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Fr. 769

February 28, 2017


With the help of the secondary literature, Weber traces the development of Rawls’ views on education from early to late work. From Rawls’ more robust view of person as life-plan in Theory, he moves to a more skeleton account in Liberalism. In both instances, a minimal view of education seems to be at issue. Certain commentators have attempted to rehabilitate this more minimal version as citizenship education. In what do they consist more precisely?

For Rawls, the political is insulated from other nonpublic spheres. Accordingly, any view which sees the need to link the political and the citizen to nonpublic spheres will be able to countenance a view like Rawls’ on which citizenship is not “informed by the study of music, languages, mathematics, engineering, philosophy, religion, and so much more” (p. 119). Whether such a view can make the challenge without question-begging remains to be seen. (For his part, Weber seems at least partly guilty thereof.) Certainly, Rawls is to receive credit for his attempt to cultivate political virtue. But, in attempting to isolate conceptions of the good from politics and education, the thinker can only with difficulty make a case for citizenship education. As Weber suggests:

“Such a society cannot leave people of varying comprehensive doctrines in separate compartments. Citizens must be aware of each others’ [sic] fundamental values if the great dangers of the blind use of black boxes are to be avoided. We must open up the black box and see what we can do to live together” (idem.).

Though the term “black box” is here used to refer to conceptions rather than concepts, it may still reasonably be seen to apply. As to the argument itself, Weber means to claim that Rawls’ thin conception of education will ultimately leave persons poorly positioned to engage in the kind of inquiry which democracy necessitates. As an instance of Rawlsian education, the author cites a passage from Liberalism in which education amounts to a mere set of rights and facts to be memorized. Such does not suffice to meet Rawls’ stronger demands that education must prepare persons to be cooperative and self-supporting.

To arrive at these demands, the author maintains that an educational theory like Dewey’s imposes itself and can reasonably fill the gaps left by Rawls’. On the notion of growth, Dewey would maintain that persons are ends to the same extent that they have ends. Accordingly, growth “is not simply to have a fixed goal” (p. 120), and educational theory must allow for a measure of plasticity as regards students.

Thereafter comes the notion of guidance, which “governs the selection of habits and the process by which judgments can be made concerning what habits to establish in the future” (p. 121). In particular, this notion brings out the extent to which students are individually and jointly responsible for the direction of inquiry. Education is not merely a question of subject matter, but, more importantly, of learning how to learn. Related to this notion is that of environment or social environment, by which Dewey would designate others’ activities implicit in the person’s own activity and the need to measure the worth of a person’s activity in relation to others in order to promote desirable forms of community. For such, it is isolate those factors most conducive to the student’s education as an end in herself, as a person with an individual history and context.

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