What Are We Doing? Reflecting on the Purpose of Education—And Where Such Reflection Might Lead

  • John D. WhelenEmail author


The question of purpose, or the point of education, has a long history in writing on education and continues to be a site of controversy and debate. Whelen critiques the approaches taken by two authors, Nel Noddings and Gert Biesta, to the question: what is education for? The very idea of purpose in education is so often taken for granted in contemporary discourses focussing on its instrumental value in terms of national identity, or positioning, whereas for those involved in doing it, or more importantly, experiencing it, the question of purpose is framed very differently. Noddings in particular argues for a revival of what she calls ‘aims-talk’ in order to clarify the fundamental ends of education and in doing so argues that an ethics of care is indispensable to the educational enterprise. Whereas Noddings argues the case for the primacy of an ethic of care in education, Biesta, while deeply concerned to clarify ‘ultimate values’ underlying the aims and purposes of education, asks ‘what is good education for?’ By refining the question with the adjective ‘good’, or ‘effective’, he is able to interrogate a range of arrangements and endeavours in education in terms of what he refers to as domains of educational purpose. These two positions then form the basis of a discussion in which the author, further drawing on performative crises experienced by teachers, brings them together to suggest pedagogical and curricular consequences that might be expected if (new, often young) teachers, together with their students, can find a way to understand and to challenge the situations they find themselves in.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EducationMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia

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