10

SELF-DETERMINATION AS AN EDUCATIONAL AIM

James C. Walker

Implicit in every educational decision is a fundamental choice. Are students, of whatever age, to be enabled to become more self-determined in their learning? Or are they to be disempowered, their learning subjected to the purposes and presumed interests of others, whether government, industry, educational institutions or indeed students’ own parents and families?

The second option is not only morally and politically questionable; it is also, arguably, self-defeating. Economic prosperity, political stability and family harmony are likely best served by a population of human individuals capable of spontaneous self-expression, independence of thought and autonomous decision making. Unless our young people are becoming more self-determined and capable of communicating their views and knowledge and awareness of the problems of our world and our societies, then education in the twentieth century will have largely failed to deliver. Meeting the need for self-determination of our children and young people in the twenty-first century is a precondition for, not in competition with, meeting the needs of government, economy and society. At any rate, this can be argued, and would strongly support an educational philosophy highlighting self-determination as an educational aim.

Be that as it may, in this chapter I outline a philosophical case for self-determination as the fundamental educational aim, a case which is consistent with contemporary theory of human development and knowledge about the conditions for optimal learning. I present an account of self-determination as constituted by the dispositions to authentic self-expression, management of one’s own learning, and creation of the conditions for further, enhanced self-determination. Since the third disposition, I shall argue, entails creating

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