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Professional Life and Work

Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives: studies in education and change

Educational Research as a Public Intellectual

The multi-faceted appeal of Lawrence Stenhouse, both to contemporaries and to new generations is testified to in the wide range of lectures and testimonies which have sought to represent and characterise his work.  For me, the central element in his appeal was that in both his writing and his action, he spoke as a public intellectual; as one who expected his ideas to form the basis of influence and action in the public sphere.  Moreover, his central concern was with education for empowerment and social justice.  In an early draft manifesto for the Centre for Applied Research he stressed its role as a 'public service'. As we shall see, in some senses the times in which he lived brought aid and sustenance to this view of an educational researcher's social and political purpose, but we should also be aware that he also existed in vigorously contested terrains.  Towards the end of his life, he must have begun to glimpse the 'dark night' into which much of his vernacular humanism would be cast in the new order where there was to be 'no such thing as society'.

Public Knowledge and Public Education have historically been subject to recurrent pendulum swings between the emancipatory/enlightenment vision and the darker forces of subordination and social control.  From the point of view of public intellectual life, Thomas Paine expresses the high optimism of the enlightenment when he argued, "I am a farmer of thoughts and all the crops I raise I give away."

Well we know what the Tory free marketeers would think of that kind of high-mindedness when only things that are done for profit are pursued or praised.  But, in truth, public knowledge and public education has often been subjected to the kind of 'dark night' we have recently been experiencing.

In 1807, the British Parliament debated a bill to provide two years of free schooling for children aged 7 to 14, who could not pay fees.  The Archbishop of Canterbury said it would subvert the first principles of education in his country that had been and, he trusted, would continue to be under the control of the establishment.  One MP, Davies Giddy, is recorded in the July 13, 1807 edition of Hansard as having uttered the following prophetic words:

However specious in theory the project might be of giving education to the labouring classes of the poor, it would be prejudicial to their morals and happiness; it would teach them to despise their lot in life, instead of making them good servants in agriculture and other laborious employments.  Instead of teaching them subordination, it would render them fractious and refractory, as was evident in the manufacturing counties; it would enable them to read seditious pamphlets, vicious books and publications against Christianity; it would render them insolent to their superiors; and in a few years, the legislature would find it necessary to direct the strong arm of power toward them (Giddy, 1807).

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Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives
  • Date of publication: 01/09/2003
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 160
  • Publisher: Open University Press
  • Subject:
    Professional Life and Work
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  • Appears in:
    Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives: studies in education and change
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  • Price of book: £23.99
  • ISBN: 9780335204113
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