so they’ll forget they once felt inspired by their work. Limit their chances to upskill. Those who do, give them no reward for it. I would wonder is this a specifically Irish thing? And I definitely feel further marginalised by being west of Ireland. You are the only person I have ever heard speak of being able to access material through the teaching council. I have heard lots of people wondering why we pay 90€ a year to register with them but obviously that’s as far as the questioning goes? One of my favourite sayings is “don’t teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read. “

  2. Hi Siobhan,
    Thank you for your comments!
    I think that what you say is echoed very closely in that same paper by Stephen Brookfield (2009) because he is quite critical of the idea of vocation. He says ‘Vocation becomes hegemonic when it is used to justify workers taking on responsibilities and duties that far exceed their energy or capacities, and that destroy their health and personal relationships’ (2009:302).
    But, on a more positive note, it is fairly easy to access the online journals on the Teaching Council website (www.teachingcouncil.ie) and it is a great help! Go to the tab and click on . On this page, follow the link that says: .You are then brought to a page that asks for your Teaching Council number and password which brings you to a page (where you can check that the data the Teaching Council have is correct) and at the bottom left hand side there is a button that says ‘Access Educational Research’.
    I hope this helps! Email me if you get stuck!

  3. thank you Mairin! when i read your post first i thought “is she daft! im back at school! i cant be looking up links and reading things!” i thought about that reaction this morning while i was buzzing around with the early risers off to secondary school in my house. i was noticing that by being quiet and not bothering them with questions / my worries! they were in a nice chilled mood heading off to face the day. then i said i am going to take the same approach to work today. instead of running around like a headless chicken looking for reports, phoning parents, speech therapists, psychologists(if you can actually find one ! dont even start me…) i came into work and spent two hour going through a book called “Play with a purpose” which i have owned and not opened for about 2 years, and” 100 happy days 4 kids” which i bought last april/may but never opened. ans let me tell you i have a wad of evidence and new ideas for what i am doing with one of my students. and i feel completely justified in taking this time to research. i think it is a pattern with teachers to be always “on the go” and in a state between starvation, heartburn, hunger, bladder burst. here’s to a new school year of being kinder to ourselves and taking the time to do what engages our brains and improves our practice 🙂 and thanks again!

  4. Hi Siobhan,
    Delighted to read that you bit the bullet and took time from your busy, busy schedule to ‘pause and reflect’. It is so important that teachers do this, without being made to feel guilty about it. It is especially beneficial when, as you experienced, you feel buoyed up and enthused from your reading and reflection. I envy you and Mairin, having access to EBSCO, even if it is rather limited – as a retired teacher and no longer a paid-up member of the TC, I don’t have such access to educational literature.

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