(VI) What should education be for?  (University Blog Post)

This post was originally produced as a 500 word assignment for the Philosophy of Education course on the MSc Education at the University of Edinburgh. It received a 10/10 grade ❤
Topic 2. What should education be for? 

Pink Floyd (1979) 'Another Brick in the Wall'

Pink Floyd (1979), ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, The Wall

In responding to the task, a first consideration must be contextualisation of the answer – the ‘place’ according to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1967), or the ‘bearings’ under American educational philosopher John Dewey (1916). Will it be in an abstract utopian society, devoid of national and religious histories, one that encourages free thinking for the ‘common good’ (Alasdair McIntyre, 1987) and ‘matters of public importance’ (Fleischacker, 2003); or situated within the modern reality of market-driven societies in which a majority of people live in or are at risk of poverty, priced out of an education by tuition fees, facing precarious low-paid and insecure employment, burdened by care responsibilities with limited state support?

Noam Chomsky (2012), Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, distinguished two uses of education: (i) the “traditional” post-Enlightenment idealist notion, enabling students to achieve “the highest goals in life” with an education providing a means to “further your own way”; and (ii) “essentially indoctrination”, with “frameworks” established that theoretically lead students into employment. Within the latter scenario, termed ‘domesticating’ by Ira Shor (1993), formal education is reduced to a rehearsal for neoliberal society.

Brazilian Educator Paolo Freire (1968) understood that ‘education can never be neutral’, whether through the banning of select textbooks which contrast dominant narratives (Chomsky’s ‘‘doctrine’); or through directing students towards particular occupations by reducing barriers( e.g. tuition fees) for certain disciplines as seen in modern Scotland. By limiting access, education’s contemporary purpose could be considered as producing obedient citizens who will unquestioningly accept prescribed narratives, refrain from critical thought or questioning regimes of power, yet be competent enough to undertake professions in fields prioritised by governments to enable participation in the ‘knowledge economy’.

Pan-Africanist Sociologist W.E.B. DuBois (1903) described social conscious-raising education as providing “an element of danger and revolution, […] dissatisfaction and discontent” – threatening established forms of power – a purpose echoed by Dewey (1916) who advocated “active learning” enabling democratic participation; a fear traced back to Ancient Athens by Martha Nussbaum (2002) to ‘The Dangers of Socrates’ by comic playwright Aristophanes. Consequently, it might be argued  that focusing exclusively on critical thinking at the expense of formal qualifications risks both the opportunity to earn a livable income and individual safety under regimes of power.

A ‘middle ground’ was described by Community Educator and Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh James Crowther (2013), suggesting education as being for “provid[ing] an open and democratic space [where] new values, new perspectives new interests” can develop, emphasising that education should enable “production of critical [“and caring”intellect”, noting that “schools cannot go it alone”, adding that partnerships are required to find a “balance”between these competing priorities of employability and social consciousness.

It may therefore be concluded that, in what Nussbaum (2002) described as ‘inescapably plural’ societies, Crowther’s ‘balance’ must be struck. Education should simultaneously provide students with the ‘tools’ (qualifications) necessary to enter employment (adhering to Winch’s [2015] stressed need for attainment through standardised educational assessment), whilst also encouraging critical thought.

498 words.  


(C) Denotes core or found within readings (7)

(N) Denotes non-core readings (5)


(C) Aristophanes (423 B.C.) The Clouds of Aristophanes in Aristophanes. In (1994). Four plays by Aristophanes. New York: Meridian Book.


(N) Chomsky, N. (2012) Noam Chomsky – The Purpose of Education. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdNAUJWJN08 [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

(N) Crowther, J. (2013), YouTube. (2017). Dr Jim Crowther at Maynooth Education Forum. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wexYKa-1rHc [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

(C) Davis A & Winch C (2015) Educational Assessment on Trial, ed. Lum G (London, Bloomsbury)

(C) Dewey (1916) Chapter 11: Experience and Thinking, in Democracy and Education. In: Collected Works of John Dewey – Past Masters Education

(N) DuBois, W.E.B. (1903), The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois, W. (2007). BiblioLife.

(C) Fleischacker, S. 2003. “The Impact on America: Scottish Philosophy and the American Founding.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment, edited by A. Broadie, 316–337. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. In James MacAllister & Gale Macleod (2016) Philosophy in Scotland and Scottish education, Ethics and Social Welfare, 10:3, 197-210

(C) Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London, Penguin)

(N) Lacan, J. (1967) The Place, Origin and End of My Teaching. In Lacan, J. (2009). My Teaching. London: Verso.

(C) MacIntyre, A. 1987. “The Idea of an Educated Public.” In Education and Values: The Richard Peters Lectures, edited by G. Haydon, 15–36. London: Institute of Education. In James MacAllister & Gale Macleod (2016) Philosophy in Scotland and Scottish education, Ethics and Social Welfare, 10:3, 197-210

(C) Nussbaum M (2002) Education for citizenship in an era of global connection, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 21 (4), 289-303

(N) Shor, I. (1993) Education is Politics. Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. In Leonard, P. and McLaren, P. (1993). Paulo Freire : A Critical Encounter. London: Routledge.

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