5

LIBERALISM, CITIZENSHIP AND THE PRIVATE INTEREST IN SCHOOLING

Kenneth A. Strike

As the Platte River flows through the Great Plains of North America it spreads out into a broad, shallow and silt-laden stream that has been described as too thin to plough and too thick to drink. Sometimes liberal conceptions of education seem like the Platte. They provide too thin a soil to plant a robust conception of education, but they are too thick to avoid the complaint that liberal schooling imposes a substantive view of life.

Liberal soil is thin because liberals often demand that schools be impartial between competing religions, views of the good life or comprehensive doctrines. One ‘thickening agent’ of liberal schooling is citizenship. There is a growing literature that discusses citizenship in liberal democratic societies and argues for a substantial role for schools in promoting it. 1 While I have no doubt that schools in liberal democratic societies should promote citizenship, this project may create a view of schooling that is too thick. A view of liberalism in which the socialisation requirements of citizenship were so substantial as to preclude an adequate range of views of the good life would fail to do what liberalism chiefly intends to do: that is, to make it possible for people to live according to their own views of the good. Sometimes authors argue as though other interests must simply give way before the requirements of democratic social reproduction. In Democratic Education,2 Amy Gutmann argues that the central goal of schooling is to produce democratic character. Her description of democratic character assumes a society in which a variety of good lives should flourish. However, since tolerance and the capacity for democratic deliberation are central to democratic character, schools must promote them. Part of this promotion is initiation into a shared secular and scientific language of public deliberation. 3

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