Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Education (Bildung) for Values

Written By

Zdenko Medveš

Submitted: 18 August 2017 Reviewed: 14 November 2017 Published: 26 January 2018

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.72450

From the Edited Volume

New Pedagogical Challenges in the 21st Century - Contributions of Research in Education

Edited by Olga Bernad Cavero and Núria Llevot-Calvet

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The article develops the thesis that a universal value basis for holistic education (Bildung) is provided by a plural moral system in which various ethical discourses are constructively interwoven. This is more successful for education and allows the individual a broader evaluation of alternatives in moral action. The plurality of a moral system supposes the presence of various ethical discourses, including the ethics of human rights (liberal discourse), the ethics of the common good (communitarian discourse) and the ethics of interpersonal relations (the ethics of care). In interweaving all three of these discourses in education, the teacher should use common sense, which we define as the power of judgement and a sense of community. This is followed by views on how to model organise educational practices that stimulate the creation of an ethically plural educational environment in open communication, where the learner develops the ability to make judicious decisions with regard to moral action without having to submit passively to common norms.


  • human rights
  • liberal discourse
  • communitarian discourse
  • discourse of the ethics of care
  • the child as the medium of education
  • education as internalisation and as communication
  • autopoietic pedagogy

1. Introduction

The primary topic of pedagogy (Slovene: pedagogika; German: Pädagogik) is vzgoja. The Slovene term vzgoja is translated here as “education,” but it should be noted that we understand vzgoja more as an approximation of the German category of Bildung1. Enquiry about education (Bildung) is the essence of pedagogical enquiry. Education (Bildung) is education(Bildung) for values par excellence. For values in different fields: aesthetics (the beautiful), ethics (the moral), science (truth), physical development (the body), sport, interpersonal relations, attitudes towards the self and others, attitudes towards nature, the economy and so on. The acquisition of knowledge and the development of abilities is somehow secondary, but nevertheless important, because knowledge substantiates and supports values. Without knowledge, education (Bildung) for values would be a naked ideological construct [1].

Pedagogy is conceived as a normative discipline. Without an answer to the question of what the goal of education (Bildung) actually is, it is blind as a science and unable to defend itself against the multiple influences through which various centres of influence and power attempt to win over young people in modern society. That is why values are so much in the foreground in pedagogy. In this article, we will first consider the goal of education (Bildung) on the basis of theoretical analyses of various ethical discourses in order to consolidate the theory of the importance of pluralism in the educational concept of the public school. We will conclude the article with a conceptual proposal for the implementation of educational practice, where we propose a model of differentiated moral communication through which an open space is created for moral judgement and decision-making on the part of the individual, who is at the same time encouraged to reflect on various fields of the moral: human rights, the common good and the quality of interpersonal relations. The differentiated moral communication model is based on numerous reports from educational practice prepared by students of educational sciences at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana over the last decade.


2. Inculcation of values or obligations towards the law

How to prepare young generations for life is a fundamental question of human evolution. No period and no civilisation have been able to avoid it. Every civilisation has approached the search for the right path in its own way, and numerous possibilities have developed, including some that have been controversial. Every period and every social community have traced its own paths, since education is a typical phenomenon of culture and cultural differences. This means that evaluating educational practices is never simple. It is only in the last half-century that children’s rights and human rights have started to be treated as an important criterion for the assessment of educational practices. Regarding the aims of education, pedagogical theories still offer no clear answer as to what is more important when it comes to preparing the young generation for life: a vision of the future of society or an empirically clear conception of how to trace a path in such a way that the individual will be able to walk along it independently. Some pedagogical theorists devote far more attention to developing ideals, while others emphasise the young generation’s right to shape the culture of its own life. It may be that behind all the controversial possibilities that history has brought to our understanding of the education of the young, the most difficult question is whether the adult generation is entitled to decide on what path is right for the young generation. This is, in fact, the eternal question of what values in education should be based on. On the one hand, there is the awareness that we always decide on the education of children and young people with the perspectives of others, and it is therefore fair to think about what perspectives are best for the young generation and what is good for the child [2]. On the other hand, there is the common good as a starting point. Plato illustrated this very dramatically in his allegory of the cave, out of which only a philosopher can lead us from imprisonment in the world of shadows towards the light that “is indeed the cause for all things of all that is right and beautiful … and that anyone who is to act wisely in private or public must have caught sight of this” [3]. This path from the cave is the Greek paidea: education (Bildung) from slavery to humanity.

Two views of values are highlighted, leading to very different attitudes about the importance of the human being as individual. Plato understands value as valuable in itself. It is universally valid and the individual human being can add nothing to it. Mollenhauer, on the other hand, takes the perspectives of the young generation and the individual as a criterion, rather than universal validity. Value thus “arises” in a concrete discourse of existence. It is not definitively clear where the answer to the dilemma of Mollenhauer and Plato may lie. Even contemporary pedagogy, which adopts a different attitude towards the child from that adopted by traditional pedagogy, is unable to renounce offering young people ideals as a form of imagined excellences in the development of abilities and moral virtues. This striving towards excellence is supposed to be encouraged today by education for human rights [4]. Even when it comes to exercising human rights, it is never possible to be satisfied with what has been achieved, since societal practices show that the exercise of these rights is not self-evident, and there is no guarantee that the achieved state would be maintained without striving towards a better one. On the one hand, there are calls for pedagogy to give up the idealisation of educational objectives and replace them with realistic and realisable goals, and above all to build on the understanding of the child as a capable, rich being [5]. Even today, pedagogy has no true response to this alternative. On the other hand, the advocates of realism are increasingly rare among theorists, while the majority continue to impose new and increasingly idealised tasks even on the modern school. It not infrequently happens that these tasks are mutually contradictory in their very essence.

The challenges of modern pedagogy also derive from the crisis being suffered by the sciences that border on it and on which it has relied. Let us take Herbart’s Allgemeine Pädagogik from the early nineteenth century, on which the stable primary school practices of education (Bildung), teaching and learning were based for more than a century, until somewhere around the 1930s. This built on a widely held belief in the solid applicability of associative psychology and Kantian ethics. Today, on the other hand, proficiency in psychology is common to the many fields from which the various schools of thought about successful teaching and learning grow, and this in itself is a challenge. While a pluralism of views enriches the educational practices of teaching and learning, it leads to a series of difficulties in the field of education. Dilemmas for education also arise in the ethical field, particularly when ethicists, philosophers and anthropologists talk about a decline in values, the twilight of ethics and morals and the loss of conscience and intimate personal soul-searching.

Can human rights fill the moral vacuum in modern society? It is true that they are conceived as a common ideal of all peoples, but their implementation in the legal system can cause problems, as we will see below. Will the law be able to substitute ethics and morals? With what consequences? If we transfer the ethical criteria of public life into schools, we can expect schools to react to this and only prevent that which is prohibited by rules. In this way, education (Bildung) would undergo a complete shift of paradigm: education for values would be replaced by the development of obligations towards the law and rules. We could characterise this is a paradox: school-based education for values without values, since legal norms form the field of constraint (discipline) and values the field of freedom (vzgoja – Bildung). Instead of awakening the internal voice of the conscience, school would reinforce the fear of punishment. When education does not reach deeply into the interior of a person, it disappears as education (Bildung). But fear of punishment is already traditionally understood by pedagogy as disciplining, not as educating. To paraphrase Kant: discipline is a condition of freedom; it is only a condition, but freedom is only enabled to the subject by cultivation. Without education (Bildung), the process of humanisation of a human being is not possible. An alternative announces itself in the development of the school: education or discipline? Successful education (Bildung) for values can of course be maintained if the school is based on a clear value system, which, with regard to criteria in public life, clearly means that ethical standards in the school must be higher than in civil society and commercial transactions. Immorality must not be permitted among students.

It should be pointed out that a lower tolerance of evil and the demand for higher ethical standards in schools and in public life trigger an enormous mass of problems. The question that raises itself is that of how to present higher life preferences to young people in schools when public experience shows them that envy, greed and shamelessness are becoming everyday emotions. How are young people supposed to accept higher ethical standards when they are constantly faced, in everyday life, with the facilely narcissistic ideology of a modern society that cultivates the belief that the individual should not be frightened of difficulties because the opportunities for social success and advancement are unlimited? Neoliberalism further strengthens narcissistic ideology, in that it satisfies ambitious interests and encourages the idea that every individual can create a position for themselves and acquire wealth, and that opportunities for advancement and social ascent will offer themselves spontaneously. In this logic, even education as a factor of upward social mobility has lost much of the lustre it still possessed during the expansion of education in the middle of the last century. This introduces further disquiet into schools. As Beck says, formal education may still be necessary, but it is no longer a sufficient condition to guarantee better employment and more prestigious jobs for all sections of the population. Modern society really does tell the individual that they can achieve everything, that everything is possible, but on the other hand, warns Beck, even the simplest glance at social reality, as revealed by simple statistics, shows that we are living in a risk society where opportunities for growth and prosperity are always matched by the equal possibility of collapse and destruction [6]. If we follow the idea of Risk Society, we find that the expansion of education is merely a product of neoliberal logic. Society offers opportunities for education to everyone, which strengthens the idea of the success of the individualistic society more than it provides realistic life prospects. In the end, however, the individual is also to blame for collapse and unfortunate circumstances in life. The “society of possibilities” is thus at the same time a “society of risk.” This is a consistent derivation of neoliberalism. The individual is ultimately to blame not only for their social rise but also for their fall. The state offers fewer and fewer guarantees and there is increasing indifference towards citizens’ rights. Social rights are somehow pushed to the margin, including the right to education. Expressions of cynical indifference include non-binding constitutional provisions that are supposed to resolve the question of social inequality and selectiveness in education2. All this is merely proof that there is insufficient willingness in politics to address the problems of inequalities in society, which for schools and the education (Bildung) of modern youth is a serious burden.


3. Ideological uniformity, emancipation and the plural community

The more frequent questions of the modern theory of education and educational practice are those deriving from difficulties related to pluralism. In one way or another, all the dilemmas of education, in particular, those that revolve around values and, consequently, authority, are tied to pluralism. Pluralism has always represented a problem for pedagogy. In traditional pedagogy, which derived from religious and philosophically and ideologically unitary views, pluralism was “guilty” of educational ineffectiveness, since this pedagogy believes that the more uniform the education (in terms of views and values), the stronger its educational effect. Cultural pluralism and, in particular, the pluralism of values and views, was believed to create a confusion that reduces the clarity of the educator’s messages and preferences and thus dilutes the effectiveness of the educator’s endeavours.

The question is: can pedagogy theoretically justify pluralism as its ideal? This would have been impossible even in the middle of the last century. Education (Bildung) in the spirit of the historically tried and tested 2000-year tradition and classical European culture was the only framework that filled teachers with confidence in the effectiveness of education (Bildung). The provocative new elements born of the art of the first half of the last century could not get through the school door. Not even critical pedagogy accepted the idea of pluralism, in the sense of cultural pluralism, as its central aim. Critical or emancipatory pedagogy (both terms were used by mid-twentieth century German theorists such as Wolfgang Klafki, Klaus Mollenhauer and Herwig Blankerz) was in fact tied to the critical theory of society and defined the goals of education as the formation of the mature, critical and emancipated subject [2]. Within critical theory, however, Horkheimer’s investigations showed that emancipation can also be a mistaken educational goal. Horkheimer developed the concept of emancipation in two mutually incompatible senses. First, he defined emancipation as a behaviour (Verhalten) oriented towards the liberation of the human being from dependence on irrational social mechanisms and pressures. In this interpretation, emancipation is the central positive message of the critical theory of society. The aim of emancipation is to rearrange the irrational and ideological mechanisms of social cohesion into a free arrangement of the life of society founded on reason [7]. Emancipatory pedagogy did not highlight this social dimension of emancipation in its interpretation of the aim of education, as may be understood from the above quotation from Mollenhauer. Instead it understands emancipation individualistically, as the opportunity for individuals to freely realise their life prospects. Horkheimer later observes this goal in the context of the study of negative dialectics and distances himself from it. Because individualistic emancipation really means, first of all “an enormous extension of human control over nature … which finally becomes an obstacle to further development and drives humanity into a new barbarism that ends in an irrational system of division of human domination over nature, in which, within the social organism, man’s domination over nature is reproduced as man’s domination over man” [8]. Horkheimer thus understands emancipation as an ambivalent phenomenon that is realised in opposing value dimensions, and thus talks about “benign” (gutartige) and “malign” (bösartige) emancipation. The process of emancipation in society always contains the risk of “benign” emancipation being reduced to “malign” emancipation.

A critique of the individualistic understanding of emancipation is also offered by Hannah Arendt. I cite her because she shows how emancipation can oppose pluralism. In her opinion, the autonomy of the individual is the myth of the atomised modern society, since “sovereignty, the ideal of uncompromising self-sufficiency and mastership, is contradictory to the very condition of plurality. No man can be sovereign because not one man, but men, inhabit the earth” [9]. Arendt accepted pluralism as a fundamental characteristic of human existence and action, since “to be” means “to be among men” [9]. In her opinion, a unitary ideological system represents the same threat to plurality as an atomised modern society and moral individualism. We will encounter this question once again when considering the problem of individual morality (which we shall analyse in the context of the implementation of human rights within the legal order) and will arrive at similar conclusions. Arendt’s vita activa is conceived as an anthropology that defines the three key aspects of the human condition: labour, work and action. It is action that is the essence of human existence. Within it, we might also seek important implications for the modern understanding of education. For an individual, as Arendt puts it, can live in society without ever doing anything or even creating anything, but cannot live without acting [9]. Action for her means a sign of integration between people, and it is in integration that the essence of pluralism lies. That which takes place between individuals always points to their uniqueness, diversity and difference. Pluralism is a substantive point of human existence. Plurally understood interpersonal integration is the core of all other integrations, including the integration of customs and values.


4. The educational power of the content of values, social context and formal moral principles

Pluralism is thus in a certain sense a solution even in the postmodern era, where, on the one hand, education is pushed into an amalgam of competences, while on the other there is talk of the twilight of ideologies and values. This provokes the question of how, in such a society, to plan education in accordance with the categorical requirements of classic moral principles such as the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). Elster posits the question even more radically. How should I respect the golden moral rule if I can reasonably expect that acting in accordance with this rule will not be reciprocated? Is the individual obliged to act morally in situations when others do not? Does this not also nullify my obligation in respect of the moral law? What answer does pedagogical theory give? We cannot but agree with Elster that “the moral obligation in such cases may be quite different from what it would be on the assumption of universality of moral behaviour” [10].

Deriving from Elster’s question is the currently extremely widely held opinion that it is simply not possible to understand a value correctly if we do not place it into a real context. The importance of real context for moral decision-making is greater than an abstract moral principle or value. That is why moral education today cannot close itself in the safe framework of the tradition of 2000-year-old values. Much has changed even in the way we talk about morals and moral education. Even in everyday speech and theoretical discussions, a certain discomfort can be sensed when we talk about “morals” or “moral education.” The very phrase “moral education” sounds patronising and archaic. It contains no hint of the autonomy that, for the morally mature individual, is something as self-evident as the universality of moral principles or values. That is why, rather than about “moral education,” we prefer today to talk about “formation of the moral self-image,” in this way hoping to express the point of our previous reflection, namely that we understand the formation of the moral self-image far more broadly than moral instruction or a moral lesson. In the foreground, we place the educator’s task of awakening in the child an awareness of the context of moral action, so that they become sensitive to the feelings of others, make independent and considered decisions about their actions and, finally, create and define their own personal ideals. This, however, requires a change in the way we view the importance of the content of values. As we will see later, formal moral principles (for example, the Golden Rule, Kant’s categorical imperative, Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean) are more important for the development of moral self-image than the content of values. The formal moral principle, in the words of Renata Salecl [11], is a substantively “empty universal idea… that can perform an affirmative and critical function” in the moral decision-making of the individual. Because of its “emptiness,” it has a universal character and in every context enables a judgement that is the basis for a duly weighed moral decision. It might be better to talk about the “self-formation of the moral image” than about formation of the moral self-image. Here the emphasis on the activity of the individual is even greater and induces pedagogical reflections on our willingness to completely change our view of the process of socialisation and to talk instead about self-socialisation or self-education. It is of course worth being cautious about this idea, since it verges on the known phenomena of those free schools which the environment has proved unable to accept because they have slid into an anarchic educational style when teachers have been unable to respond productively to the freedom of the children. The schools that have been able to do this have been successful, as demonstrated by, among others, the classic case of Summerhill, the boarding school founded by A. S. Neill.

Among the attempts to enable pedagogical theory to go beyond the paternalistic orientation of moral education is the substitution of the expression “moral” with the expression “prosocial.” Prosociality brings three important advantages to the theory of socialisation: (a) it highlights the importance of social situation or context, (b) it places the learner in an active relationship and, most importantly, (c) it places the experiential learning of moral relationships, practices and values in the foreground [5]. Compared to moral instruction, persuasion, example and other methods of traditional paternalistic moral education, prosociality is a highly complex phenomenon. For example, it also inherently includes the practising of various virtues such as participation, tolerance, cooperativeness, support for common goals and sensitivity in interpersonal relations.

The problem, however, is that it is not possible to unconditionally ascribe to the principle of proactivity the universality that applies to moral principles such as the Golden Rule. It is a similar situation with responsibility. In the case of responsibility, it is necessary to ask “responsibility to whom and for what,” and in the case of proactivity, we have to ask “proactivity with whom and in what.” Responsible (proactive) cooperation in an immoral action—in fraud, for example— is immoral. The essence of the moral thus cannot be defined either by responsibility or by proactivity. The same applies to other values such as freedom and justice. In reality, moral dilemmas are not clarified for us by values or their content. The response to dilemmas is to think about the quality of the objective that the individual is attempting to achieve responsibly, proactively and fairly. It follows from this that it is not possible to conclude directly from the content of a value whether a moral decision is good or bad. It is, for example, difficult to say in an absolute sense what is just. Lempert [12] thinks that expressing a negative assessment, in other words defining what is not just, is easier than assessing what is just. The value of justness, for example, becomes relevant in the case of an apology for or criticism of social inequality. But who in society should be the measure of what equal treatment or equal access to social goods actually means? May we (or should we) consider equity in access to goods on the basis of how this is experienced by those sections of society that feel discriminated against or underprivileged?

Numerous discussions also draw attention to the fact that in the case of education for values it is necessary to take into account the nature of different values. Oser and Althof [13] believed that fundamental values should be given a special place in education compared to concrete values. Concrete values (possessing a toy, visiting a friend, helping the poor) should be preferences which can be established through observation of a concrete individual in concrete life circumstances and which may therefore be exposed to constant judgement. This also resolves to a certain extent the question of sensitivity to context. The problem, however, lies with fundamental values. In the opinion of Oser and Althof, it is not possible to understand these values when we are thinking of something concrete, and it is therefore simply not possible to judge them in concrete situations because, by their nature, they have universal value. This is a question that is also triggered in the case of human rights. On the one hand, they demand concrete engagement, while on the other, as commonly universal rights, they are not sufficiently transparent, particularly when it comes to their mutual hierarchy, when, for example, insults and hate speech are propagated in the name of the right to freedom of speech. Fundamental values (responsibility, justice, freedom, equality) should be able to be proved by intercultural studies, by the fact that some values are above concrete values and also above culturally specific values and we are able to attribute them the same moral criteria everywhere [14] stand these values when we are thinking of something concrete, and it is therefore simply context. According to Oser and Althof, taking context into account in the education process could, in the case of fundamental values, lead to a relativisation of values and to a dilution of them that would make it impossible for young people to adopt a value as something that is their own and they accept as a value towards which they strive for its own sake.

Attention is also drawn to the different position of “values” in education by the theory of social domains, which distinguishes between the moral and conventional domain and the domain of personal choice [15, 5]. This theory recommends that schools act differently in relation to the different domains. They should deal more tolerantly with personal choices and treat infringements of conventional rules consistently, in accordance with the rules, while moral domains require special treatment because of their complexity. They contain norms on which the agreement (non-violence) that applies to conventional norms is not possible. The critical point of the theory of social domains perhaps lies in the actual classification of domains, above all in the danger that differences in the treatment of domains are absolutised into a didactic rule and, as a result, less attention is devoted to consideration of context in education.

Modern theories offer no concrete new answer to Elster’s question of how we should act when we cannot expect reciprocity of moral action. The theory remains at the level of a warning to give careful consideration to context. We do, however, find an answer from the past, one that is precisely 101 years old. On the last page of his Democracy and Education, right at the end of his reflection, Dewey writes: “The something for which a man must be good is capacity to live as a social member so that what he gets from living with others balances with what he contributes” [16]. This formulation is somewhat similar to a categorical moral principle but in fact hypothetically expresses the requirement for proportionality in action. Elster’s dilemma is thus an old one and a part of the life of society in all civilisations. The appeal to proportionality has always been a matter of the judgement and decision of the individual. Seminar students have frequently argued about whether Dewey’s proportionality principle is an invitation to the morality of revenge, before finally concluding that it is an invitation to everyone to act positively towards others even in unfavourable circumstances, since according to Dewey’s principle they can expect a positive response.

The pluralism of the modern age introduces a new characteristic to proportionality of action in that it also requires us to understand the customs and habits of other cultures and to recognise their moral code, before accepting a given action as immoral. Once again the idea is confirmed that moral activity cannot be understood simply and is not “learned” without wise judgement and sensus communis or “communal sense.”


5. The school and ethical pluralism

5.1. On ethical pluralism

Ethical pluralism needs to be explained in more detail, since I am thinking here not only of a diversity of values, but of something deeper, of the pluralism of ethical discourses or paradigms. If we follow the structure of ethical discourses used by Kymlicka in Contemporary Political Philosophy [17], we find that political philosophies are characterised by three ethical discourses: liberal (libertarian), communitarian and the ethics of care. I shall begin by giving a brief and general definition of all three discourses. The libertarian discourse places freedom and autonomy in the foreground. Its key value or virtue is justice, and human rights are its key civilisational achievement. Communitarianism places commitment to the community in the foreground. Its key value is the common good, within which social rights are fundamental values and solidarity is a fundamental virtue. The ethics of care is focused on the intimate sphere of life, on the quality of interpersonal relations, on a feeling of connection and human closeness. Its fundamental virtue is positive acknowledgement of one’s neighbour.

In contemporary public life, politics and even theory, attitudes towards these ethical discourses are not balanced. The ethics of care is the discourse that is most frequently pushed to one side. It is often said that it does not belong to public life but to family, friendship and other intimate spheres. Infringements of human rights are manifold (migrants, poverty, precarious employment); social practices are woeful in terms of the realisation of human rights and are characterised by the interests of capital and the private and particular interests of various social groups. When it comes to values, it is not their content and message that are important but practice, in other words what we have really achieved on their basis. Can the blame for poor practices be attributed to an implementation of human rights into which specific ideological models of an atomised society are inscribed, models which cause an inadequate social reality and prevent us from creating a culture of justice and the safeguarding of human rights in society? At least two ideological models deserve to be exposed as such an obstacle: legal logic and moral individualism.

5.2. Human rights are not implemented in the legal order as ethical values but as legal norms

I shall analyse the above statement by looking at how the concept of human rights is posited in Slovenia’s Constitution, which, however, merely transposes constitutional solutions found in other European countries. Let us consider the following quotation from an interview with Jambrek, one of the fathers of the Constitution, published in a leading Slovene newspaper: “We were more interested in what to do with human rights [and] whether socio-economic rights belong in the chapter on human rights and fundamental freedoms. We unanimously agreed to consider as human rights and freedoms anything that is legally actionable. There are some ‘rights’ for which the individual cannot expect a court to approve their ‘claim’. We therefore referred to these ‘rights’ as ‘socio-economic relations’” [18].

Human rights are therefore legally codified and the ultimate responsibility for their understanding and interpretation lies with the court. This logic is also followed by the further legal instrumentalisation of rights in laws and other regulations at the state level and also at the level of rules within individual institutions, including in schools, in their own rules and regulations. This legal instrumentalisation of rights is, in my opinion, the origin of the incorrect perception of the role of rights in society, and precisely this perception has had numerous negative consequences. Among other things, it has prevented a culture of human rights from establishing itself in society as the foundation of an overall social ethos applying to the whole of the life of society, in all public social practices, and also in mutual relations, in other words in private life.

In my view, the legal codification of the content of rights implicitly means a devaluation of their value core, which also results in a loss of their ethical dimension. The ethical dimension in fact presupposes my subjective truth and responsibility towards others and the world in general. In legal codification, on the other hand, my subjective truth has no value, and until the court makes its ruling it is not clear whether, in a given case, we can talk about an infringement of a right or not. This, however, excludes the importance of the conscience, both in motivation for action and in judging that action. In judging an action or in the motivation for that action, the “silent inner voice” of the individual is therefore unimportant, since everything is ultimately dependent on how the matter turns out in the proceedings of formal judgements. This is being demonstrated with increasing frequency by numerous cases at various levels of the life of society. Making decisions on infringement of human rights is sometimes too hard a nut to crack (in the sense of reaching a unanimous decision) even for Constitutional Court judges, who have the ultimate competence for the protection of human rights.

Naturally, though, we cannot conclude from the numerous inconsistent and contradictory legal decisions regarding human rights that the value system of human rights is empty and that we may arbitrarily fill it over and over again with experiences and concrete cases. Inconsistent decisions can only prove the vagueness and lack of transparency of the legal code of a right, but they say nothing about its value code. A concrete example illustrating the truth of this statement would be the September 2017 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on whether a company monitoring private communications on workplace computers constitutes an infringement of employees’ right to privacy [19]. The ruling adopted by the ECHR went against an earlier ruling by a Romanian court, yet even so was not an arbitrary decision. When making its ruling, the ECHR saw in the value of privacy a new dimension that inherently belongs to the value of privacy but had previously been overlooked. According to the court’s judgement, this has the nature of a precedent, which means that it will be universally applicable to all future cases. The essence of the problem lies in the fact that it took a court—and one of the highest instance—to arrive at a new understanding of the ethical in a right. How can we expect the full value core of a right to be perceived by a citizen, by a teacher or, last but not least, by a child? How then is it even possible to devise education (Bildung) in the spirit of human rights? Should education (Bildung) become the study of case law and thus be instrumentalised and lose its formative (Bildung) sense? What is the answer to the eternal question “is it possible to learn virtue?” Yes, it is possible, but virtue is not knowledge though without knowledge it is not possible. Someone who does not know that any action can be dangerous, that it is possible to evaluate it as both good and evil, will see no danger or evil anywhere, nor will they be sensitised to it. But this is not enough for the creation of a culture of human rights, since emotions, volition and sensitivity to moral action are of central importance in the development of a culture. This can only be achieved in communication and only via intersubjective interpretations based on value judgements of actions, motives and intention.3

5.3. Human rights, moral individualism and the disproportion of rights and obligations

The liberal logic by which the safeguarding of rights is posited in the Constitution also contains a particular problem, namely the understanding of the relation of obligations and responsibilities of the individual and the institution. Every right implies an obligation, but the question is: whose? Merely of the institution that is supposed to protect that right or can it also trigger the universal sense of obligation of every individual towards others? In this connection, Kymlicka recapitulates the position of Sandel and Taylor when they attribute moral individualism to liberalism [17]. Moral individualism derives from the thesis that rights take precedence over all other moral concepts such as obligations, the common good, civic virtues and personal virtues. Moral individualism understands the individual as the basic unit of moral value, which means that it requires the derivation of the duties of higher units (the community) from obligations towards individuals. In this way, the burden of duty is essentially shifted from the individual to institutions. This is the impression created by constitutional solutions, namely human rights and fundamental freedoms are only infringed by the institutions of formal power.

This liberal logic, however, has long-term consequences in the way it understands the origin of infringements of human rights and probably contains the kernel of the views of a certain section of the public, including teachers and educators, that only citizens have rights, while institutions only have obligations, at least as far as the rights of the individual are concerned. Similar views regarding the disproportion of rights and obligations also prevail among those working in education. It is true that among them we also find absurd views, for example, that students today have too many obligations, but the majority consider, more realistically and in accordance with the communitarian critique of liberalism, that there is a disproportion between the rights and obligations of the school and students/parents, because the school only has obligations while students/parents only have rights. This opinion, then, is not the arbitrary view of those affected, but rather has its theoretical basis in the communitarian critique of the liberal model of moral individualism, which has written itself into human rights, not into their nature, but into their implementation in the legal order. The liberal discourse and moral individualism simply cannot be accepted as universal in pedagogical reflection on the educational aims and educational concept of the public school. This platform is too narrow for education (Bildung) for values, because it forgets the sense of community and the quality of interpersonal relations between people in everyday interactions.

5.4. Communitarianism and solidarity in the creation of a just society of common good

So far, we have only touched on the theme of moral individualism in a single question, namely the question of what kind of relationship between the rights of the individual (student/parent) and the obligations of the institution (school) is created by the model of moral individualism. We have shown how awareness of this issue is strategically important for the school, in particular, for the planning and implementation of the concept of education. Yet this question does not clarify all the consequences, including some significant consequences, that moral individualism has for the school. More important for the recognition of weakness of doctrine of moral individualism than the question of who has rights and who has obligations is the question of whether important rights, values and virtues exist in society that are insufficiently recognised as a result of liberal discourse. Let us look once again at part of the statement of the former constitutional lawyer and co-creator of Slovenia’s constitution, Jambrek, in the interview cited. Jambrek says “there are some ‘rights’ for which the individual cannot expect a court to approve their ‘claim’,” and that these have therefore “found their place in our Constitution as socio-economic relations” and not as rights. “The current Constitution, for example, talks about the social state, but this is not operationalised. Not even the Constitutional Court has occupied itself much with this principle to date” [18]. Thus, there exist outside the legal order, alongside individual human rights, certain special “rights” for which, under legal logic, liberal discourse does not recognise the same status in society as is enjoyed by individual rights. The consequence of this is that individual rights take precedence over social rights in society. An even more radical conclusion is possible. This legal structure even negates social rights as rights, since it refers to them as socio-economic relations, in other words as an economic category. In this way, liberal ideology destroys the balance between human individuality and sociality. If we follow the communitarian critique, by adopting the principal of the primacy of rights, liberalism places other moral concepts (duty, common good) into the background [17]. A hierarchical relationship is established between individuality and sociality, the consequence of which is that sociality and social rights are necessarily marginalised in society. Not only that, but virtues that are important for the social society, and solidarity is in first place here, become mere ideals to be used for educational purposes or in the charitable campaigns of civil society and the public media. Yet politics, faithful to the logic of economising and balancing public finances, first intervenes in the social sphere. It therefore also has a constitutional basis in the fact that social rights are not rights but socio-economic relations. This empowers its moral position, since it does not infringe constitutional social rights but rather, as some nonchalantly put it, is merely coordinating economic and social relations with real possibilities. In accordance with the liberal attitude towards individual or social human rights, the state pushes social issues to the margins and is not capable of eliminating even its own poverty. The marginalisation of the social and the preference given to individual rights is in essence a class issue. The state based on the rule of law plainly protects above all the category of individual human rights (we know how this works in practice), so when we talk about justice in society, references to the rule of law are an increasingly frequent mantra, while nothing is heard about the social state.

The hierarchy of the individual and the social is not theoretically justified, not least because it is impossible to realise individual rights in a socially unjust society, just as it is impossible to create a just society if the rights of the individual are not guaranteed. Extreme communitarians, among whom Kymlicka also includes Marxists, would claim that in a true community the principles of justice are unnecessary and that justice is merely a remedial virtue [17]. It is thus only relevant in society because of the mistakes caused by an unjust social order. Some remarkable illustrations of this can also be found in former Yugoslav education policy. For example, the principle according to which only a unified (common) school is a fair school, while all forms of differentiation, heterogenisation and individualisation are unfair. The word “fairness” did not appear in education policy documents, and unity was a synonym for the fair school. On the other hand, pedagogy and psychology critically observed that the unified school cannot be fair because it neglects the individual and functions as a Procrustean bed. Unsuccessfully. For more on this, see Medveš [20]. The theory of justice as a “remedial” virtue can even explain the illusion of socialist ideology that, thanks to the “just social system,” human rights are not necessary in such a society. This was a mask used to excuse infringements of human rights.

Kymlicka establishes an interesting dynamic of historical development between liberalism and communitarianism. “In the 1970s, the central concepts were justice and rights, as liberals attempted to define a coherent alternative to utilitarianism. In the 1980s, the keywords became community and membership, as communitarians attempted to show how liberal individualism was unable to account for, or to sustain, the communal sentiments, identities, and boundaries needed for any feasible political community” [17].

When it comes to school and education (Bildung), the hierarchy established by liberalism between individuality and sociality is a significant obstacle to the development of civic virtues and the moral image of the young generation. Just as education subordinated only to the values of communitarianism, in other words only to the common good, would be one-sided, so education that only emphasises the principle of autonomy and individual freedom while ignoring communitarian values, the common good, equality, brotherhood and the coexistence of all people and coexistence with the environment and nature is one-sided education.

Thus, the liberal libertarian understanding of human rights cannot represent that universality that is supposed to provide the holistic education (Bildung) of the human being. It falls short in value terms when it comes to defining the aims of education. Social rights and the spirit of common good represent other obligations and virtues that cannot be derived from human rights as implemented in the legal order. From a systemically ethical point of view, it would be disastrous for the school to neglect or abandon the development of these values and virtues that encompass areas such as, as Galston puts it: social, economic, political and general social virtues. We tend to put solidarity in first place among fundamental social virtues, while in the opinion of numerous authors [21, 22] these also include virtues such as empowerment, loyalty (but not servility) and courage. In the economic sphere, they include virtues such as understanding social systems, knowledge of the frameworks of public finance, enterprise, technological innovation, knowledge about the ways in which crises develop and function, activity within various trends of economic movements and labour ethics; political virtues, on the other hand, include, for example, sensitivity to the state of rights in society, knowledge of the constitutional system, social participation and so on.

5.5. The ethics of care, a key value or virtue

The ethics of care could be referred to as the third ethical force to develop in the twentieth century alongside the ethics of justice and communitarian ethics. Its peculiarity is that it does not try to be rationally universalistic but instead seeks the origin of the moral in the context of interpersonal relations, since only a relationship of care causes a motivational shift towards one’s fellow human beings, which triggers moral judgement and reflection.

The ethics of care gives priority to “immediate proximity” [23] and is derived from the context of relations rather than from formal values. Perhaps H. Arendt puts it best: “In so far as morality is more than the sum total of mores [and also rights – Author’s note], of customs and standards of behaviour solidified through tradition and valid on the ground of agreements, both of which change with time, it has, at least politically, no more to support itself than the good will to counter the enormous risks of action by readiness to forgive and to be forgiven, to make promises and to keep them” [9]. And, let us add, without referring to criteria that would be applied in the form of moral norms from outside.

As it is impossible to reconcile liberalism and communitarianism, the ethics of justice and the ethics of care are irreconcilable [24]. Despite their universality, human rights, in their formalised and instrumentalised conception, simply do not reach into the intimate sphere of private life, where conflictual social situations, adultery, lack of love or compassion, abuse of trust, harm, humiliation and so on are not usually described in terms of infringements of someone’s human rights. This means that some other dimension appears in the regulation of private and, above all, intimate relationships, a dimension not encompassed by human rights. It is the sphere of values that cannot be characterised as just or unjust: friendship, love, respect, compassion and responsibility. The theorists of justice, or at least of its mainstream, have avoided treating and judging familial relationships with the criteria of justice: “Classical liberals, for example, assumed that the (male-headed) family is a biologically determined unit, and that justice only refers to the conventionally determined relations between families. Hence the natural equality they discuss is of fathers as representatives of families, and the social contract they discuss governs relations between families. Justice refers to the ‘public’ realm, where adult men deal with other adult men in accordance with mutually agreed upon conventions. Familial relationships, on the other hand, are ‘private’, governed by natural instinct or sympathy” [17].

Today, we have gone beyond the view that was voiced when the ethics of care first emerged, namely that it is an erroneous moral discourse in that it allows a separation of gender-divided moral perception and gender-divided morals. We have also gone beyond the opinion that the ethics of justice should apply to the public sphere and the ethics of care to the private sphere. In contrast to such a division, we can accept the opinion of Carol Gilligan and numerous feminists that the ethics of care, though characteristic of private relationships, also has a public meaning and should also be taken into account in public life [24].

Theorists of the ethics of care draw attention to the importance of values or virtues that have a more emotional and intellectual basis, in contrast to the predominantly rational virtues of libertarian and communitarian ethics. These include a sense of connection, one’s network of relationships, proximity, nurturing relationships, sensitivity, compassion, empathy, loyalty, kindness, mutual assistance, moderation, solidarity, sympathy, care for others and, last but not least, the Golden Rule of ethics. Another of the fundamental virtues is recognition of the other, the different, as a human being. Recognition of the other is, in relation to every human being, something more fundamental, more elemental, which enables or establishes a relationship as a human relationship. This is the acceptance of the other into a relationship, even though in a given moment we may hate them or resist them, though they fill us with compassion and are generally different from us. Recognition is the basis for heterogenisation, the opposite of domination and homogenisation. This is recognition and acknowledgement of the other as a human being.


6. Education as communication or education (Bildung) as internalisation

Teachers play an important role in combining different ethical discourses in educational practice. The teacher must be capable of ensuring, as a mediator in communication, the interweaving of different value levels (justice, solidarity, recognition of the other). The teacher must organise educational communication in such a way that all three ethical discourses are constantly interwoven in it. Not so that the individual can imitate them but so that an awareness is gradually established of the fact that when making decisions in life it is necessary to reflect on different value orientations (justice, the common good and mutual relations), irrespective of which orientation is eventually preferred in the individual’s decision in a concrete case. At the same time, the teacher must also establish the awareness that the decision taken by an individual is their own and that they must take responsibility for it. Whatever decision it is, they must stand behind it.

Previous consideration of values, particularly the values that are inscribed into human rights, has shown that at the level of implementation, without taking context into account, the content of no value or right is self-evident, and none has an a priori theoretical foundation. The true meaning of a value is comprehensible only in public discourse and not in my inner, internalised and subjective reflections that are limited unto themselves. Even for this reason, it is possible to doubt that education (Bildung) as internalisation could be effective. Internalisation suggests the passivity of the subject, an inner predeterminedness that, from the point of view of the goals of developing the autonomous subject, is anachronistic. We simply no longer expect the school to educate a biddable child. The fragility of human affairs, as H. Arendt puts it, requires an engaged approach, critical reflection and great sensitivity to social contexts [9].

The teacher must, then, be capable of guiding open moral communication. I have called this differentiated moral communication. It is important for the public school to communicate to every child, in the process of differentiated moral communication, an intellectual and emotional experience of the difference of value discourses, in order to develop their capacity for moral judgement and teach them how to subordinate their affective moral inclination to rational moral judgement while taking into account the specific social context with all its emotional charges. The public school must endeavour to realise all the traditional aims of moral development, i.e. moral judgement (evaluation), moral feeling and moral wishing (will). But the first level—the capacity for moral judgement and for seeing the consequences of one’s own actions—is something that the school is obliged to achieve. This, if I may use an analogy, is the “minimum educational standard” that the school can contribute in the formation of the moral self-image of every student.

How do we conceive the interweaving of different value levels in differentiated moral communication? First of all, we emphasise that differentiated moral communication is not moral instruction and far less a moral lesson. Public reasoning, communicative rationality or public reasonableness can be a successful methodical tool within pedagogical communication. The expression “public reasoning” or communicative rationality is used by Habermas in the sense of an activity that is oriented towards understanding (verstädigungsorientiertes) the functioning of society and has no instrumental connotation [25]. Kymlicka uses the phrase “public reasonableness” in a similar sense [17]. This activity takes the form of conversation about all the requirements, positions and views, and also all the actions, that relate to the rights of other human beings. For school purposes, the simplest way to present it is through the teacher’s mediation of the conversation with students about positions, views and their demands; needs or actions; disputes and conflicts. In public discourse, students should develop the ability to judge a concrete action, demand, belief and position from the point of view of different ethical discourses:

  • They must present their demand, position, view, action and dispute regarding another in a manner that is comprehensible to others (a reasonable definition of their ethical position).

  • They must establish the justice of their demand in such a way that any individual in the same position would be entitled to make the same demand (the principle of the universality of rights).

  • They must show that the realisation of their demand does not limit the other (the liberal principle: my freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins).

  • They must establish that the quality of interpersonal relations will not be affected (the principle of the ethics of care).

  • They must indicate the impact on the community and the common good (the principle of sensus communis).

I use the term “mediative” for this mode of communication because of its association with mediation. Technically speaking, this is a method of discourse that has long been known in didactics as the Socratic method or heuristic style. Yet there is a small but significant difference. Socrates knew the truth and believed that anyone could arrive at the same truth by coming to know themselves. The mediator, on the other hand, even if he or she knows the truth, must lead to the discussion in such a way as not to influence the decisions taken by the participants. For this reason, the term “mediative communication” is more appropriate than “Socratic discourse.”

The “minimum standard” of moral formation compels the teacher to confront children with the values in their behaviour and accustoms them to moral communication. This is the obligation of the educational concept of public schooling, since otherwise it does not prepare people to face the difficulties of life and abandons them to cruel destiny. Whether this will result in the child harmonising moral judgement, emotions, will and behaviour with the common principles that he or she should follow is an entirely different question. There is simply no guarantee that differentiated moral communication will ensure the lasting and emotionally full moral activity of the individual. The school contributes its part if it develops the ability to publicly confront arguments and a culture of fact-checking, which is above all an important form of education against the manipulations to which the public is increasingly exposed. Today, various centres of power address the individual with fake news or encourage artificial needs of all kinds. Faced with all these influences, human choices are becoming increasingly limited, so the development of a culture of fact-checking is an increasingly important task in the education of young people.

The analogy of communication also applies when we think about younger children, including those of preschool age. When a child does something that is not allowed, the practice that has established itself in some nursery schools whereby the child is told “now go and sit on the couch and think about what you have done” is a mistaken one. Here, too, communication is important. When dealing with a small child, we are not going to begin with the method of public reasoning. This will be introduced gradually, in a manner appropriate to the child’s age. We will begin with the communication of feelings, the stimulation of compassion and questions of what is right and what is wrong. The communication of feelings, however, should not be left halfway. It must be completed. Once again, we can take H. Arendt as a model, in order to complete the conversation about how the child has done something wrong and how they have affected someone else, with forgiveness and a promise: “The possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility – of being unable to undo what one has done though one did not, and could not, have known what one was doing – is the faculty of forgiving. The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises” [9].

The moral system must remain open in education in order to establish, consequently, awareness of responsibilities and duties. None of the moral levels in public reflection should be imposed on the student, and each should choose their own final decision. This is not a question of application of any of the theories of self-regulation. Rather, it is about forming consciousness, which is based on the simple fact that a moral decision in favour of a specific action can only be the free choice of the individual. Only in this way, it is possible to establish awareness of responsibility and from it develop awareness of moral obligation. Awareness of moral obligation cannot arise simply and directly through the transfer of the right of another, nor can it be imparted without establishing awareness of responsibility for one’s own actions in concrete situations.

Differentiated moral communication demands from the teacher a willingness to confront the objections of his or her students. Teachers do not establish their authority through an instant pedagogical measure, but authority can be established through wisdom and understanding their students’ feelings during communication. Even a teacher’s admission that they are wrong does not in fact lessen their authority, it confers it. The old image of the authority of the teacher and the school has passed, never to return. The problem that remains is whether teachers are trained to act in unforeseen situations. Education is not in fact a causal process but a contingent one.


7. What pedagogical paradigms support ethical pluralism in the school and education as communication?

The question is a fundamental one. Of the four pedagogical paradigms that I have defined on the basis of our understanding of the medium of education [1], namely Herbartianism, humanistic (geistwissenschaftliche) pedagogy, socially critical pedagogy and reform pedagogy, only two are still relevant today. Herbartianism declined after the First World War, while humanistic pedagogy did so after the Second World War. The only contrast that remains today is between socially critical pedagogy and reform pedagogy (Reformpädagogik), where the latter means, from the point of view of educational goals, a cross between education (Bildung) as internalisation and education as communication. In the socially critical paradigm, education (Bildung) is formative and part of (deliberate) socialisation. Socialisation is understood as the “process of the transfer of the (symbolic) structure of society and the (necessarily and spontaneously) reciprocal process of internalisation of symbolic structures at the level of the individual” [26]. Social structure is created by real social conditions, which primarily forms the consciousness of the individual in accordance with universal value patterns. Education is necessary part of these relations and is always an expression of common or prevailing relations in society. The assumption is that society is dominated by a “recognisable” symbolic structure, a kind of uniform teleology that enables identification. Consciously or not, it must be recognisable, since it is impossible to identify with the symbolically unrecognisable or it is possible to internalise it.

The medium of reform pedagogy is the child, the human being and the individual. In the last decades of the last century, the idea of the child as the medium of education developed within sociology, as part of systems theory [27], which gives it an entirely new meaning. According to Luhmann’s systems theory, society is composed of various functional systems (economy, politics, culture, education, healthcare, social services, justice, etc.) which, as they have evolved, have become independent of each other, with the result that in modern societies each of them functions as an independent system, according to its own preferences, rules and criteria. That which is right in one system as a main legitimate aim (e.g. financial efficiency in the economy) cannot be transferred as a main value to another system (e.g. financial efficiency in healthcare) without the latter losing its functionality [28]. The functionality of systems thus makes it impossible for us to define the values of society as a whole in a uniform manner. For the purposes of building on our discussion up to this point, the most important thesis of systems theory is that all value systems are essentially particular, since they belong to functional social systems are not to society as a whole. This theory of Luhmann’s is recognised as theoretically productive even by critics of his other radical ideas in the field of education. It is, in fact, doubtful that it would be possible to re-establish a situation in which the development of society were subordinated to some overarching ideology or uniform teleology [29]. This leads to an important conclusion for pedagogy, namely that it is not possible to understand education as “fixing” the individual to common social norms, and it cannot be planned as a means for global social changes [30].

The way in which Luhmann understands the relation between the social and psychological is also important for our purposes. The traditional view of socialisation derives from the theory that the social is transformed through internalisation into the psychological. The transformation of the social into the psychological is not possible in systems theory, because the social system (communication) and the psychological system (consciousness) are two different functional systems. There is no possibility of mediation between the two systems [27]. In the classic theory of socialisation, the transformation (transfer) of the social into the psychological takes place with the help of internalisation. Internalisation is not possible in systems theory. Traditional pedagogical reflection, which is limited to the French Enlightenment, German idealism and neo-humanism, is, in Luhmann’s view, far below the level its own theoretical possibilities of analysing the problems of education and, above all, clarifying its belief in the causal relationship between the social and psychological or, to put it in pedagogical terms, between the intent of the educator and the effect in the structure of the consciousness of the learner. According to Luhmann, then, pedagogy has never been capable of developing serious doubt in the possibility of realising the educator’s purpose. This is also reflected in the fact that it has used various constructs (pädagogischer Bezug—the pedagogical relationship, the pedagogical eros, internalisation) to explain educational effects that it has been unable to explain or justify scientifically.

Luhmann also holds the radical view that the task of influencing the formation of the system of consciousness via the system of communication is an unattainable and unfeasible task for education, since this would technically mean changing the structure of consciousness itself. Consciousness is organised, in Luhmann’s view, as an autopoietic system that constantly builds on some initial point. But it cannot build itself without its own operations such as the ability to learn, memory and the idea of the future. In order to explain external influences on the consciousness, Luhmann uses the concept of the structural coupling of communication and consciousness. Consciousness participates in communication, but in each individual sequence it is autopoietically organised [31]. Within the communication process, each individual responds to another in accordance with their own laws and with their own filters. We can thus only offer the child various alternatives for decision-making and, through communication, open up views of individual alternatives, without pushing any of them. Pedagogy should therefore replace the formula Bildung (the will to form) with the formula ability to learn [27]. We perceive the educator merely as a stimulator (or Irritation, to use Luhmann’s term) that, by providing a choice of alternatives, nevertheless sets the frameworks for what can happen. It is therefore important that the alternatives should be plural. The final decision is the individual’s decision whether to adapt to or resist the norms of reality.

Education is always the communication of all participants, not only of the educator and educatee. This simultaneous action and effect of all participants (including those not present, thanks to the action of the memory) is the reason why it is not possible to control educational influences in communication. Not because of the multitude of influences, but because the child and everyone else involved in communication act as self-referential systems. This thesis of radical constructivism is the basis for Luhmann’s idea of education as self-socialisation. He derives it from the nature of human decision-making, rather than by adopting the principle of “freedom of choice.” It is simply the fact that, in the final consequence, the individual decides on their own pattern of behaviour, despite the social system and the individual being imbued with each other. The child is the medium of education, but only as a being capable of learning, able to connect its thoughts, feelings, memories, plans and ability to think about the future. On this basis, it can form higher levels of connection and build consciousness. This, however, is an internal process of consciousness that is not evident and cannot be overseen from outside. Revealing this internal process is not a matter for pedagogy but for the cognitive sciences [27].


8. Conclusion

There are no ideal solutions when it comes to the educational process. As the question of how to ensure adequate social contexts that guarantee the successful development of the individual in the community always remains open in the classic theory of socialisation, it is not always possible in a context of self-socialisation to ensure reasonable and successful agreements and decisions through differentiated moral communication. If the thorn in the side of the classic theory of socialisation is that it is socially deterministic, the banana peel of the theory of self-socialisation is that it borders on subjectivism or even anarchy. Education as communication can only safeguard itself against anarchic education if it seriously implements the presumption of the responsibility of the individual for their own decisions and in this way builds awareness of the full responsibility of individuals for their decisions and choices, for better or for worse. How? In the case of a small child, through emotional communication that ends in forgiveness and a promise; in the case of older children, through communication according to the principles of “public reasonableness,” Responsibility is loyalty to oneself, which obliges us not to unburden ourselves of it or reset it at every moment. Responsibility is, in the end, responsibility for the other in a community, not in an atomised society.

We know from history that the education system has tended to cultivate obedience, stability and a number of other negative characteristics, if measured from the point of view of human autonomy and dignity. While it is impossible to deny the achievements that demonstrate how successful schools can be in overcoming many weaknesses in the life of society and the individual (issues such as xenophobia, discrimination against difference, dietary habits, vices, safe sex and so on), changing the views and even the political engagement of the environment is an entirely separate issue. We can agree with Amy Gutmann that it is necessary to “equip children with the intellectual skills that are essential for an evaluation of lifestyles that differ from the lifestyle of their parents” [32]. But to say this is merely to say “A.” We also need to say “B”—in other words, what this means for educational practice. This is the professional challenge of this century. I believe that the first step in this direction is taken by understanding education as communication, which gives preference to the pedagogical paradigm that understands the child/individual as the medium of education, which does not, however, mean the “centre of education.” Understanding education as communication further strengthens pedagogy’s basic mission, that of a scientific discipline that occupies itself primarily with questions of wise educational behaviour.


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  • The English translation “education” will be followed by the German word Bildung in brackets in those cases where education is meant more as the formation of spiritual image (internalisation of an image of humanity or the social), but not where it is used as a common term or as a predominantly instrumental process (development of the capacities of judgement, evaluation, learning; sensibilisation of the emotions).
  • The constitutional provision that put an end to the fierce political debates about social selection in the Gymnasium system of upper secondary education is a true caricature: “A child’s aptitude, interests, performance and inner calling shall be authoritative for his/her enrolment in a school rather than the economic and social position of the child’s parents” (Constitution of the Free State of Bavaria, Article 132). This is reminiscent of the caricature of justice and equality expressed long ago by Anatole France: in a democracy, it will be forbidden for both rich and poor to sleep under bridges.
  • In one seminar with students, we considered the case of the class teacher who wrote to the parents of all his pupils informing them of the marks obtained by each pupil. This is an infringement of the right to the protection of personal data and also a criminal offence; regardless of the teacher’s purpose and motives for doing it. The dilemma which the seminar students attempted to answer was this: if a pupil discloses a classmate’s marks, have they also infringed the latter’s right to protection of personal data? They may have, but there are no sanctions in this case. In terms of the ethical assessment of such an action, the question of their motives remains open. An ethical dimension is thus established. The ethicality of a given norm (in this case the right to the protection of personal data) thus only arises in the relationship of two equal subjects and does not belong to the norm in itself.

Written By

Zdenko Medveš

Submitted: 18 August 2017 Reviewed: 14 November 2017 Published: 26 January 2018