Education as the Practice of Freedom

Education as the Practice of Freedom

Ernest Anemone (Education for Global Peace, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3001-5.ch004
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Louis Brandeis once remarked, “Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.” In the American juvenile justice system, this is too often forgotten. This chapter addresses, from the perspective of a practitioner, the consequences of a justice system and education system that prioritizes detecting problems over solving them. This chapter will further discuss how the existential anxieties created by such a system weaken not only those systems individually but also, all democratic institutions on the whole. Using these observations, readers will explore innovative ways to promote genuine dialogue and deliberation in the classroom and will be asked to consider public schools as unique, vitally important democratic institutions.
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The Purpose Of Education

There are countless writings on how education should be measured yet far fewer on how education should be defined in the first place. If education is a commodity, it’s shocking how much it varies from student to student. If it’s an experience, it’s shocking how hard we try to standardize it. What is certain is that the language we use to talk about education determines the outcome long before the question has even been asked. Using the metaphor of “road maps,” Michael Apple observes how certain keywords (e.g. markets, standards, God, inequality) send us down a particular “highway” in a particular “direction.” (Apple, 2001, p. 8-9). For instance, taking the “highway labeled market” (as urged by neoliberalism) sends you in the direction of “the economy,” toward the exit labeled “individualism.” On this highway, ‘freedom’ is not defined by “self-denial and moral choice” but by “economic independence” (Apple, 2001 p. 11-12). By defining freedom in these terms, our democratic institutions suppress concern for the needs of others in favor of private profit and power. This is why the justice system and public-school system has been increasingly in a negative feedback loop, often referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline (Apple, 2001, p. 12). Under this system, it would not be necessary to consider trauma or any other potential cause of learning and behavioral difficulties because rewarding high performers and punishing low performance is the only thing needed for a functioning market. Unfortunately, there is a high price to pay when we treat democratic institutions as quasi markets.

As Charles Taylor observes, without a common commitment to each other, the fabric of society itself is “fatally eroded.” This is why the political decisions in the U.S. (and many other nations) are increasingly becoming a ‘prisoner’s dilemma’—where individuals willfully sacrifice collective success for a chance at private gain, even though the risk of doing so is achieving neither. For the purposes of this chapter, this is precisely where the education system needs to assert itself as a democratic, community-based institution capable of promoting the skills and attitudes essential for a healthy, functional citizenry. In accordance with this view, it must also reject the reforms that require perpetual accounting for accounting sake.

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