School Choice and Social Justice

By Harry Brighouse | Go to book overview

4 The Case for Autonomy-Facilitating Education

We have seen why invocation of the values of non-commodification, democracy, and the common good, all fail as arguments against school choice. It is not clear how education could fail to be a commodity in some sense, and it is clear that however commodified, it is does not matter if its institutional structure serves the interests of children adequately. Again, while all adults are indeed owed democratic rights as a matter of justice, these rights do not include rights to discretion over the design of educational institutions, which regulate the development of people who can have no reciprocal power: children. The common good may well be served by providing a good education for children, but it would be incumbent on us to provide a good education to them even if that did not serve the common good. Providing education is properly seen as a matter of justice, not of democracy or of public good.

The upshot of the last chapter, then, is that the interests of children should be paramount in guiding our decisions as to how to design educational institutions. In particular, their developmental interests should guide us. What are these interests? My focus in most of the rest of this book will be on two: the interest in becoming an autonomous adult; and the interest in equal opportunity. Both these interests are often invoked in arguments against school choice. The burden of this and the next three chapters is to explain why the invocation is appropriate: that is, why these two values do appropriately guide the design of educational institutions. I do not claim that only they should guide us, and only in Chapter 7 will I take up the question of whether school choice really does violate these values.

The first fundamental value that should guide the design of educational policy is the ideal that all children should have a realistic opportunity to become autonomous adults. Autonomy is, of course, used in many different ways by different theorists. On Kant's view, for example, one is autonomous only when one wills in accordance with the Categorical Imperative. On some other views, one is autonomous when one's actions

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