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In Defence of the Human in Education

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Isolde Woolley

The title incorporates the assumption that the ‘human’ in education is being threatened by certain processes. The guiding questions are: What are these processes and what constitutes the ‘human’ in education? Which activities characteristically performed by human beings are so central that they seem definitive of a life that is truly human and which changes or transitions in educational thinking are compatible with the continued existence of a being as a member of human kind and which are not? It is argued that the present debate on education is still dominated by the language of performance and global economic comparison. Educational practice must and will have to help the individual through a confluence of insights in his/her journey through life to form independent judgement.

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The crisis alluded to by Arendt at the outset of this dissertation, within the context of education in America at the beginning of the 60s, is nowhere near a solution which is evident in the discussion between Joseph Dunne and Alasdair MacIntyre in 2002 and will not receive an ultimate answer as stated in Dunne’s summary of their public dialogue: ‘I am very grateful for your answers to these questions - even though further questions arise to indicate that what we have been engaged in here is itself also a never completed task’ (MacIntyre and Dunne 2002, 19). I have tried to establish an argument that public education has good reason to promote a variety of different goals in life which its citizens can autonomously choose from. Autonomy rests with the individuals but the conditions for autonomy are granted by public institutions, which start at Kindergarten or even earlier in the quality of childcare. In order for the individual to experience and appreciate true autonomy and its responsibilities throughout the formative years education needs to aim at a level playing field. Selection of aims, whether internal through learning in heterogeneous groups or external through different institutions or sets within a school, will always take place but the fairness of the selective process will depend on the quality of human experience and learning starting with the very young. Although the aims may differ the human worth stays the same. In human terms the ‘slow’ learner counts the same as the ‘fast’...

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