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Democracy, Education and Humility

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Recent debates about the imposition of teaching methods and curriculum content, the development of free schools and so called ‘trojan horse’ radicalisation all highlight the issue of who should control the educational encounter between teachers and students in the classroom. Often these issues are discussed in terms of their social implications, rationality or educational methodology rather than in terms of political legitimacy and they come at a time when many, on both the left and right, perceive our society to be in the grip of a crisis of democratic legitimacy.

When political philosophers and philosophers of education, attempt to address the political context of educational issues, the discussion is usually framed in terms of an axiomatic adherence to a deliberative model of democracy which has its origins in the work of John Dewey and Jurgen Habermas. However, I will argue that while the maximisation of deliberation between political equals must be central to any adequate model of democratic legitimacy, the deliberative model as conceived by Amy Gutmann and others, has serious shortcomings when applied to educational issues. In particular, I will try to show that other equally fundamental political values like autonomy and pluralism point towards an emergent and associative model of democracy, more conducive to authentic deliberation between political equals but also dependent on the virtue of stakeholder humility.

Kevin Mott-Thornton was until recently head of Religious Studies at Sydenham High School (GDST). He holds a PhD in philosophy of education from the UCL Institute of Education and is the author of Common Faith: Education, Spirituality and the State (1997), revised and updated and republished in paperback in 2014, as Common Faith: The Politics of Spiritual Education. Kevin is currently attempting to write a book on the spiritual and educational implications of capitalism.

This talk is part of the Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars series.

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