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ERIC Number: EJ1158023
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017
Pages: 11
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0160-7561
Re-Thinking the Conceptual and Normative Implications of the "Capability to Be Educated": Children and the Pursuit of Educational Equality
DeCesare, Tony
Philosophical Studies in Education, v48 p74-84 2017
As part of the sustained and growing resistance to narrow achievement-based approaches to (and measures of) inequality in education, educational researchers of various stripes are once again taking up both conceptual and practical questions concerning inequalities in educational opportunity. As Carter and Welner have noted recently, "disparities in certain achievement indicators . . . have dominated policy discussion over the past two decades," while during that same time no "sustained effort" has been made "to attend to the gaps in sustenance--in opportunity." Their book--and its collection of authors-- attempts, therefore, to give due attention to so-called "opportunity gaps" and, by doing so, to "shift our attention from educational outcomes to inputs--to the deficiencies in the foundational components of societies, schools, and communities that produce significant differences in educational--and ultimately socioeconomic--outcomes." For many educational researchers and practitioners, this is likely to be a welcomed shift in emphasis. For others--philosophers of education, in particular--it is also likely to conjure up the kinds of conceptual and normative questions around, for instance, "equality," "opportunity," and "choice" that have long been part of their work. The goal of this essay, broadly stated, is to weigh in on these recent trends and enduring questions from the perspective of the Capabilities Approach (CA). This framework for evaluating human well-being and equality has, over the last fifteen years, increasingly been used to explore issues in education, including those related to equality in education. Of particular interest will be Lorella Terzi's commitment to a conception of equality in education understood in terms of the "capability to be educated." Though this particular conception is valuable in various ways, it also suffers, as much educational theorizing from the CA perspective does, from a problematic treatment of children. It fails, or so the author argues, to live up to Sen's concept of "capability" by failing to theorize a more active (and activist) role for children and youth in (1) helping to fill out and realize a conception of equality of educational opportunity, and (2) exercising agency within their formal education. Theorizing such a role for children and youth points to a more robust and meaningful CA-based conception of equal educational opportunity--a conception grounded in a revised idea of what it means to have sufficient "capability to be educated." The hope of the author is that this concept, revised and more fully developed, can be usefully applied both to the rich conceptual and philosophical work around equality of educational opportunity and to the identification and remediation of educational inequalities. The author proceeds by offering an introduction to the CA with particular attention to Terzi's development of the concept of the "capability to be educated" and its implications for thinking about equality in education. Next, the author challenges the role of choice and agency for children within this framework, suggesting that Terzi, in her attempt to apply the CA to children and their education, has all but stripped the concept of "capability" of these two essential aspects. In trying to carve out room for children's choice and agency in CA-inspired thinking about equality in education, the author revisits a debate that took place in 1989 and 1990 between Kenneth Howe and Nicholas Burbules, which offered valuable insights into the concepts of opportunity and choice as they might pertain to children. The author then looks to emerging literature within the CA that treats children as "capable agents" to suggest a revised (i.e., more active, participatory) role for children and youth in the project of identifying and remediating inequalities in educational opportunity.
Ohio Valley Philosophy of Education Society. Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A