Education as Human Development: Enhancing Children’s Opportunities and Freedoms to Achieve

Larson, Colleen L; Anderson, Noel S (2016). 'Education as Human Development: Enhancing Children’s Opportunities and Freedoms to Achieve' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Telos is an ancient Greek word meaning "end" or "purpose." What is the telos or purpose of education in a child's life? In this era of high stakes testing and standards based reform, we contend that many policy makers, researchers, and educators have embraced an overly narrow telos of education: increasing academic achievement based on standardized tests. However, is this an appropriate or adequate purpose of education for children and youth living in racially, ethnically, and economically unequal communities? In this paper, we argue that this narrow educational agenda ill serves all children and youth, and especially those living in under resourced communities.
Social justice researchers argue that the purpose of education for children and youth living in low wealth communities is to enhance their real freedoms and opportunities to achieve, not only in school, but in life (Larson, 2013; Greene, 1998). Current utilitarian reform efforts across the globe, however, focus on academic achievement alone and fail to identify or address the many obstacles that severely undermine immigrant and impoverished youths’ abilities to focus on and benefit from education. These educational policies and practices are poorly aligned with the learning and human supportneeds of many poor and immigrant populations and consistently undermines rather than enhances real opportunities to learn.
In this paper, we argue that if we are to better meet the needs of children and youth who benefit least from the form of education we currently provide, we must recognize the need for more human and humanizing approaches to education assessment and reform (Nussbaum, 2000).  Rather than focusing on achievement alone, Sen argues for examining people’s actual freedoms to achieve (Sen, 2009; 1999; 1992). He contends that children are not all equally free to focus on education. Therefore, greater equality of opportunity will require a decided shift away from utilitarian values, which concentrate on achievement while ignoring social, economic, and political disparities in freedoms to achieve. However, education policymakers today overlook disparities in freedoms to achieve entirely.
What role does mind, body and emotional well-being play in shaping children’s freedoms to achieve and opportunities to learn?  In this paper, we provide an overview of a growing body of literature in cognitive science that is illuminating and validating the vital role that well-being plays in shaping children’s real opportunities to learn (Rowlands, 2010; Todres, 2007; Lakoff and Johnson, 1999). All human thought is mediated by the human body. Human beings experience their lives and respond to their experiences and environments in fully embodied ways. Therefore, life choices that seem rational to some people are often inconceivable for others given vast disparities in their social, emotional and material well-being (Nussbaum, 2000).
Emerging insights into the importance of understanding embodied well-being as a central feature of learning and human development are enormously compelling and have significant ramifications for rethinking current directions in educational reform, assessment and professional practice. In the final section of this paper, we suggest that if we are to expand real freedoms to achieve for more children and youth, we ought to see wisdom in embracing education as a process of human development and adopt policies and practices that create a more appropriately human and humanizing approach to reform and assessment.
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Sen, A. (2009). The Idea of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
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