Clair Maple Memorial Address: Knowledge, Freedom, and the Purposes of Learning

Susanne Woods, EDUCAUSE Connect, Aug 28, 2007
Commentary by Stephen Downes

There's a lot of presumption and rhetoric in this talk (which, as a titled address, is appropriate) but I want to draw attention to the core of the document, which is essentially the top half of page 9 (on the PDF), which asserts, "the new purpose of education is to create global citizens who can innovate and integrate in the face of complex new demands, who are satisfied and productive individuals and competent and responsible members of their local and global communities... to sustain our democracy and perpetuate freedom." This is supposed to characterize a "liberal" education, and in the next paragraph Milton is cited, as though to stress that point. But it's wrong on so many levels. It's wrong to thing that we can create 'citizens' the way we create Buicks, it's wrong to suppose that people should be 'global citizens' rather than representative of their distinctive histories, homes and cultures, it's wrong to suppose we can instill some sense of responsibility on them without their advice and consent, and it's wrong to suppose that freedom is something that can be created or given to a population at all. Our children aren't little instruments designed to live our our ideals for us; we have to do that ourselves, and let our children define their own values in their own good time, and their first - and only - responsibility will be to look at what we have created, and to determine whether any of it is worth keeping. And when I look at the world we are giving them, I'm hesitant to be so proud.
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