The true object of democratic education: to stand up within the context and against the context

This is a really powerful account by Roberto Unger about the role of education in producing capable agents, able to act within the present order but also to resist it and see beyond it, opening out possibilities for transformation which are latent within the way the world currently is. He suggests states are concerned with obedience and families with reproduction, leaving school as the institution which should be orientated towards the future in this way.

He suggests principle which ought to inform the content and method of education to further these ends:

  • The prioritisation of analytic and synthetic skills over mastery of information
  • The preference for selective depth over encyclopaedic similarity, organised around themes and projects
  • The prioritisation of cooperative between students, teachers and schools over individualised competition (this echoes what Lazega talks about as collegiality vs bureaucracy)
  • The insistence on teaching every subject being taught multiple points of time from contrasting points of view (he calls this the dialectical model of education)

He makes the fascinating point that disciplinary culture within higher education conflates method with subject matter, with this culture in turn defining the organisation of curricula. As he puts it, they “project these orthodoxies back to the education of the young and induce them to mistake the dominant ideas for the way things are”.

4 responses to “The true object of democratic education: to stand up within the context and against the context”

  1. “That is the only way to liberate the mind” he says leaning intently into the camera! FFS. I find this rather patrician and somewhat disturbing, don’t you? It smacks of a deep problem in philosophy itself and the institution’s relation to it, and how it seeks to defend/assert its position in society.

    The manner of the presentation reminds of a story my supervisor told me about the discourse in the Institute of Education in the 1980s. It was obvious to the younger generation then that technology had the potential to transform the organisational situation of education, and to change the way we talk with each other. The institution ignored it, privileging the establishment voices of R.S. Peters, Paul Hirst and co – who spoke a bit like Unger. Rather “jowly”…

    And under closer examination, there’s confusion about content and process in what he says. He wants “themes” to organise things – whose themes? Who implements it? How is it coordinated? With what tools? How do we get from where we are to where he wants to be? When we examine what’s actually happening in the world with technology, I can’t see this is possible, and all it does is maintain an establishment platform for people like Unger.

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