For Professional Educators, What Is 'Meaningful Collaboration'?

By Blokhuis, J. C. | Canadian Review of Social Policy, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

For Professional Educators, What Is 'Meaningful Collaboration'?


Blokhuis, J. C., Canadian Review of Social Policy


A few years ago, I was invited to take part in an international conference at a venerable German university boasting one of the largest teacher education programs in that country. The conference theme was 'Meaningful Collaboration in Teacher Education'. I accepted the invitation, confident that a forum of this sort would elucidate the concept of 'meaningful collaboration' for educators. Things did not turn out as I had hoped. Nonetheless, my experiences as a philosopher of education at a conference dominated by entrepreneurs inspired me to reflect on what 'meaningful collaboration' ought to entail for educators and other academics concerned with public education policy. In this commentary, I consider the philosophical aims of education in liberal democratic societies, the animating ideals that distinguish educators and other professionals from entrepreneurs, and some of the consequences of marketization for public education in general and higher education in particular.

Aims of Education in Liberal Democratic Societies

As my contribution to the 'Meaningful Collaboration' conference, I prepared a brief talk based on my lecture notes from an Aims of Education course I have taught for years. Teacher education programs tend to emphasize the 'how' of teaching, but as a philosopher of education, I am more concerned with the 'why'. Moreover, one cannot engage in a fruitful discussion of what 'meaningful collaboration' for professional educators might mean without due regard for educational aims.

I noted that liberal philosophers of education have for years identified the development of each child's prospective capacity for rational self-governance as an aim of public schooling (see Brighouse, 2006a; White, 2007). Consistent the rejection of ascribed status and religious conformity associated with early modern liberalism (Curren, 2006), compulsory schooling laws have historically required all parents to enrol their children in a state-approved educational program. In liberal democratic states, including the US and Canada, public schools were established to provide all children with access to public knowledge and diverse formative influences (Blokhuis, 2010; 2015: 74). Public schools were to be distinct institutional spaces in which children could engage with persons other than their parents for limited periods of time; where all children could be exposed to ideas and values in addition to those of their parents; where all children could learn more than what their parent(s) alone might be willing or able to teach. Compulsory schooling laws put an end to most forms of child labour and incidentally enabled more parents to work outside the home. But they also helped to ensure no child's fate would be determined solely by parental circumstances or preferences (Blokhuis, 2015: 74; Curren & Blokhuis, 2011: 1).

Harry Brighouse (2005) has argued that public schools should maintain an ethos to some extent discontinuous with that of the home and surrounding culture, not only because it is wasteful to duplicate in public schools what most children are likely to experience elsewhere (sports, pop culture, advertising), but also because the facilitation of autonomy requires exposure to diverse conceptions of what constitutes a good life. Access to public knowledge and diverse formative influences in public schools would enable young people eventually to accept, revise or reject the comprehensive worldviews of the families and communities into which they were born if they wish, thereby safeguarding what Joel Feinberg (2007: 112) memorably described as "the child's right to an open future." If we accept this line of reasoning, an autonomy-facilitating education may be seen as a fundamental good, an educational aim which all reasonable persons, regardless time or place or circumstance, would consider desirable. According to Brighouse (2006a: 15), the highest aim of education is human flourishing, and because adults whose capacities for rational self-government, economic participation, and civic participation have been well developed are more likely to lead flourishing lives, all children have an interest in an education that nurtures these capacities. …

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