What is Education, and Why are Educational Policies Failing?

September 8, 2022
Is ‘Schooling’ Education? Or is it behaviour modification, and is it that necessarily a bad thing?   What I am suggesting is that the problem is not so much around the institutional commitment to modify behaviour for socialisation, but much, much, more that ‘schooling’ fails to produce comprehension in the educational needs and “outcomes.” Schooling […]

Is ‘Schooling’ Education?

Or is it behaviour modification, and is it that necessarily a bad thing?


What I am suggesting is that the problem is not so much around the institutional commitment to modify behaviour for socialisation, but much, much, more that ‘schooling’ fails to produce comprehension in the educational needs and “outcomes.” Schooling has become performance, and, more exactly, performance measures, and much too often not true educational outcomes that each individual would consider important for their life values and career performance. This model(s) will continue to fail as long as governments, the markets, and the public echo chamber obsess with skills and job entry, rather than careers and true educative “outcomes.”


After a few millennials in the philosophy of education, since Aristotle, it is maddening that the political and bureaucratic dumb idols (idiots) cannot recognise this basic truth. A flourishing life is in lifelong learning (education), and never in a model of economic recovery or growth.


Unfortunately, the academic literature struggles to get to the point, but nevertheless, the scholarship constantly makes the point that 1) educational needs and outcomes are personal, 2) that policy needs to reflect that personalism (inclusively), and 3) the current ‘school’ models do not ‘perform’ in this way.


In 2015 Emily Milne and Janice Aurini calls for ‘discretionary spaces’ for parental involvement in ‘school policy’, but it raises questions, in the way Ivan Illich once raised the issue, whether being school policy that persons as parents or members of the community have ownership in the policy, or whether it is just another school performance measure.


There is a failure in policy-formulation to think critically in the philosophical terms of mission and purpose, always succumbing to the technological agenda. This is something Edward Rozycki thought about in 2015, in an article called “Mission and Vision in Education”. He wonderfully points out the ‘crap’ in ‘Vision statements’, ‘Mission statements’, and ‘Goal statements’. Rozycki calls it, “GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.” Here is the critical point of the personalism. If a student, as a person, is not enculturated with the autonomy of their own passions, education is impossible. Learning only sticks when there are passions to bind.


Mamphela Ramphele wonderfully brings this together in yet-another 2015 article, entitled, “Meaning and Mission”. The article starts with a quote from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1946):


“Everyone has his own special vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he [her/them?] cannot be replaced, nor can his [hers/theirs?] life be replaced, nor can his [hers/theirs?]  life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his [hers/theirs?] special opportunities to implement it.”


It is, as Mamphela Ramphele says, “the core of the pursuit of learning.” In a much earlier article Rozycki (1994) demonstrated the limits of schooling to perform in this way. Rozycki does not mince words, but offers plain-speaking. He said that if a person does not appreciate the function-mission distinction, you probably “have your canine anatomy all mixed up.” A reference to the very bad policy tail wagging the public educational dog. It is not a matter of being ‘dog brain’ but that there is an obsessive desire coming in the rear. Read this as ‘dirty’ as you like! Politeness, it seems, does not get the full attention of politicians and bureaucrats; when do they truly listen to the quiet scholarship?


There is much more literature that points to the same critiques of government and corporate gross misunderstanding of education. Elliot W. Eisner (1980) explained the relationships between artistic thinking, human intelligence and his understanding of mission of the school. The mission is a noble one, but, rooted in ancient classical philosophy, it is extremely difficult to see how modern schooling can deliver. Much of the philosophy of education literature points out that school missions are about socialisation (e.g., Thomas Bellamy and John Goodlad 2008, Nadine M. Finigan-Carr and Wendy E. Shaia 2018). And yet-again found in a 2015 article (results from an ad hoc JSTOR search),  Linda A. Renzulli, Ashley B. Barr, and Maria Paino draws out the tensions between ‘specialist mimicry’ and ‘generalist assimilation’ through an examination of specialist charter school mission statements as “one indicator of innovation.” The article clearly infers – even as it was not the empirical intention of the research – that charter schools have succumb to the technological agenda (‘specialist mimicry’), and that “to foster innovation through specialisation”, at this obsessive level, destroys balanced ‘generalist assimilation’, and thus destroys education in Aristotelian terms (‘a flourishing life’).


This is why schooling fails as education. It is not per se behavioural modification for socialisation;  that is merely a symptom of the technological agenda – the tail wagging the dog. Schooling fails because it is not addressing the personal needs nor the personal educative outcomes. The School addresses the mission of the school, an institution, and not a community of persons. The tail wags the dog. When will we stop this idiocy of this manufactured consent?




Bellamy, G. T., & Goodlad, J. I. (2008). Continuity and Change in the Pursuit of a Democratic Public Mission for Our Schools. The Phi Delta Kappan, 89(8), 565–571. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20442568


Bruno-Jofré, Rosa (2022). Ivan Illich Fifty Years Later: Situating Deschooling Society in His Intellectual and Personal Journey, University of Toronto Press


Eisner, E. W. (1980). Artistic Thinking, Human Intelligence and the Mission of the School. The High School Journal, 63(8), 326–334. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40365006


Finigan-Carr, N. M., & Shaia, W. E. (2018). School social workers as partners in the school mission. The Phi Delta Kappan, 99(7), 26–30. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26552377


Illich, Ivan (1971). Deschooling Society. London: Calder & Boyars.


Illich, Ivan (1973). Tools for Conviviality. New York: Harper & Row.


Illich, Ivan (1974). Energy and Equity. London: Calder & Boyars.


Illich, Ivan , et al (edited,1977). Disabling Professions. New York Marion Boyars


Macklin, Michael (1976). When Schools are Gone: A Projection of the Thought of Ivan Illich. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.


Macklin, Michael (1975).  Those Misconceptions are not Illich’s. Educational Theory, 25 (3), 323-329


Milne, E., & Aurini, J. (2015). Schools, Cultural Mobility and Social Reproduction: The Case of Progressive Discipline. The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens de Sociologie, 40(1), 51–74. https://doi.org/10.2307/canajsocicahican.40.1.51


Ramphele, M. (2015). Meaning and Mission. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 10–13. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26609246


Renzulli, L. A., Barr, A. B., & Paino, M. (2015). Innovative Education? A Test of Specialist Mimicry or Generalist Assimilation in Trends in Charter School Specialization Over Time. Sociology of Education, 88(1), 83–102. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43186826


Rozycki, E. G. (1994). Mission versus Function: Limits to Schooling Aspiration. Educational Horizons, 72(4), 163–165. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42925069


Rozycki, E. G. (2004). Mission and Vision in Education. Educational Horizons, 82(2), 94–98. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42927135


Image: Collage of Images as (left to right, top to bottom):

Vision, education people concept – displeased red haired teenage student girl in glasses and checkered shirt l showing thumbs down over grey background. Photo 143161962 © Syda Productions | Dreamstime.com

Girl sleeping with holding a sign with the word Help. Photo 134669606 © Sevak Aramyan | Dreamstime.com

A close up shot of a little boy at school who looks distant and upset. Photo 57218706 © Liquoricelegs | Dreamstime.com

Grunge image of a stressed overworked man studying. Photo 39431170 © Kmiragaya | Dreamstime.com

Stressed college student for exam in classroom. Photo 68713779 © Tom Wang | Dreamstime.com

Worried young woman using laptop, teenager feeling nervous passing online exam or distance graduation test on web, f grade, anxious girl stressed by bad news in email, biting nails, looking at screen. Photo 101334378 © Fizkes | Dreamstime.com


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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.
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1 year ago

In Aristotle’s terms a “flourishing life” can only be achieved by a small proportion of humanity – philosophers (lovers of wisdom (truth), the contemplative life); and a somewhat wider group, the gentleman/aristocrats who are devoted to and manifest virtue (excellence) in their personnel and the social/political life of the city/state as it’s leaders. That’s it. The rest of the populace have no possibility of virtue and must be trained as best as is possible to have their passions curbed (socialisation) so that they don’t destabilise things too much and for some profession/trade so that they contribute in some way to the ongoing economic functioning .… Read more »