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Paideia and the search for freedom in the educational formation of the public of today


In this chapter, I explore the ancient Greek concept of paideia, which I will continue to develop in chapter 6 as an educational theory that positions freedom as central to the educational process and a necessary prerequisite for democracy. I also analyse the current crisis in public life in Europe as a consequence of neglect of, or inability to incorporate, educational theory in the formation of school systems embracing democratic ways of life. I am aware that such a take on the issue may look like a severe reduction of the complexities of the historical and political situation in which we live. Nevertheless, I argue throughout this chapter that by understanding education as central in the formulation of paideia in ancient Greek culture, it also becomes quite clear how important such an understanding is for the very possibility of formulating a pluralist democracy in the present.

In the previous chapters, I have explored the concept of teaching as mainly about commitment and change (chapter 1), and as emancipation (chapter 2); and clarified the distinction between schooling and education, and teaching as verification of equality (chapter 3). In chapter 4 I have explored schooling and the possibility of education and teaching in relation to a social and political reality of neoliberal destruction of public education, and claimed against such destruction that education and teaching comes with an excess, adds fluidity to both educational relations and knowledge, and as such is counter to the neoliberal urge of capitalization and control of both through schooling. Teaching as based on educational theory instead operates within what I am calling a community of poets, established through the verification of equality, and as such is open for imagination and emancipation, for a different partage du sensible (Ranciére, 2007b), through which we experience the world as orderly in the first place.

In this chapter, I mainly explore the very first expression of such a concept of teaching known to history, and the radical idea of allowing anyone to be the bearer of culture and society contributing to continuous change, not just confirming the power of an exclusive group of people. That is, I explore theconcept of teaching in the context of the birth of democratic thought, as the ver)' conditions for democratic thinking and acting. I also identify three types of abstraction that are distancing current orders of democracy from concerning the entire population, and offer an educational strategy to break with these abstractions, to be able to take on a divine life in the present. That is, to be able to recognize and embrace the ambiguity of the other who comes before me, to quote Barbara Cassin (2016). This ambition is linked to the educational task of staging a true public sphere, or what is to be referred to by Castoriadis (1987) as an authentic life, in which freedom of the other is a necessary concern (Biesta & Safstrom, 2011). In general, it agrees with Herbart (1898), who stated that “Education would lead to tyranny if it did not lead to freedom” (p. 57).

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