PHIL 2050.01. 100% on-line course. Be sure to check in with Bob Corbett to get on the mailing list.

Bob Corbett

Bob Corbett, instructor

The formal study of education in the universities tends to emphasize formal school-based education and to be reformist. When I say it is reformist I mean that virtually no one holds the view that the educational establishment is just fine the way it is. Rather, serious faults are found and the argument is that some reforms, often even serious reforms, are needed. However, what is generally accepted without question is the that the basic notion of the educational establishment is acceptable. Further, it is generally accepted that credentialed learning with age-segregated schools and state-enforced mandatory attendance to the age of at least 16, is an accepted fundamental structure for the educational institutions of our society.

This course will not make these assumptions about the acceptability of the fundamental social structures of the educational establishment. We will look at and investigate some of the root and fundamental assumptions and look at thinkers who are critical of these assumptions.

  1. We will begin with the question of what are schools for. What is difficult and interesting is that a list can be constructed which, piece by piece, many will endorse. The difficulty is how to make these work together. In a time-bound world some things must get priority over others and often these noble and notable aims of education are in conflict with one another. What reveals the REAL answer to the questions of what schools are for is: what do we DO in the school and how do we do it.
  2. A fundamental structure of the school is to claim one wants to give students capabilities. Yet the primary measure of capability is not performance, but credentialing, which, more than not, is measured by mastering bits and pieces of a curriculum with little or no serious evidence that one has mastered any significant long-term capabilities. We will investigate these questions and the assumptions and evidence which the typical school embraces in carrying out its task of preparing students.
  3. Schools tend to be age-specific and formal in structure (at least up to the university level). This structure of the educational establishment is based on a number of assumptions about the nature of children, or that children even have a nature, or that children really are children. We will study the question of whether young people (whether or not "children" is an appropriate term will be at issue) are the way they are by "nature" or by "social choice" and what moral implications these assumptions have in our responsibility toward the young people whose lives we impose upon with mandatory schools and the like.
  4. Schools tend to be formal and for the young. They typically begin with an optional pre-school, then mandatory (by law) elementary and secondary school, then virtually mandatory (by economic necessity for credentials which only the school possesses) university training. We will contrast this with non-formal modes of education and non-credentialed learning.
  5. In order to study one contemporary thinker who is trying to think through the nature of a radical approach to education, or at least a relatively radical approach, we will read and discuss Ron Miller's book WHAT ARE SCHOOLS FOR?
  6. Lastly we will turn to an issue whose birth is contemporary: distance learning via the internet. There are questions about just how much this new technology may change the fundamental structure of education as a social institution.

All of this will be done within the frame of a fundamental moral question: what responsibility (if any) do adults have when they interfere in the lives of the young by forcing or pressuring them into school. There are questions of the responsibility of the citizens for school laws of the society which impact the young. Responsibility of teachers and administrators for the way the run these establishments and treat the students. There are questions of responsibility for parents for these school-related ways in which they relate to their own children. Do we have obligations and if so what are they? To what extend do we behave in morally rational and defensible manners within the existing social structures of the schools.

What this course will NOT do is examine the questions of reformism within the current school structures. I think this is done more than adequately in the overwhelming bulk of courses offered on education within the university system. This course attempts to look at more fundamental positions and with an emphasis of those thinkers who are relatively hostile to the establishment, but from a very radical frame of reference, not from the reformist standpoint.

We will read from thinkers such as Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire, Philippe Aries, whose CENTURIES OF CHILDHOOD denies the "naturalness" of childhood as a stage of human development and will then read a more contemporary systematic account of the radical and near-radical stances in Ron Miller's WHAT ARE SCHOOLS FOR?

The entire course will be run on-line, 100%. We will never meet face to face. I have a 16 week curriculum where I will assign a certain amount of work for each unit. You will have a great deal of latitude as to when you turn in work during each unit, but each unit will require you to read a certain body of material, and to write a certain number of e-mails on specific assignments and replies to both the teacher and other students. All of your writings will be posted by e-mail to the entire class (unless in specific cases for good cause you ask that this not be done) and some of the student writings will be posted on the course web-site for anyone on-line to read. There will be no general test or papers, but you will be expected (required if you prefer blunt talk) to write a good deal in e-mails during the course of the semester, at least 3 or 4 per week. These will be on the required readings for the week and then responses to the writings of other students or the professor.

Specific assignments will be made each unit and normally posted on the Sunday which begins the unit's time.

I welcome your questions for more details, just e-mail me at: and I'll try to answer as quickly as I can. 

Bob Corbett

Bob Corbett
Nov. 10, 1999

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Bob Corbett