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Liberal and Marxist Traditions of Schooling and Education

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The idea of liberalism appeared in 17th century, it was the western philosophy based on political sight of enlightenment and got prominent in the era of enlightenment only. The liberal education stemmed from the idea of liberalism which perpetuated beliefs of having equal rights, freedom, liberty and autonomy by men. The idea is strongly influenced by the notion of governing yourself with very less intervention of government and by Kant’s notion of moral autonomy. Different philosophers have their adaptation, critiques, agreements, definitions for describing liberal education. Aristotle who was a Greek philosopher saw liberal education as the blend of two aspects: one would be virtues that include rationality and another would be readiness that includes the implication of establishing appropriate habits. What Chomsky put up about liberal education and liberal ideas is that “liberalism can only result in anarchy” and as a consequence of which liberalism in the open market leads to the flourish of capitalism. According to his provided rationality, liberalism diffuses the power or authority of the state over decisions which can be risky for the individual’s liberty and which also leads to privatization as well as capitalism. The idea of neoliberalism can be the live example of free-market space where the intrusion of state can be very minimal. Let’s synthesize the philosophy of liberal education that Hirst’s idea talked about.

Aims of liberal education and schooling are not something to be precise or standardized universally, not like education for free people but the purpose of freeing an individual’s mind to function according to the intrinsic nature of himself/herself that they can give rationality to. The aim of liberal education also derives from the notion of how individuals ought to live both individually and socially. To make education a meaningful activity for developing the individual, it’s crucial in a liberal viewpoint to consider values in it. Liberal education works in the direction of acquiring the purpose of an individual’s living. According to Newman liberal education aimed at the free exercise of mind. Attaining or promoting autonomy is the prime aim of liberal education in this individuals being taught to pursue their life according to their own will/wish. The idea of knowledge here is nothing particularly to do with anyone’s knowledge i.e. vocational education, scientific education, profession-oriented education but based on holistic pursuit of knowledge. Liberal education is concerned with the idea of the pursuit of knowledge with the development of the mind through any skills, virtues or any other attributes. It doesn’t produce any knowledge to do with the market point of view. Liberal education perceives an individual (here student) as a being that can take their stands and have an opinion of his/her own in societal/personal debates of life. Eventually, the curriculum is the blueprint plan for fulfilling aims of education so derived from the same. The curriculum or content of liberal education cannot be decided rigidly but should emerge from the moral problems of life provided by different disciplines and reflection based processes through studying the power of speech as well as rationality.

There are two views of a liberal education: one in terms of quality of mind it ought to be produced and another the forms of knowledge it ought to be concerned about. In the first view, the aim to cultivate some attitudes and aptitudes: 1) to thinking effectively which includes logical thinking, analyzing problems, imaginative thinking; 2) to communicate thoughtfully which includes speaking, reading, listening, writing, the art of conversation; 3) to make appropriate judgments which include the ability of students to resist the whole range of ideas and bring into experience i.e. abstraction to facts and thoughts to action; 4) to make the distinction between values which caters the awareness of characters like self-control, fair play, aesthetics (developing good tastes). In the second view area of knowledge has been decided for the curriculum i.e. natural science, humanities, social science. The first view reflects components from the aims mentioned in earlier sections and the second view reflects upon the idea of knowledge on which curriculum is based in liberal education.

Marxist theory is one of the prominent theories in the social, economical and political world that critically deals with the class structured divisions of our society. The theory was first introduced by Karl Marx which eventually acknowledged the unequal divisions of capitals, exploitation of working classes. The argument regarding capitalism starts rising from the time when Europe hit the phase of the industrial revolution. During the period of industrialization, some major classes evolved in are middle or working class in the society and from then till now those class divisions keep on reproducing. Here, in this paper, I am going to put some light on how the philosophy of Marxist theory has an emphasis on schooling and education. Aim of education according to the Marxist theory of schooling is that Marx considers individuals as existentialists and school should be a place that allows students to understand their radical subjectivity and help the individual to overcome the weaknesses, with a sense of freedom and autonomy. There are certain ideas on which the Marxist theory of education and schooling is based on. Unlike the liberal philosophy of education, where the idea of schooling is basically about what education should be like, as the liberal theory of education has consisted of utopianism. The Marxist ideas reject the utopian socialist schemes, strictly against reinforcing the dogmatic culture and encourage the building of new ideas while criticizing the old ones. Marx’s ideology also talked about the confusion between realities and illusions we have about this world because what seems real doesn’t necessarily be actual reality. Here the theory of schooling depicts as well as depends on the theory of society. When the reproduction of the social classes takes place through socialization, competencies, structures, ideologies, etc, the same way schools also contribute to the reproduction of labor power. Now the question arises in which way school is doing the reproduction of the society’s productive forces? Teaching paradigms are part of school culture and equally contributed to the process of reproducing inequalities. According to school culture, teacher’s imagery would be the authority for working-class students which imposes supremacy over working-class lads. This works as an exchange program where knowledge is for respect and guidance is for control. Similarly, social organization in school like having a timetable or work according to the clock symbolizes the penetration of culture for future jobs, like the labor work schedule. Discipline becomes not only a matter of punishment but to maintain the institutional axis of reproducing social relationships between authorities (teachers) and the subordinates (students).

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There are three dimensions to class struggles – economic, political and ideological. Ideological plays a crucial part in the field of education. Ideological State Apparatus is a term developed by the Marxist theorist philosopher Louis Althusser that include institutions like the religious, the educational, the family, the legal, the political, the trade-union, the communications, the cultural, which are formally outside the state control but they perpetuate or transmit the values of the state to interpellate those individuals affected by them and to maintain a particular social order. That social order precisely reflects the reproduction of capitalist relations of production and maintenance of class gap or inequalities. Ideological State Apparatus functions by ideology, which in capitalist society is fundamental to social control and education play a vital role in transmitting this ideology. That is why Educational IAS considered one of the dominant apparatuses, which replaced the previously dominant IAS, the church. One of the major reasons behind considering education as an important ISA is that the process of schooling started from the very early age of a child and those years of a child’s life are vulnerable. And children devote most of their time at schools in the capitalist social formation ideology which ultimately turn out to reproduce structures of inequalities. The mass children at the age of 16 pushed into production i.e. workers or small peasant, some reaches to fill the post of small technicians, white-collar jobs or bourgeois of all kinds, last are the agents of exploitation (capitalist), the agents of repression (policemen) and professional ideologist (priest). The schools teach know-how, but in forms that ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its practice. The prominent role of education is the reproduction of an efficient and obedient workforce which is achieved through schools. Educational institutions pass the ideology of capitalism as just and reasonable as well as train future labor to become submissive to authority. As children learn to read, write and to add or acquire a different number of techniques, scientific elements, literary culture, etc, which is useful in different jobs in production. But other than these techniques and knowledge children at school also learn good behavior, rules, way of ordering, i.e the expected attitude according to the jobs they are destined for – established by the class domination. For instance, learn to speak proper French to handle the workers correctly( for future capitalist). This type of curriculum structure leads to the reproduction of inequalities when they learn know-how. Classroom practices, teacher behaviors or some part of pedagogy comes under a hidden curriculum, which is a tool of the ruling class. Bowles argues it teaches the children to accept their position in society. For instance, the school teaches children to accept as normal to do as you are told, this way when your boss orders you than it seems perfectly normal. What is taught and what is not taught impacts the nature of value consensus that education produces.

Hegemonizing a particular culture or class in the textbooks by including texts can be related to a particular religion which again leads to the perpetuation of a dominant ideology. Michael Apple also agreed that the class culture of dominant groups was transferred through curricula and pedagogies to students. For instance, in the primary classes, NCERT the topic – types of houses depict a basic standardized or stereotypical representation of house structures, having a presumption that every student lived in a house like that but realities might have different according to the individual background. Krishna Kumar also mentioned in his writing ‘Learning to be backward’ that the learner’s background affects his/her response to an educational text. He also gave an example of a tribal boy from real-life observation of a classroom interaction while transacting the text based on socio-economic and cultural change where the teacher uses her power to place the ST boy in a situation where he acknowledges ignorance.

Educational ideologies also help in shaping school practices within the classroom. It does this through the grading and assessment policy so that the individual fights vigorously in a competitive manner to achieve what is set as standards of achievement. For instance, standardized tests/exams conducted for students with a diverse background in schools where subjectivity is missing which eventually leads to the division of labor (sort of filtration). Though functionalists see schools as a place of opportunity for social reform or mobility through individual efforts. Marxist pulled out the point that schools reproduce social inequalities as meritocracy is a myth. Only the ruling class gets benefits from the educational institutions which meet their needs by limiting the opportunities of the working classes and thereby legitimize the reproduction of inequalities. Primarily the reason for having schools for education lies in having the crucial role of gaining knowledge. But the types of knowledge are also differentiated, some types of knowledge are more worthwhile than other ones, for instance, school knowledge, and non-school knowledge. That was reflected in the formal and informal grouping in counter school or shop floor culture. There are two ideas associated with knowledge – first ‘knowledge of the powerful’ (who have control over knowledge and access to it), and second ‘powerful knowledge’ ( what all the knowledge can do). Through that class culture and class, power nepotism indulges in the education system. The school creates the myth of meritocracy that every child is equal in school from any class background and he/she can reach any level with their hard work.

In a nutshell, the teacher paradigm is the principle area that was utilized by the school as the key reproduction of the working class. This paradigm helps the teacher to gain authority and taught students obedience, conformity of working-class kids to accept the social division which recollects the banking model of Paulo Freire in the pedagogy of the oppressed. Contrastingly, as a solution, the problem-posing model suggested by Freire, in which he sees the relationship between teacher and students as dialectical. He resolves the difference between active teaching and passive learning by synthesizing into a single role, where everyone teaches and learns in the same space.

Works Cited

  1. Althusser, L. (1970). Ideology and ideological state apparatus. In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly review press (pp. 1-33).
  2. Hirst, P. (n.d.). liberal education and the nature of knowledge.
  3. Matthews, M. R. (1980). Marxism and education. In The marxist theory of schooling (pp. 176-200). harvester press.SUSSEX, humanities press.NEW JERSEY.

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Liberal and Marxist Traditions of Schooling and Education. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
“Liberal and Marxist Traditions of Schooling and Education.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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