By Natalie Woods
By 2016, in many of the world’s most affluent societies, the utopian impulse had been extinguished. Utopianism was viewed as naïve, a relic of the past, affiliated with brutal, post war regimes. Cynicism was embedded deeply in education, where there had been a move away from idealistic visions of what it meant to be educated, or what it meant to pursue ‘the good life’, towards policies and practices that were grounded in a language of scientific certainty, and economic efficiency.
However, this situation could not last; education could not sustain itself if it were too long detached from questions of how to live in the world as individuals and together. The philosophy of education demanded our attention as we faced new circumstances, new challenges, and new possibilities, possibilities that had emerged out of a very particular set of circumstances. What it meant to work, “how to work, and why to work” (Roberts and Freeman-Moir, 2013) were not questions that stood “externally to teaching, learning and living” (Roberts and Freeman-Moir, 2013). They were questions that defined the purposes of education, and they were questions that needed to be reconsidered as we encountered ongoing change in a restless and uncertain world.
However, since the late 19th Century the philosophy of education had given rise to a small number of curriculum orientations. Each of these orientations produced an ideal of ‘the educated person’: the traditional academic; the good citizen; the worker; the explorer; and the critical intellectual. But the myth of ‘the educated person’ was rooted in dogmatism. It viewed education as a process that produced a particular kind of individual, for a particular kind of world, and it harboured the conservative message that the World ought to conform to one’s beliefs, and that life ought proceed according to a particular set of values. By the early 21st century, these educational discourses had begun to normalise certain ways of being in the world, extinguishing hope for many, and driving diversity underground.
As a new breed of philosophers began to reimagine education, they realised that their philosophies could not ignore the minute details of the real word – the day-to-day experiences of particular students and teachers – real people in real places. They believed that education needed to be understood in relation to the social contexts in which it occurred, contexts that constrained the possibilities open to particular groups and individuals, depending on characteristics of race, gender, social class, and sexual orientation. They discovered that the artefacts of the imagination – art, literature, and film – were a potent source of inspiration, as they searched for worlds beyond their world – better worlds.
Chapter 2 – The Neoliberal Revolution (Coming Soon)