Education and the Common Good

By Berthelot, Jocelyn | Our Schools, Our Selves, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview
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Education and the Common Good

Berthelot, Jocelyn, Our Schools, Our Selves

The following article is taken from Jocelyn Berthelot's Une école pour le monde, une école pour tout le monde (Montreal, VLB, 2006), soon to appear as Education for the World, Education for All (Ottawa, CCPA). This book gives an account of Quebec education in the context of globalization and against a backdrop of the neo-liberal assault on public education in Europe and North America. It consists of three sections. The first gives a general history of the current round of neo-liberal globalization. The second analyzes the impact that this has had on public education in the developed world and in Quebec particularly. The third part describes what needs to be done to fight these trends, not only describing the educational measures that must be taken in defence of the public good, but also backing these up with solid recent international research. This extract is the first half of the third part. In it Berthelot shows how public education for full citizenship is not only necessary for a society founded on principles of social justice but is also consistent with the effort to achieve the very best education for all.


We are at a crossroads: either we keep working at defining and developing a universally accessible public domain; or we turn back. Either we continue on the road to a national education sys- tem that puts more emphasis on nation and the people, or we opt for the "survival of the fittest" and "charity begins at home."

- Claude Lelièvre

L'école obligatoire: pour quoi faire?

Quebec society benefited greatly from the rapid development of public education during the Quiet Revolution. In a few decades, the progress has been remarkable. School attendance and graduation rates in Quebec are now comparable to those of other western societies. Groups once excluded or discriminated against have now found their place within the educational community. Public education has played a major role in the construction of a Quebec identity and in the preservation and teaching of our national language and culture.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, recent years have seen an end to the linking of public education with the common good. Words like "common" and "public" have even become anathema now, associated in some minds with standardization and mediocrity.

The strongly held belief that we are living in unprecedented times, "the global epoch," has meant that education is now being subordinated to narrow economic goals. Globalization has been used and is still being used as an argument in support of the neo-liberal educational agenda. It is true that the changes ushered in by globalization will define the context in which young people grow up, learn, love and work, but the solutions offered by this new educational order are the very opposite of democracy.

Individual educational choices dominate, to the detriment of the interests of society as a whole and of the poor in particular. Competitive learning is encouraged from earliest childhood. Private enterprise is forced on us as the model to imitate. The market is now interfering in some areas for the first time. The common good is being sacrificed.

At the same time, all political stakeholders are crying out for educational improvement. Everyone agrees that education is the key determinant of social and economic development. Massive changes have come with a demand for a high standard of cultural attainment and higher qualifications.

In the face of these changes, we must develop an alternative approach fuelled by a different kind of logic. This approach must combine a reaction against the neo-liberal agenda with a response to the issues raised by globalization. It is based on a few important principles: an increase in equality, better social integration, and educational justice. We shall begin by defining these principles in more detail, and then move on to the things that have to be done to make them work.

We propose a new social covenant for education.

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