Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 657–668 | Cite as

What Kind of Society Does the School Need? Redefining the Democratic Work of Education in Impatient Times

  • Gert BiestaEmail author


In many places around the world the modern school is under a relentless pressure to perform and the standards for such performance are increasingly being set by the global education measurement industry. All this puts a pressure on schools, teachers and students but also on policy makers and politicians, who all seem to have been caught up in a global educational rat-race. There is a discourse of panic about educational quality, which seems to drive an insatiable need for improvement, geared towards ever narrower definitions of what counts as education and what counts in education. The surprising result is that the modern school is increasingly seen as a problem, with high levels of dissatisfaction amongst teachers, students, politicians, the media and the public at large, who all want something better from the school, although they disagree about what this may look like. The question this raises is whether it is time to give up on the modern schools and its promise and hand it over to Pearson, Google and other educational capitalists, or whether we should try again and, if so, where we might go. The reflections I offer in this paper are primarily meant to think again about the relationship between the school and society, arguing for a more ‘obstinate’ school and a more ‘patient’ society. I argue that whether such a recalibration of the relationship between school and society is possible, is ultimately a test of the democratic quality of society itself.


The modern school The welfare state Democracy Quality Performativity The impulse society 



I would like to thank Christoph Teschers for alerting me to the brilliant question posed by Eckart Liebau, which forms the main title of this paper and also a major point of inspiration.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Public Education and PedagogyMaynooth UniversityMaynooth, Co. KildareIreland

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