chapter  5
23 Pages

Liberal ideology, radical critiques and change in education: A matter of goals

ByRICHARD SMITH & JOHN KNIGHT

It has become fashionable for educationists to argue that capitalist hegemony is imposed under the guise of bourgeois/liberal rhetoric as well as democratic forms. Writers such as Bowles & Gintis (1976), Feinberg (1975), Karier, Violas & Spring (1972) and Sharp & Green (1975) have argued the case that ‘liberal’ curricula and pedagogical practices do work on behalf of the State. Such a position entails a cavalier dismissal of liberalism as, for example, ‘wishy-washy’ and inherently conservative, and in developing the critique, the middle ground of the education debate is handed to the Right. We contend that the Left, under the influence of overly mechanistic and scientistic versions of ‘Marxist theory’ has neglected to theorise liberalism beyond the level of slogans. Further, educational analysis has been marked by a tendency to conflate liberal, conservative and reactionary tenets as a residual category once the ‘radical’ (Marxist) position has been staked out. Consequently, the potential in liberal curricula and pedagogy for limited democratisation of the education process has been meekly surrendered by critics of both schools and the political process. Yet the weight of evidence provided by past educational experience in Australia, the United States and England (Baron et al., 1981) suggests that liberalism fits uneasily with conservatism.