Tuesday, 24 August 2010

PISA Under Examination: Tom Popkewitz's Keynote Speech

Tom Popkewitz gave a keynote speech entitled, "PISA - Numbers, Standardizing Conduct, and the Alchemy of School Subjects"

The notes from his speech are as follows:

A content/context-free test is an illusion.

The Practical Knowledge of PISA helps us "see" historical assemblages and cultural theses about modes of life. It is like a recipe. Ingredients lead to a final product. PISA does not see the "ingredients." It is seen as a whole, but knowledge is not practical. PISA has become a cultural phenomenon, it is talked about and acted upon.

The Reason of PISA - Transnational Governance, National Salvation, and the Political Numbers as a Telling truth. Here, numbers are an important part of social science. "Facts" are uniform, objective, and rigorous. Democracy has a correlation with measurement. There is a paradox of numbers: they appear as fact through the making of that fact.

Numbers and Assessment in Making Equivalences: Global Positioning Systems. PISA monitors student improvement and student performance. A GPS always knows its position. Constant measurement and performance helps locate oneself in the world (Simons) and gives navigational tools (Lindblad). This does not act directly on people.

PISA: The Alchemy and School Subjects. "The alchemy" is an analogy to medieval practices to think about pedagogical translations. PISA has little relation to interaction and communication of the academic fields. The "practical knowledge" assembles a cultural thesis about the "lifelong learner," a mode of life who the child is and should be.

PISA as Cultural Thesis of the Lifelong Learner: Who Made the Recipe of Practical Knowledge? A lifelong learner is flexible, active, and collaborative. An uncertain world needs problem solving. This works in a global world with no finishing line. Life continues responsibly. The only choice is to choose.

Science: has textbooks to emphasize greater participation and problem solving to learn the symbolic systems of science.
Mathematics: has modeling and predicting of real-world phenomena
Disciplinary knowledge: stable, logical, and analytic structures separated from the social and cultural fields in its production.
Scientific Literacy: no consensus across countries. It is NOT a universal language (in textbooks)

PISA, School Subjects, and Historical Context: The Planning of Science in the Redemption of Society. Science uses the future to reorganize the present. 19th century science went from the mastery of the physical world to the mastery of the social world. Science as planning: it was to predict the future.

PISA and the "Reason" of Practical Knowledge: Exclusion and Abjections in the Impulse to Include. Alchemy: double gestures -- hope for the future and fears of dangers. Education for all: "all" assumes a unity and a consensus. "All" erases differences and the inscription of psychological and social differences.

I. PISA is not merely measures of practical knowledge of the future. What is practical knowledge? There are different contexts.

II. The politics of school.
  • Alchemy: knowing occurs as "practical."
  • Installation of "shepherds" to guide what is "practical."
  • PISA: hope for the future, the dangers, and dangerous of populatoins.
III. The limits of the present.

IV. Historical situations: thinking about the present with implications and consequences.


  1. Does anyone have handouts or detailed notes from this segment of the symposium?

    If so, thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi,

    This post is straight out of my notes from the symposium, but maybe others have other information.

    All the best,