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SUISSA, Judith. "Anarchism and Education; A Philosophical Exploration".
Article published on 14 September 2005

by r-c.
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PhD Thesis, Institute of Education, University of London, UK., 2003.


Anarchism is rarely given serious consideration by political philosophers. Likewise, although there is a substantial anarchist tradition of educational ideas and practice, this is rarely mentioned in texts on philosophy or history of education. Anarchism is often dismissed as “utopian”, or naively optimistic about human nature.

Drawing on work in political philosophy, philosophy of education and history of education, I explore the theoretical foundations of anarchism and the educational ideas of anarchist theorists and activists. I argue that the anarchist perspective is unique in the world of radical education, and should not be conflated with libertarian education. In order to highlight the philosophical insights which emerge from anarchist thought and practice, anarchism is compared with the connected traditions of liberalism and Marxism.

In addition to dismissing some common misperceptions of anarchism, I discuss the educational implications of fundamental anarchist ideas. Central to this discussion is the notion of human nature which, while at the crux of much of the criticism of anarchism, also has a crucial bearing on the role of education within anarchist thought. It is argued that one cannot grasp the anarchist position on education without understanding the political context from which it stems. Equally, one cannot assess the viability of anarchism as a political ideology without appreciating the role played by education within anarchist thought – a role which is often overlooked.

While not purporting to resolve the theoretical tensions within anarchism, I argue that anarchist thought yields insights for educational philosophers, policy makers and practitioners. In exploring the charge of utopianism, I suggest that a consideration of anarchist ideas prompts us to ask questions about the role of philosophy of education. Anarchism, it is shown, overlaps significantly with both the liberal and the socialist traditions. Yet although anarchism may seem in many ways to challenge the liberal tradition, it in fact both echoes important liberal principles and offers a motivating ideal for educators and philosophers of education.

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