4

EDUCATION WITHOUT AIMS?

Paul Standish


I

A standard analysis of the aims of education might proceed by offering three possible areas for their location: first, to serve the needs of society; second, to pass on and develop those ways of knowing and understanding which are the common heritage; third, to help individual learners to develop, either through a process of unfolding from within or through an authentic creation of themselves.

Within these parameters, though not entirely co-extensive with these categories, ideas of progressivism (child-centred education) and liberal education can be differentiated. Most obviously progressivism is concerned with the third aim, with the development of the learner. The liberal position seems to align itself with the second aim, of the passing on of ways of knowing and understanding. These are slippery terms, however. The second and third aims, and thus the progressivist position, are liberal in that they are concerned in some sense with the freeing of the learner; both reject an education which is primarily instrumental. While in America John Dewey is thought of as a liberal, 1 in the UK he has been seen as a key figure in the growth of progressivism which the liberal education of R. S. Peters, P. H. Hirst and R. F. Dearden sought to criticise and oppose. It is in this latter sense of liberal education that the term is used in the present discussion. Thus the conception of freedom and how it is achieved are crucial points of difference between these positions.

If the first aim - of serving the needs of society - is not concerned with freedom in the same way, who might support it? The short answer is perhaps most people, including many employed in education. It is likely to

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