13 SES 11 A, Moral Space and Wellbeing, Role Models, and Political Education
For a long time, one of the most important tasks for education in liberal democracies has been to foster the next generation in core democratic values in order to prepare them for future political responsibilities. In spite of this, general trust in the liberal democratic system is in rapid decline. In this paper, the tension between the ambitions of liberal-democratic educational systems and contemporary challenges to central democratic ideas is approached by reconsidering Hannah Arendt’s critique of political education.
For the most part, critics of Arendt’s ideas concerning the relationship between politics and education focus on her clear separation between the public and the private sphere of human activities, set forth and elaborated on in her seminal work The Human Condition (1998), published more or less at the same time as her essays on education. Education, for Arendt, becomes somewhat problematic because it does not fit easily into either the public or the private. In her own words, it is an “institution that we interpose between the private domain of home and the world in order to make the transition from the family to the world possible at all” (Arendt 2006:185). As such, education aims towards the public world but must be conducted in line with the governing logic of the private. It is by criticizing the sharp division between the public and the private, and as a consequence, between adults and children, that Arendt’s critics argue for the unsustainability of her insistence on keeping education separated from politics.
However, it is the aim of this paper to argue that Arendt’s claim may be better understood from the perspective of her wider political analysis. Following her thinking on politics and freedom in relation to the tension she underlined between the ideas of the state and the nation, this essay aims to show how education may comprise a fundamental cornerstone for the existence of a common world, or one of the most effective tools for its destruction. Accepting the challenge of Arendt’s provocation to our present day understanding of political education, this essay argues against attempts to dismiss her position as conservative or outdated based on its views on the hierarchical relationship between children and adults. Instead, it argues that, in light of Arendt’s political thinking, this temporary hierarchy plays a significant role in the overall structure required to secure the existence of a common world.
This paper is based on a philosophical argument investigating the role of education within Arendt's political thought. In particular, it discusses her argument on the need to separate education from politics in relation to her analysis of the tension between the concepts of state and nation. In addition to Arendt’s own classical texts, the paper engages texts from the fields of political philosophy and the philosophy of education in order to construct a case for a reading of Arendt’s educational thinking against the background of her wider political analysis.
By showing how education, depending on its role as a tool of the state or the nation, may be a requirement for the establishment of a common world or the most effective tool for its destruction, the paper argues for the need to understand Arendt’s educational thinking in light of her wider political analysis. The state’s role is to provide a legal framework that facilitates a space of equality where men and women may appear and act in order to take responsibility for the disclosure of a common world. Education, for Arendt, caters to the safe nourishing of the seeds for such actions. For Arendt, it is for the sake of political freedom that the role of the state in education must be to shield it from the world of politics and to maintain and protect its non-political character. History tells us that education has more often been used for quite opposite purposes. In the hands of nationalistic movements, it was an important tool for the conquest of the state by the nation, by effectively contributing to ideological conformity. However, Arendt’s analysis highlights that politicized education occurs also in democratic environments, and often with the best of intentions. The progressive movement’s efforts to use education as a means to create a socially just and equal society is perhaps the best example. Even so, as Arendt argues, the result is conformity at the expense of both natality and plurality. Faced with this, Arendt’s call for rethinking the relationship between education and politics may be worthy of renewed attention. Rather than downplaying the provocative aspects of her critique, the paper argues for the need to use it as a starting point for thinking again how education may become an emancipatory undertaking capable of disarming contemporary threats to human plurality and freedom.
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