vol.9, no.1, (March 2003)


Liberatory Ethics, Education, Paedeia and Democracy: Experiences of the U.S. Educational System

John Sargis


The need for a democratic liberatory ethics has always been imperative  since the ruling elite’s ideologies of contrivance became dominant, following the establishment of the market economy and “representative” democracy ―about two centuries ago― which were presented as the embodiment of development, growth, financial success, and the good life. In reality what has happened in the ruling elite quest for power is the global corralling of Others that has not only made persons slaves to the market economy and its political power structures, but also is irreparably polluting the planet. Today therefore, as the last issue of D&N showed, this need exists  more than ever.

A democratic liberatory ethics is one that is compatible with the dismantlement of the concentration of economic, social, ecological, and political power that the ruling elite has amassed and aims at securing the equal distribution of power among people at the social, economic, ecological, and political level. This is so because only such an emancipation could lead us beyond the present multi-dimensional systemic crisis that is continually destroying community relationships among people ―which do not effectively satisfy human needs but money promoted wants that appeal to consumerism and novelty. The institutions and ideologies of the market economy have become the taken for granted unquestioned values and ideas of the dominant social paradigm. It is imperative that we identify a new social paradigm that will ensure autonomy of the individual and community. In this context Takis’ contribution to a democratic liberatory ethics[1] is a strategy to lay out a new arrangement of democracy as the self-government of the people. Because the crisis is systemic, the inclusive democracy project proposes an anti-systemic solution, i.e. the equal distribution of power that will overturn and replace the present economic, political, social, and ecological structures that were created with the rise of the market economy and “representative” democracy. Those structures with their concepts of unlimited ‘the sky’s the limit’ progress and growth have to go. Fotopoulos proposes a transitional strategy[2] which involves political action of more and more people participating in democratic self-government and moving away from the market economy by shifting economic resources into areas that will reintegrate society with politics, economy and nature. The liberatory effect of democratic ethics, following the introduction of the institutions of an inclusive democracy, is the necessary condition for paedeia. In turn, Paedeia is the sufficient condition for the development of a self-questioning democratic consciousness of autonomous individuals.      

There are few thinking people who would deny today that the educational system in the United States of America is broken.  Its failures are variously attributed to the shortcomings of its teachers, its students (and their parents), or its administrators.  It may be contended, however, that the system is fundamentally flawed; that its purpose is not, as common belief has it, to educate and to enlighten, and thereby to produce citizens who act in both their own and in their society’s best interests, in other words, citizens for a true democracy.  In fact, viewed historically and conceptually, the purpose of this educational system is to produce a mass work force, one which does not think for itself, but should accept without question the rhetoric of the economic and social elite, in other words the ruling class.   What is needed is to reappropriate a term used in the ancient Greek world, paedeia; that is, a vision of education through which a society becomes democratic and ‘just’ i.e. free from domination. This ‘justice’  has therefore  little to do with liberal or social democratic definitions of it, as a granting of a certain fairness and political rights fought for within the institutional framework of the market economy and “representative” democracy. In other words, ‘justice’ here implies economic, social, ecological, and political autonomy and freedom

The essential interconnection of paedeia, emancipatory education and democracy

Paedeia, democracy and emancipatory education ― i.e. education that aims at securing the transition from the present miseducation to paedeia (which presupposes institutions of an inclusive democracy ― form an inseparable whole. This whole is forged upon an essential relationship ― an internal dynamic― in which emancipatory education  paedeia and democracy rely upon each other for their full development.  It is through this essential interconnection that a society becomes emancipated, democratic, and autonomous. Apprehending the interconnectedness of these elements is an act of liberation and the opening for the development of democratic consciousness.  However, teachers, professional politicians, priests, parents, judges, police, cultural heroes, entertainers, students, bosses, workers, and others who have adopted the rhetoric of the ruling class mouth, promote and enforce, as Marx and Engels have said, the ruling ideas of society. “The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”[3]

Unlike commodities, which serially replace each other (once consumed another takes its place), the qbove three elements (emancipatory education, paedeia, and democracy) build upon each other, eventually leading the individual (and the society of which he is a part) through progressive states of enlightenment.  The notion that autonomy can be derived from consumption is itself the result of an erroneous mode of thought, one that is borne by the progenitors of class antagonisms and power. This exploitation is the primary function and aim of contemporary public education or miseducation. Those who benefit from the unequal concentration of economic, political and educational power afforded by the market economy and “representative” democracy manipulate, through their sophistries, ideas, customs, laws, history, micro fascisms and so forth in maintaining personal or class interests. Those who accommodate themselves to such destructive nihilistic tendencies and are the benefactors of the institutionalized concentration of power have vested interests in fighting against the development of a genuine democracy and the possession by citizens of the knowledge required for the task of preserving democracy.

Concentration of Power

Paedeia is a political and a moral act. It is the way a community defines and establishes (at the subjective level) individual and social autonomy and the responsibilities of each citizen acting both autonomously and in concert with other citizens. To do what is right has to be based on right knowledge. This political and moral act is based upon the struggle for the equal distribution of political, economic, and social power. Democracy is that way of life that provides the public space for the just and equal development of both the individual and community. The struggle to create democratic institutions and paedeia is the precondition for democratic forms of self-government. These democratic values derived autonomously without the necessity of a spiritual connection give shape to a unique social paradigm; for, the transitive qualities of emancipatory education, paedeia, and democracy allows for and makes use of the broadest and most inclusive intersubjective experiences in decision-making.

Question: If the current United States system had achieved these ends, then why are there more African-American males in jail than in institutions of higher education? Why are there fifty million people with only eighth grade comprehension skills in the U.S.? Why are libraries being closed in certain neighborhoods? Why is there racial profiling? Why are there approximately forty-two million people without health-care coverage in the U.S.? Why are some eight million U.S. schoolchildren taking psychotropic drugs to “control” their alleged emotional and intellectual disorders? Why are there forty-four million functional illiterates in the U.S.? Why is the infant mortality rate for African-Americans twice that of the “white” population?   

Until issues like these are openly discussed, debated and acted upon, society will remain in a state of crisis. A crisis precipitated by anti-democratic, authoritarian, and hierarchical forces that decide political, cultural and economic policies reproducing the unequal concentration of power. Those forces opposed to paedeia, emancipatory education and democracy are the market economy and “representative” democracy and the ideologies and culture backing them

Curriculum of the Ruling Elite

In the struggle to determine the economic, political, ecological and social management of society the ruling elite promotes its views in the linking of “representative” democracy and the market economy as the best and only way to establish prosperity. In fact, the goal of the ruling class is the miseducation and the deskilling of a vast segment of the population.  For, the authoritarian culture of the ruling elite requires the obedience, conformity, and acquiescence of the general populace.  To achieve this, the ruling elite promulgates a class based curriculum that not only adapts and adjusts students into “good little boys and girls”--the so-called “dumbing-down” curriculum, but also determines who in society will become the next generation of benefactors and watchdogs of the unequal distribution of resources. The repressions generated from this project are the motor that reproduces the narcissistic gratification and one-sided concentration of power in maintaining the planetary market economy. The values of neoliberal ideology of the past thirty years do not only express a structural refitting by the market economy into the New World Order, but also necessitate a structural reorientation of education from ware-housing students to instituting a minimum security apparatus. Under this program, public education maintains its class orientation, --which was established with the setting- up the market economy--, thereby guaranteeing the recycling of knowledge.

Emancipatory Education and Miseducation

At present public education is a management problem as the school emulates a production plant. Public school principals acting as plant managers regard human nature as an object to be controlled, disciplined, and directed in order to maintain the plant safe and clean for the insemination (reproduction and production) of educational inequality. Although the rhetoric confirms otherwise, in the name of education and democracy, this type of objectification seeks the exclusion and absence of the Other, hence there is no opposition in the formation of educational or political policies. Reason, as critical analysis, is lost and thoughtless concession to authority becomes the norm. Since paedeia is a political and moral act, this thoughtless miseducation may be clearly seen as undemocratic and immoral.

The public readily accepts the cultural values this program of miseducation promotes without critically examining the meaning and values of the market economy, where they have a priori  been affixed and affirmed by  what is purported to be a “reasonable” logic and consensus. Capitalist society begins the homogenization and standardization of tastes in newborns fed with Simulac and uniform nipples. People are prepared to accept any pabulum or false need capitalists deem marketable. Learning to put out of play cultural market values imbibed from infancy is the first wrenching step toward emancipatory education and away from the interests of mystification, imperialism and social control to which our current pedagogy subscribes.

But knowing by itself changes nothing. Acting upon what one understands is the challenge one must accept in bringing about economic, social, political, and ecological autonomy.  An education that does not strive for the fullest and most thorough understanding of the world will always be the handmaiden of elites who will then always make pedagogical decisions.  Authoritarian principles in education will never be removed if teachers continue to teach what are, in the words of John Dewey, “certain collections of fixed, immutable subject matter that they were taught which they in turn transmit to students under them.  The educational regimen thus consists of authorities at the upper end handing down to the receivers at the lower end what they must accept.  This is not education but indoctrination, propaganda.  It is a type of ‘”education”’ fit for the foundations of a totalitarian society and, for the same reasons, fit to subvert, pervert and destroy the foundations of a democratic society.”[4]

Emancipatory education cannot be learned in the manner of  manual or technical skills. Within the cultural fabric, emancipatory education traverses a circuitous route. Where there is no questioning there is no educating, only reaffirmations of beliefs-- easy conveniences that adhere to fear of the unknown and ignorance of the known.  This miseducation propounds no commitment to democracy, which is at the same time the wrong commitment to democracy.  Emancipatory education is an interrogating that re-opens foundations and perspectives that have been hidden by affirmations of belief.  The question re-gathers or discovers the individual’s genuine thinking by pulling the questioner out of the mud of taken-for-granted thinking, thereby re-valuating dogmatic beliefs.  “If a question is posed existentially, as a detachment of everyday meanings, its reference to what ‘matters’ to the questioner is not to ‘what he is’ as a substance but ‘how he is’ or where he ‘finds himself,’ and this reference is also brought into question.  Thus the questioner as such is involved in the question and thereby dislocated from his previous place.”[5]   In such a pedagogy egocentrism relying on its own narcissist certainty and accumulation of experiences is put into question.

Egocentrism and Education

American youths are formally educated within an acculturative industry that grafts students to interests and tasks that are entirely determined by the market economy and “representative” democracy disguised as consumer choice and participation. Beginning in primary school, students are led into consumer society by accepting the linking of the market economy with “representative” democracy.  Egocentrism is built upon the accumulation of desires that are never satisfied in obtaining its objects of desire, and seeks more and more gratification in more and more consumer objects. Rather than attempting to discover the grounds of those values, the public cultigen enthusiastically awaits the next generation of distractive novelties. The consumer becomes an avid buyer, observer, tool, guinea pig, and resource for further manipulation. Initiated into the world by mass consumer society and carried into adult life by a variety of cultural industries inflating ego-centrism, students are a captured audience for economic exploitation. Indeed, they become so captivated that their own lives become enmeshed in the pursuit of false dreams of monetary success. This miseducation leads students away from democracy and equality and into a society of economic exploitation and totalitarianism. A student’s fund of knowledge is displaced by a fund of fashionade consumerism, as the students themselves are coerced into an inner subjective standard wholly inscribed as a consumer. These privatized selves mistakenly assume their behavior as fulfilling the American Dream, whereas the ideology of the market economy makes them poorer.

Description of Application of Definitions

The struggles for freedom within human history illustrate that the ruling elite understands how human nature can be “turned against itself,” and used as a wedge for increasing human exploitation. Conventional morality makes it easier to manage the masses. Our leaders, using mass psychology and propaganda techniques, never take upon themselves the blame for the multidimensional crisis we face. In response, the masses deliver their herd conformity into their guardians’ hands. We are given the standards of freedom of expression and assemblage; yet, the freedom is predetermined and inauthentic as it exists within the current institutional framework.

Ruling Elite and Homogenization

Ruling class interests and heteronomous values can be overcome by replacing the unequal distribution of economic, political, and social power with a confederation of local forms of direct democracy where everyone’s voice, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation participates in decisions affecting the community. The goal of society must be the replacement of ethics comprised of values situated outside the individual or community—and therefore lost to any sense of paedeia--with the ethics of inclusive democracy.[6] Society has settled into a hierarchy of power under the sway of a faulty reasoning that establishes pseudoproblems, which conveniently confuse consequences as causes of the multidimensional crisis. Communities must become self-reliant and not dependent on outside sources for their organization. The want of self-reliance is, as Emerson states, “…the reliance on property, including the reliance on governments that protect it.”[7] Losing autonomy, the individual becomes homogenized into conformity obtaining a consistency best appropriated as an object of the system reproducing social, economic, ecological, and political inequalities. Homogenization gives a false sense of community in an increasingly pervasive surveillance system. No longer being the subject of their own experiences and denied a reflexive democratic consciousness people appropriate images, values, perceptions, and symbols derived and accessible from above. This homogenized and predictable consistency as Emerson stressed, “…is the hobgoblin of small minds.”[8]    

Linking Democracy and the Market Economy

The economic elite is linked to government through “representative” democracy. Since the interests of the U.S. Congress correspond to the interests of the market economy in maintaining private control of politics and the economy, the U.S. has been forged into an oligarchy whose dictatorship and interests do not coincide with the interests of democracy, emancipatory education and paedeia.  

The idea of freedom that the oligarchy aspires to is the freedom to do whatever one wants with out doing harm to others. However, the bad faith of this freedom, meshed with the market economy is perverse, since we face a multidimensional crisis. Also, the liberal oligarchic idea of freedom that treats everyone as a private individual is based on the separation of individuals. How can everyone be equally free in a hierarchy or liberal oligarchy?  They are free and on an equal footing to manipulate, dominate, and exploit others, who are considered rivals with conflicting egocentric interests. People are brought together in competition rather than in cooperation in finding a living. Marx, commenting on the individual’s private interest and limited freedom in On the Jewish Question writes, “The only bond between men is natural necessity, need and private interest, the preservation of their property and their egoistic persons.” [9]   The illusion of political freedom granted by the neoliberal nation is neither necessary nor sufficient in establishing democratic values and furthermore it secures that people are kept apart. The ruling ideas are also given a spiritual connection that provides for the further justification for the current system of domination.

On the U.S. one dollar bill is found the Latin phrases Annuit Coeptis, “He has blessed our undertaking” and Novus Ordo Seclorum, “a New Order of the Ages.” In this undertaking political freedom presupposes private enterprise and the market economy where the private individual treats others as means with the approval of god.

The U.S. ruling elite retain their position and control through the illusion of consistency between ‘representative’ democracy and market economy (despite the fact that representative ‘democracy’ has almost nothing to do with a genuine democracy) while their rhetoric engages in hiding injustice, miseducation and totalitarianism.

In public schooling, where students are subordinated to following rules and regulations, learning becomes meaningless. Learning manipulated by external reinforcement is indoctrination. Students are indoctrinated into the hierarchy of values and inequalities represented by the market economy and “representative” democracy.  This hierarchical theory of education views students as those who must be told what to do and how to act.  

Authoritarian and Emancipatory Education

Authoritarian orders of education (i.e the present system of miseducation) demand students open books, do homework, follow directions and do not ask intelligent questions. This pernicious pedagogy considers the students’ will as an object, thus lending itself to the project of molding the student into an obedient citizen. On the other hand, in emancipatory education, the pedagogical order takes the student as already willing; that is, willing to open a book, to study, and to ask questions. Emancipatory education is a critical dialogue with current values with the aim of provoking students to pose questions. Through questioning students generate new perspectives on their cultural values. A curriculum for critical education examines the hierarchy of power in human relations and how society and history are made (and can be remade) by human interaction. Learning is apprehending the interconnections among things and not merely knowing facts in isolation. By peeling off surface meanings and images, a curriculum can be oriented to gaining insight into commercial media, economic propaganda, and political disinformation, leading students to see their impact on our lives and the hierarchical structures that limit democracy such as sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, patriarchy, racism, corporate monopoly and bureaucratic control over institutions.

Emancipatory education refers to refraining from vagaries and to come to decisions based upon the common interest of all community members. Miseducation refers to the mere acceptance and conviction of misleading explanations for the way things are. The miseducated rely on sentiment rather than reason in forming decisions. The miseducated prefer to be entertained rather than engaging in a critical consideration of information. To be emancipated is to know that nothing is ready-made or pre-given. Learning is a gradual clarification of concepts that are confusing or unclear or do not make sense. One must choose, investigate and gather as much knowledge as possible in making informed political, social, and economic decisions. The sine qua non of a democracy is that its citizens seek relevant information that goes beyond the miseducation of authority, habits and repressions reproducing the status quo. Citizens must participate as well-informed members of the community. In this sense democracy is a way of life. However, public opinion, manufactured by the mass media, culled from polls, interviews and questionnaires is skewed. Those who own the media create the illusion that the public supports the legitimacy of the dominant social paradigm. Choosing to place into question existing values and interests can create a space for real alternatives to the current multidimensional crisis. In deliberation, as John Dewey masterfully writes, “each conflicting habit and impulse takes its turn in projecting itself upon the screen of imagination.  It unrolls a picture of its future history, of the career it would have if it were given a head…In thought as well as in overt action, the objects experienced in following out a course of action attract, repel, satisfy, annoy, promote and retard.  Thus deliberation proceeds.  To say that at last it ceases is to say that choice, decisions takes place.  What then is choice?  Simply hitting in imagination upon an object that furnishes an adequate stimulus to the recovery of overt action…Choice is not the emergence of preference out of indifference.  It is the emergence of a unified preference out of competing preferences.”[10]

The battle for the emancipation of the student begins in the classroom in a range of management and pedagogical styles. Rarely is there a classroom or school that has as its curriculum the posing of demystifying questions. Questions and suggestions from students confronting authority are rare or are put down as unrealistic and out of the mainstream.  Teachers will never admit that they do not allow questions that confront existing structures. However, the students “get” the message, “communicated quietly, insidiously, relentlessly, and effectively through the structures of the classroom: through the role of the teacher, the role of the student, the rules of their verbal games, the rights that are assigned, the arrangements made for communication, the ‘doings’ that are praised or censored. In other words the medium is the message.”[11]  

The whole community-- teachers, administrators, parents, clergy, politicians, and on and on, have come to approve and accept the curriculum that forces children to resist learning. This does not have to be a perennial goal. Those who confuse causes as effects make it into a moral pseudoproblem. According to this illogic the recalcitrant student is the cause of their miseducation.  Rather, the recalcitrant student is the effect of miseducation.  

The power elite do not want egalitarianism. It is claimed that public schools were established to reproduce democratic values. Yet the reality is that the values of the market economy had a major hand in the planning of schools to be a place where the masses received enough skills to move them in into the growing work force needed to run American industry.  Class warfare was embedded into the public school system, although the rhetoric claimed the opposite.  Public education would be known as the “great equalizer.”  Equalizing what? Opportunity? Economic, political, social, ecological equality? To learn nothing together? Horace Mann, viewed education as a mastery of laws to be learned that conform to existing hierarchies.  Since manufacturing was becoming the major factor of life in Massachusetts, where he was Secretary of the State Board of Education from 1837-1848, Horace Mann talked about the school as having the same goals and interests of society.  “When he (Mann) talked of ‘good habits’ then, he was not merely conforming to what he believed was moral law.  He was describing behavior required of compliant workers in factories-offering the poor and jobless what they needed to get in, assuring the owners the literate, disciplined employees they were seeking for the new production lines.”[12] Public schools were established to keep order among undisciplined immigrant children, who were starting to populate the cities. The principles of assembly-line production and monitoring devices held sway.  Students were, “deputized as monitors, each assigned a different task in the activity of instruction, drill, or disciplines…learning lessons or administering tests…other monitors policed the room, carried out punishments, reported wrongdoings, carried messages and instruction for the teacher.”[13] These methods devised by schools were plainly good business practices.

Yesterday’s educational practice needed to train a semiskilled politically docile workforce.  Today, the difference is educational practice needs to train a technically sophisticated politically docile workforce.  The aim of public education is to channel and stratify students in subservience to economic and political power centers. Neither developing democratic consciousness nor the free and equal participation of all members of society, or the understanding of the complex connections between ideas and actions is  the goal of public education. Public education is set up not to challenge elitism and hierarchy in the bigotry and repressive moralisms of the dominant social paradigm. The political dimension of education becomes for the elite, propounding their conservative political agendas, a battleground to keep students, parents, community members and therefore the schools depoliticized.

If innovations in art or in a curriculum of multiple perspectives deviate from the classical canons of western humanism, they are denounced as a surrender of standards.  The campaign against political correctness claiming to defend freedom of thought against the tyranny of the Left, actually seeks to limit debate by silencing criticism of racism, sexism, homophobia, and cultural homogenization.  Every member of society in whose hands political, economic or social power is concentrated through the present institutional framework have a hatred and fear of genuine democracy.  To accept and appreciate the variety and diversity of human experience is truly democratic.  Inclusion is a rejection of a false universalism that seeks to impose a simulacrum of unity obliterating political difference unless that concept feeds into the values of the status quo.

The project of emancipatory education, paedeia and democracy has as its goal the breaking of existing political, economic, cultural and ecological power arrangements. These authoritarian forms of domination are difficult to break with because they represent the hierarchy of values elitists and their minions justify their privileged positions within a fetid power structure. Through the current dominant social paradigm people are led to believe in the superiority of the values of power and privilege. Economic elites and their team of professional politicians and intellectuals maintain their control of public and private institutions in order to further power and privilege. Is the system of the market economy and “representative” democracy an autonomous system? No. There is no paedeia in this system. There is no enlightenment or a flourishing of culture, which simultaneously seeks democracy and autonomy. Remember, the oligarchy rules through “representative” democracy. By definition there is no democracy, no autonomy and no education in an oligarchy.

Mass public education or “jail education” molds a consumer, who is frivolous, superficial, mediocre, and invariably prejudiced.  The consumer’s major interests coincide with those of the ruling class, and thus he can only dream to be an elitist. The public literally does not have to think. Mass propaganda is placed in front it or inscribed into its herd consciousness. Public values are heteronomous and hide from the naïve public the oligarchy, the members of which are neither the best nor the wisest in deciding not only affairs of state, but also day-to-day affairs. Their hierarchical values do not coincide with the interests of political, social, and economic democracy. It is only through open and equal discussion and decision making that an inclusive democracy can uncover and clarify needs that are not soothed by unlimited growth, progress and a litany of markets. The oligarchy is so far removed from the interests of democracy, education and paedeia it is hostile to open public accountability, dialogue or persuasion. The secrecy, misrepresentation and propaganda of the market economy and “representative” democracy has to be replaced by an inclusive democracy and inquiry into social, economic, political, and environmental policy.[14]   Mass public opinion is diverted from inclusive democracy by novelty and distractions; kept diffused and scattered, the public cannot cohere into a democratic voice. Liberal or conservative makes no difference. An awareness of democratic consciousness is also an argument for persuasion in democratic decision-making, rather than using violence. Public opinion is worked over by the ruling elite into a malleable consent.[15]

The lack of connection between the student’s classroom activities and life outside the school is exacerbated by the inequality they suffer thus providing for a ghetto education. However, since the classroom is not valued as a place of learning, students have brought street values into the classroom. This problem is compounded by teachers of inner city children who, can get away without teaching anything knowing full well their students’ parents will not protest. The fact that a high percentage of students work thirty to thirty-nine hours a week at minimum paying service sector jobs, belies the other illusive facts of equal access, opportunity, and the concentration of economic power.  The student’s existential situation is entwined with the social reality in which they are born and bred. Increasingly bored and uninterested students are even more susceptible to the mystifications of the market economy that promise difference and status: “If it’s right for you”.

So what is the continuity between the child’s received curriculum and the reality outside school?  Outside the school the reality is high incarceration, police brutality, gang competition, lack of health care, decent housing and recreation. The education they receive is equal to their surroundings: decayed schools, corrupt and incompetent teachers, pollution, low pay and high crime. In their education there is no application of intelligence to solve problems. The lesson plans of monarchical teachers are filled with tedium and drudgery.

The relations of capitalist production are reproduced and exert their power through the media, schools, family, and community. Struggling against and overcoming the unequal concentration of power can transcend class structures. We cannot adhere to values that are heteronomous but only to those we each have set.  The level of a person’s democratic consciousness is presumed by their paedeia or enlightenment, because paedeia is according to the education of the individual as citizen within  conditions of freedom and self-determination.  Given that democracy is collaboration and conjoining such a paedeia can only come from the autonomy of the community.

Schools as institutions of inclusive democracy must be free from the fetters of the dominant social dogma. It is only when students stop, look, scrutinize, and suspend from judgment their taken-for-granted values, that they can place in question the presuppositions of their life-worlds in order to clarify ambiguities, inconsistencies, and contradictions. The general standpoint of paedeia is the sum total of all the cultural objects, laws, values, customs, art, science, education and the poise and character of the people or state. The highest goal of paedeia is to create the democratic consciousness of explicit self-determination at the social and individual level –and this presupposes the equal distribution of power among citizens. A radical break with the present is needed to make room for new social domain. Disconnecting or putting out of play any presupposition is a goal of emancipatory education.  Husserl describes the judgment put out of action, “It still remains there like the bracketed in the bracket, like the disconnected outside the connexional system.”[16]  A transvaluation takes place as a presupposition is disregarded and a new standpoint becomes possible.  By barring usage of any judgment as truth regarding the reality of the world, the student can break with the forms of the dominant social paradigm.

Emancipatory education is an inquiry unmasking previously hidden phenomena and creates the conditions for an authentic education, a Paedeia. Reversing the role inscribed by institutional structures in order to better understand their workings expands one’s experience against the backdrop of the cultural milieu.

Plato’s Contribution

Although Plato is no friend to democracy and winds up with an authoritarian rationale for his republic, he does provide us with  significant insights on the essence of emancipatory education in his “Allegory of the Cave.”  In the opening line he states, “meta tauta de, eipon, apeikason toioutoi pathei ten hemeteran phusin paideias te peri kai apaideusias.”[17] Cornford’s translation reads, “Next, said I, here is a parable to illustrate the degrees in which our nature may be enlightened or unenlightened.”[18] The word Plato uses for enlightenment, culture, knowledge, and education is paedeia. He says that the movement from ignorance to knowledge traverses a course of transformations in the nature of the student. Education is the gradual and painstaking inquiry that demands, “the soul…be turned around in relation to everything in front of it.”[19] Remember, the cave dwellers are chained by the neck and legs, so that they cannot turn their heads and are unable to move. The cave dwellers can perceive only what is in front of them as they behold the shadows as reality and echoes as truth. Plato’s paedeia establishes an archetype or plastic model in which the constant turning of human nature follows on its arduous and circuitous path to enlightenment. Paedeia is an overcoming of what was formerly known to be knowledge (apaedeia) by a constant inversion, uprooting, and transplanting of the whole person. This inversion is possible if everything that is commonly known, taken for granted, and the way in which it was known become different. Why? Because the demand ordinary pre-given experience makes is an overpowering force of naïve understanding. This common everydayness is considered by the cave dwellers to be the realm, which alone gives measure to all things and relationships and provides the moral groundwork for directing and organizing the cave-dwellers’ reality. “They may have had the practice of honoring and commending one another with prizes for the man who had the keenest eye for the passing shadows and the memory for the order in which they followed or accompanied one another.”[20] The silhouettes projected upon the cave wall keep the dwellers’ reality in its power. Consequently, the dwellers think this commonplace region of shadows as the free exploration of experience and judgment. Only a sudden force can free Plato’s cave dwellers. The freed prisoner would be dazzled and pained by seeing things differently in the enlightened sphere and would naturally turn back to the shadows for the comfort offered by their familiarity. Yet, the cave dweller is less confused with what he previously knew, but is more “perplexed.”[21]

Of course, Plato saw emancipatory education as a kind of individualistic affair in which enlightenment was feasible, irrespective of the institutional framework within which it happens—a reactionary conclusion in itself. It is obvious that neither paedeia is feasible outside a genuine democracy nor an attempt for emancipatory education is possible when it is cut off from a democratic movement for an inclusive democracy. Nonetheless, the allegory of cave dwellers is important because it shows that paedeia cannot be a haphazard affair that fills and crams an empty mind with all sorts of shadows passed off as realities.  Care must be taken not to alienate the student, but to nurture those attributes that contribute to the student’s interests and inner poise. Plato’s allegory sets the stage for that process of thought, which supersedes apaedeia (shadows and injustice) on the way to paedeia.

The emancipatory task provokes the learner to filter the presuppositions of cultural silhouettes. Emancipatory education demands students think deeply about the illusory world of notions that hem, jostle, whirl, and oppress them. To perceive the students’ situation as given according to popular consensus and authority requires of students a reversal of their standpoint. Inquiry of this type intends to decipher the foundation and driving forces of students’ thought and milieu, which from birth generalize and standardize the cultural life-world. In other words emancipatory education is the task from moving out of apaedeia- ignorance, injustice, totalitarianism- to paedeia- enlightenment, autonomy, democracy. This movement reveals how the categorical shadows determine the what and the how of an individual’s perceptions and cultural identity. This propaganda gathers public and private life experiences, and is very explicit about their content: “this is the way things are run around here!”

Emancipatory education inquires at the same time into the sources and meanings of the cultural milieu and the questioner. The aim of this inquiry is to bring the questioner into genuine contact with these world contents as they reveal themselves in unbiased disclosure. But this process involves the questioner’s dis-location from cultural forces and from the where and the how so that the presuppositions that obscure the validity of these forms and person can be decoded. These cultural forces are ideologies that rationalize and legitimize the status quo. Intentional reflection upon the primacy and false priority of how and what the student knows and takes judgment upon constitute emancipatory education. Interrogation of this kind leads to something other than education for money-job transactions adhering to scientific rationalism, social psychologism, and mechanistic models that fix self, society, and knowledge into a specter of uniform formulas upholding the market economy and ‘representative’ democracy.

Emancipatory education therefore brings to the fore, by placing in abeyance the presuppositions underlying and governing our own understanding and comportment, our valuations. The more we place out of play our valuing presumptions about the world the more obvious we view their obdurate affects on the world and us.  This making conscious isolates our presuppositions, values, and judgments. It requires the suspension of their validity. As long as our thinking is continually influenced by the unquestioned prescriptions of our teachers, bosses, clergy, parents, and other community members, as part of the consensus-making apparatus for the way things are, we will remain shackled. Our presuppositions are constantly functioning unnoticed. It is only when they are jarred from their habitual everydayness do we get a glimpse of their ordering our reality. Paedeia puts into question the validity of our presuppositions-- all which give weight to our world.

Autonomy allows one to direct one’s own emancipatory education. Emancipatory education becomes purposeful allowing for more activity and ideas in the student’s interest.  By giving shape to a new social paradigm, inclusive democracy seeks the equal distribution of social, economic, political and ecological power.  In other words inclusive democracy is that form of social organization in which the maximum intersubjective experiences are possible. They conjoin to make democratic decisions a reality by struggling to seek the equal distribution of power.  There is no political democracy, no social democracy, no economic democracy, and no ecological democracy without reintegrating nature with society and abolishing the concentration of power.  Inclusive democracy can get us out of the predicament that the market economy and “representative” democracy have gotten us into


The quality removed from the product of the market economy cannot offer any genuine resonance.  The capitalists’ goal is to use the commodity as a means to turn the planet into a single global market.  The world, since the establishment of the market economy has been transformed from autonomous communities into heteronomous world markets. Capital’s increasing domination of the world pushes ever-faster alienation at all levels of work.  Labor is alienated from its product. Because workers cannot recognize this alienation as such, alienation is rejected as a condition of their lives, since everyone believes they are connected and fulfilled by virtue of the commodity.  What is needed is a critique, which will not compromise with the concentration of political and capitalist power. Organization of leisure time as a critical awareness of the commodity as consumption is needed to pry us out of the commodities’ illusory grip.  It is leisure time that offers a place for the self-examination of society.  Fetishized commodities over and over again dominate our needs into submission, which are subjugated to the demands of the market economy. Sartre’s factory worker uses her own body as a tool for using the machine and creates private, intimate fantasies and daydreams as a reflexive dimension to maintain her integrity; yet machine technology is the non-human which ruptures not only human relations, but also marks a fissure between the woman and herself.  Thus destroying the reflexive relation.  The machine has taken her over by adjusting her rhythms to its rhythm.  In her fantasies the woman has become the object of the machine.  This ensuing contradiction in which the woman is no longer the subject of her own experiences forces her into a false identity.[22]

The internationalised market economy and “representative democracy” are the causes of the multidimensional crisis, since their dynamic has led to the present concentration of economic and political power.  The history of the last two hundred years is the attempt to globalize the market economy with the help of the establishment of “representative democracy”.  Paterson, where I live, is the first planned industrial city in the U.S.  It was incorporated in 1792 by the capitalist Alexander Hamilton as the “Society of Useful Manufactures.”  The city was built around the mills rather than the traditional green. Today Paterson is a decayed, polluted, corrupt, crime ridden city.

Colin Powell and others in the Bush Administration and their predecessors absolutely link the market economy and “representative democracy” as the only alternative to a chaotic (terror) world. For them it is the only way to progress, prosperity and the good life.  The market economy is incompatible with a democratic society and is not desirable.  The former is competitive, individualized, privatized, hierarchical and heteronomous.  The latter is cooperative, latitudinarian, democratic, and autonomous.  However, since the massive corporatization of America during the 1920’s, as John Dewey points out, there began a tremendous discrepancy between economic elites, whose increase in economic power attained in “manufacture, transportation, distribution who make decisions which determine and affect opportunities, desires and the choices individuals can choose from.”[23]  This “eclipse of the public”[24]  concerned Dewey.  He saw that capitalism was being linked to democracy.  This influence of big money on Congress was a path that should not be followed. The dominant corporate mentality determines the values of society reproduced by linking it to “representative democracy” and thereby has more influence than Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency.

The American public is taught to believe that “representative democracy” is the essence of democracy itself, and that “representative” democracy helps to reproduce the values of the market economy. Thus “representative” democracy and the market economy are linked as the natural outcome, purpose and goal of American society.  Actually the market economy and “representative” democracy are not identical. They are two separate problems.

Nietzsche’s Contribution

Nietzsche makes this clear in On the Genealogy of Morals, in the extraordinary section 12 of the second essay about the origin and purpose of punishment. He states genealogists, “…seek out some purpose in punishment…then guilessly place this purpose at the beginning as causa fiendi (cause of origin) of punishment.” [25] There is an important method for historical analysis in that, “…there is a world of difference between the reason for something coming into existence in the first place and the ultimate use to which it is put.”[26] Once something has come into existence it can be reinterpreted into a different use in which, “the previous meaning and aim must necessarily be obscured or completely effaced.”[27]   Nietzsche sought to find the core beliefs and origins behind our everyday attitude towards morals, religion, philosophy, and so on. We cannot understand the genealogy of anything if we do not separate origin from contemporary usage. This will allow us better insight into our actions and natures so that we do not undervalue and misunderstand life. Although Nietzsche places the discovery of the will to power as underlying all aims and purposes, he goes on to say that the difference between origin and goal takes place not only for a historical method but also in the natural world. Nietzsche explains that the eye was not made for seeing as well as the hand was not made for grasping. These adaptations came later as a “second-order activity.”[28] Thus contemporary organ usage is separate from its origin just as contemporary “representative” democracy is separate from the origin of democracy. Nietzsche discovered that delinking origin from current usage opens the door for contingency, unpredictability and possibility in history. We cannot overlook the spontaneous, interpretation or new intentions. Such an analysis can provide the rupture with the present that is necessary at the institutional and cultural level to develop inclusive democracy.


The aim of my intervention in this dialogue is to contribute to an examination of the interrelationship and inner dynamic of paedeia, emancipatory education and democracy. Paedeia is the expression of autonomy. The aim of emancipatory education is to secure the transition from the present miseducation to paedeia. This involves an inquiry into what are the autonomous individuals and community. Inclusive democracy is the site for the broadest and most equal development of the individual and community. In the struggle for autonomy there are counter forces that seek the concentration of political, economic and social power. Those authoritarian, hierarchical, anti-democratic, heteronomous, and miseducative forces are promulgated through the market economy and its political complement:  “representative” democracy. Those controlling these forces are the ruling elite. The only way out of this crisis is the building of a mass movement to fight for the establishment of an inclusive democracy in order to overturn the institutionalization of the unequal distribution of political, economic, social, and ecological power among all people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, etc. The inclusive democracy project seeks to replace all the existing structures of power rather than attempting to gain changes or reforms of some institutions, and the corresponding values, while remaining under the spell of those structures. Values of competition, capitalist individualism, hierarchy, and consumerism have to be replaced by a new conception of citizenship that involves individual and community autonomy, cooperation, and social, economic, political, and ecological democracy.


[1] Takis Fotopoulos, ‘Towards a Democratic Liberatory Ethics, Democracy & Nature, vol 8 no 3 (November 2002), pp. 361-395

[2] See Takis Fotopoulos, ‘Transitional Strategies and the Inclusive Democracy Project’ , Democracy & Nature, vol 8 no 1 (March 2002) pp. 17-62

[3]  Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, ed. C.J. Arthur (New York: International Publishers, 1999), p. 64.

[4] John Dewey, The Public and its Problems, (Chicago: The Swallow Press Inc., 1954).

[5] Robert D. Cumming, Starting Point (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 173.

[6] See Takis Fotopoulos, ‘Towards a Democratic Liberatory Ethics’

[7] Ralph W. Emerson, “Self-Reliance” in Brooks Atkinson, ed. The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: The Modern Library, 1940), p. 168.

[8] Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” p. 152.

[9] Karl Marx, “On The Jewish Question” in Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978), p. 43.

[10] John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (New York: The Modern Library, 1957), pp.179-181.

[11] Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (New York: Dell Publishing Co. Inc., 1969), p. 22.

[12] Maxine Greene, The Public School and the Private Vision (New York: Random House Inc., 1965), p.23.

[13] Greene, The Public School and the Private Vision, p. 92.

[14] Dick Cheney and the Bush cabal are fighting the public release of minutes of meetings Cheney had with energy executives in developing energy policy. They met surreptitiously and submerged public accountability under some secret privilege they think they have to keep information from the public.

[15] For more on this see  Takis Fotopoulos, ‘Transitional Strategies and the Inclusive Democracy Project’

[16] Edmund Husserl, Ideas, trans. W.R. Boyce Gibson (New York: First Collier Books, 1975), p. 98.


[18] Plato, The Republic of Plato, trans. Francis Cornford (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), p.227.

[19] Plato, The Republic of Plato, p. 232.

[20] Plato, The Republic of Plato, p. 230.

[21] Plato, The Republic of Plato, p. 229 n. The first effect of Socratic questioning is perplexity.

[22] Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason Vol. I (London: NLB, 1976), pp.233-234.

[23] John Dewey, Individualism Old and New (New York: Capricorn Books, 1962), chapt. III.

[24] John Dewey, The Public and its Problems, chapt. IV.

[25] Frederick Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Douglas Smith (Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 57

[26] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 57.

[27] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 58.

[28] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 59.