Harry Brighouse’s book ‘On Education’ is one of the controversial writings


Harry Brighouse’s book ‘On Education’ is one of the controversial writings that try to send a message about education and its impact on flourishing in the life of a human being. The book is a short series that has 135 pages and divided into two parts. The first part focuses on educational aims, while the second part focuses on controversial policy issues. Brighouse draws out the knowledge they have on the US and the UK politics in education. The first chapter of the book starts off with a case scenario of the Amish school children and the world’s perception about the community. The children and community members are not allowed to interact in length with the outside world creating questions of whether such children and individuals within the community are denied the autonomy they need for human flourishing.

The chapter promotes personal autonomy as the main goal of education. Autonomy creates personal satisfaction and the notion of flourishing within an individual’s life. The chapter raises the question of whether children living in locked out communities such as the Amish children are denied the freedom of autonomy and whether their societies dictate their lives. The authors argue that education should not be seen as a means of creating a better workforce but a key through which children experience different aspects of the world and make autonomous decisions dependent on their perspectives about life.

The author focuses on economic participation in the second chapter of the book. Brighouse argues that education should not be used to prepare children to fit in a particular economy or fit in particular spots within an economy. Such a notion limits the ability of the pupils through their education as so many economic opportunities would be shut. The author rather encourages a focus on the labor market to create more opportunities for children in relation to the education they obtain. Education should be aimed at improving the individual’s general well-being and should not be focused on as a tool to accelerate economic growth. Brighouse focuses on the United States and the United Kingdom economies and shows that any further growth does not contribute to human flourishing after attaining certain levels of well-being. Education acts as a guide for children so that they may flourish in the society that they will be living in.  The author talks about the need for an income and how it pushes individuals to work most parts of their lives. Such has an effect on the well being of individuals.

The third part of the book focuses on the idea of flourishing. The author states that people view growth as effective if it is desirable and if it yields real value. In wealthy societies based on productivity growth, individuals need more leisure time, time to spend with their loved ones and friends to flourish. The chapter supports the idea of the previous two chapters of creating autonomy and preparing children for the labor market. The later concepts are critical in improving wellbeing and valuable in giving children the ability to have flourishing lives.  Schools should be burdened with the responsibility of facilitating long term flourishing to the pupils. Brighouse argues that schools could promote such flourishing in various ways. Through extra-curricular activities and ethos, it can be achieved through classes on family life, financial management, on work (traditional curriculum).

Main Ideas and Personal Experiences

The two main ideas expressed through the writing are human flourishing and autonomy as part of the flourishing process. Flourishing is the main theme of the document where the author indicates that everything done is to promote a good life for human beings, a feeling of satisfaction and flourishing. Every activity of a human being is aimed at promoting their lives to become better. Education and economic success are aimed not at making a country better but making an individual feel fulfilled in achieving the goals they want in life. Education is rigid and taken too seriously in life that it is focused on creating economic machines instead of a consistent base of knowledge within a community.

I have had personal experience throughout my education on the notion where tutors and schools are grade oriented other than learning-oriented. When I was in elementary and high school, all that mattered was good grades. Tutors would try promoting the art of cramming instead of understanding. The same happens when educational achievements are measured using examinations. It takes the child from the real-life application of knowledge gained to cramming what are syllabuses for the sake of getting a high grade in the examination. Papers do matter in some economies compared to the skills that an individual has. The higher levels of education within a society simulate higher productivity. Therefore, education becomes a great barrier to human flourishing, where humans cannot fully self-actualize through the knowledge they gain in schools.

The other main theme in the book is autonomy, which is the right for every child and individual to make a personal decision in relation to their education and the direction they want their life to head. Many individuals lack such autonomy due to society’s norms and beliefs, as shown by the author through an autopsy of the Amish community. I have experienced the same through the education system. I often see parents denying their children the autonomy of being what they want and heading a direction that seems better and self-fulfilling. There is a notion that the world has about different career paths and types of education, and parents become a pivotal point in directing their children in a specific direction.

It is not once or twice that I have heard a school mate or a friend make a statement about how they resent the courses they took and how they wish that they could do something different. Parents often force children to follow particular educational roads with the intention of making their children’s lives better. What they forget is that such children or young adults have a right to autonomy. A right to make decisions that is more fulfilling to their lives and to their desires. Through the book, the author shows how education could be used to create such autonomy and create a flourishing life. The controversies brought out about educational politics to apply to most societies. It is time that society focuses on the self-fulfillment aims of education and promotes the scholars’ flourishing lives.

Discussion Questions

Does flourishing require autonomy?

How can people pursue the aim of creating autonomy in education? Who is responsible for achievement of such goals?

How is education related to human satisfaction and feeling of a flourishing life?


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