Individual Autonomy Should be regarded as the Aim of Education

With Direct Reference to Robert Dearden’s Understanding of Autonomy, Individual Autonomy Should be regarded as the Aim of Education


There is a basic problem concerning the primary aim of education which has not been solved despite the development of several different philosophies around it. The problem is that proper aim and guiding ideals of education has never been adopted by most schools and other learning institutions. Since time immemorial, educational theorists and philosophers have proposed several different aims of educational such as the disposition to inquire, cultivation of curiosity, production of knowledge, fostering of creativity, production of knowledgeable students, promotion of moral thinking, enlargement of the imagination, the fulfillment of potential, development of sound judgment, as well as enhancement of understanding among others.

This article is written with the position that individual autonomy should be an aim for education not the aim. To support this position, it is stated that when a person is autonomous, his thoughts and actions are directly determined by himself not external forces of influences. Such a person makes his or her own rules to live by, which is fundamental in enhancing learning process. Autonomy is an important value and should be an aim in education because it gives learners and teachers the independence and students a voice in their education thus fostering self-pride, self-discipline, self-activity, self-direction, as well as being a chooser all circle around the central idea of individual autonomy as stipulated by Dearden.

In this essay I will discuss four main things namely; (1) my understanding of autonomy with reference to Dearden, (2) critical pedagogy, (3) capabilities approach, and lastly (4) my professional experience. In the critical pedagogy, my argument is that humanization and empowerment aspects critical pedagogy allows room for classrooms to accommodate individual autonomy. In the capabilities approach, it is essential to treat every individual as an end not as a means. Lastly, I will conclude the article by discussing my professional challenge as a teacher in relation to student’s and teachers’ autonomy in classroom.

Autonomy and Dearden

According to explanation by Dearden (337), a person is autonomous to the degree that what he thinks and does in important areas of his life cannot be explained without reference to his own activity of mind. With this understanding, autonomy in education is primarily concerned about developing an important quality of character gained over the child’s formal schooling period. When applied to aim of education, autonomy should lead an individual to govern him or herself in all essential aspects with respect to morality and intellectuality of the person. When education establishes moral autonomy, it should be the result of application of reciprocity sanctions that enhances mutual respects between teachers and learners whereby teachers play the role of adults while learners the role of children. In essence, this approach should provide children (learners) with opportunities to consider the point of view of other people thus motivating them construct accommodative rules of conducts. The primary aim of education should be to develop the moral as well as intellectual autonomy of an individual.

With reference to Dearden’s illustration, my understanding is that rather than being the aim, autonomy should be the establishment of a new aim in education. The new aim is founded upon the moral principles and truth that address the specific societal needs. Because morality and truth are very essential in education, there should be more than one aim (Dearden 343). This is further supported by the fact that autonomy is not only what matters in education despite being the most important part of a person’s dignity. Kant and Spinoza fist mentioned this when discussing the connection between morality and truth. For instance, morality is considered to be more autonomous because there is likelihood of the worst happening. Dearden argued that, to a larger extent, great criminals in history are naturally autonomous. Following this argument, I hold the idea that in the new aim, the degrees of freedom given to students and teachers in classroom as well as the syllabus should be restricted. Without such restrictions and the respect for truth, the act of exercising autonomy in education may lead to failures and frustrations since the world is not perfectly as we think it should be. Furthermore, the rise of autonomy in education system has not marked the eclipse of other important values in the society such as truth and morality.

According to Dearden (343), the idea of a person being autonomous is very much a matter of degree to which what he/she does or thinks is determined by himself/herself. In other words, it is important to explain his ideas and actions without referring to his own activity of the mind. In essence, the determination of what a person does or thinks is made possible by considering activities of the mind such as deliberating, deciding, planning, reflecting, as well as judging among others. This implies that autonomy actually is possible within the fashionable fields of morals and the sphere of personal reasoning. I envisage freedoms and independence in education to imply more than a condition for moral authenticity into developing a pervasive personal ideal. In essence, it is achieved when there is absolute absence of restraint or constraints with respect to what we do or might want to do. It is essential to note that relevant freedom might be given even though it is not a sufficient condition for affirming autonomy in education.  However, there are some residual doubts about this might occur. First, it might be argued that autonomy is invulnerable to restraint of others when applied as a quality of character. Secondly, doubts arise concerning the readiness with which some people would assume that certain conditions are necessary for development of autonomy. These two constitute my idea about the good values of autonomy in the society and education. Dearden (341) argued that autonomy can be subjected to utility value measured in relation to various roles of economy ion the society. Even though it is restricted in the society to enable effective functioning, autonomy can play an important role of fostering self-pride in learning and education. My argument is in favor of striking a balance in autonomy by giving both teachers and students achievement and pride while at the same time continuing with the system works.

Critical Pedagogy

A careful analysis the relationship between a teacher and a student at any level reveals some insightful information about critical pedagogy; it reveals essential fundamental narrative character. A teacher is established as talking about reality in motionless, predictable, compartmentalized and static manner. This narrative type of education is characterized by sonority of words and lack of transforming powers (Friere 1). The students are forced to record, memorize, and repeat words and phrases without actually perceiving what they really mean to them. Worse still, this approach turns students into containers and receptacles with teacher as the narrators. With this banking model, education thus becomes an act of depositing whereby teachers and depositors while students are depositories; teachers issue communiqués and makes deposits (Freire 1). My position is that this banking model is not beneficial for both teachers and students in enhancing learning. This is because the scope of banking model in education only allows students to extend their knowledge as far as they have received. Another problem with the banking model in education is that people are filed away with lack of creativity, new knowledge and transformation; thus individual cannot be truly human (Freire 1). In essence, the banking model in education promotes pride in the works of both teachers and students. The problem of critical pedagogy is that it argues in favor of personal autonomy and this kind of pride in education.

Nussbaum (242) argued that the banking model as applied in education opposes the required autonomy. It promotes a scenario where teachers boss students instead of coaching them to be independent and autonomous. Instead, teachers and education bosses choose by themselves what children should learn and do at school. This practice in education makes children lack indignity. As a result, they focus on individualism and humanitarianism elements only without considering the students’ point of view. The model for education should be characterized by its problem-posing tactics because knowledge emerges with each other (Freire 1). The banking model, instead, makes knowledge a gift which is bestowed upon those who considered themselves knowledgeable enough to teacher others. In essence, the banking model that is currently being used by many schools does not enhance individual autonomy of both teachers and students.

The problem-solving education model is designed in such a way that it empowers people, both teachers and students, to develop their own power to critically perceive things relative to the nature of their existence in the world. This allows the teachers and the students to simultaneously reflect on the world and themselves without necessarily dichotomizing their reflection thus enhancing the establishment of authentic form of actions and thoughts. By obvious facts, the banking education model naturally attempts to conceal some facts by simply mythicizing the reality, thus, cannot accurately explain the existence of human beings in the world. On the other hand, the problem-solving education model does the work of demythicizing what has been mythicized by the banking model (Friere 8). In other words, it makes consciousness as consciousness of consciousness. The banking model simply project ignorance by assuming that learners are idiots.

Capabilities Approach

With the capabilities approach in education, each individual, both teachers and students, has the ultimate right to live not as a means to an end but as an ends. As explained by Friere (3), the capabilities approach is a typical human right which is based on approach to education. Viewed as a right, then it should lead to establishment of autonomy in education whereby both teachers and students have some minimum freedom to use their own mind to determine their actions and thoughts. As argued by Nussbaum (343), everyone has a personal worth in the society to act and learn autonomously which purely does not depend on their gender. Upholding this self-worth of individuals plays significant role in liberating education in the society through acts of recognition and not simply transference of information.

There are few similarities between critical pedagogy and capabilities approach in education. For instance, both critical pedagogy and capabilities approach are concerned with poor and access to information. The second similarity is that both critical pedagogy and capabilities approach understands education as a means of gaining personal autonomy; students are encouraged to adopt the virtues of self-service, independence, and self-pride among others. These models actually alienate students like slaves thus accepting their ignorance for the existence of teachers; however, unlike slaves, students do not discover that they are educating teachers as much as they are being educated by teachers. Ideally, capabilities approach is not driven by reconciliation in which solutions of the teacher-student contradiction is reconciled by contrasting both poles simultaneously. In addition, capabilities approach is based on the static, mechanistic, spatialized, and naturalistic view of consciousness in transforming how students perceive objects.

The capabilities approach is useful in stressing the importance of education to women or girls and it has been successfully used in various parts of the world including India. This is because this approach stresses on highlighting the capabilities of women as compared to men and pointing the significance of education in their future life. Empirical surveys indicate that most women and girls believe that they do not need education because of various reasons such as being non-adaptive to the preference of education, getting married and being housewives, the reality of inequalities on their lives, and difficult education system that lacks fun among others. The beauty of capabilities approach is that it limits the degree of restriction in education. In addition, it enhances adult autonomy thus helps women realize their dire need for equal education as men. Women education is a worldwide problem that needs worldwide solution through joint efforts by NGOs and government entities (Nussbaum 345).

For individual autonomy to be an aim in education capabilities approach must be directly connected to it; the basic need of individual capabilities should be directly connected to the bodily health. However, in my opinion, there should be some level of restriction in the capabilities of bodily integrity especially in teenagers and children because it may lead to some problems in education. According to Dearden (343) and Nussbaum (343), the degree of autonomy should be controlled to prevent children from practicing autonomy outside the classroom; if such preferences are honored, parents might not make children go to school as desired. The capabilities approach offers perfect solution to making women attend school because it offers programs that respect the lives of women and equally does not project their ignorance.

Profession Experience as a Teacher

My professional experience as a teacher may also help illustrate some of the things I have discussed in this article. My experience as a teacher directly relates to individual autonomy in many ways. At the school where I am currently working, my experience reveals the fundamental interplay of narrative character which is essential not enhancing autonomy as an aim in education. The relationship between teachers and students simply revolves around teachers narrating subjects to student who wait patiently to receive with open arms everything delivered to them by their teachers. My experience is that such students do not develop their critical thinking. They perceive teachers that the only source of knowledge.

Worst, still students in my school do not develop a scene of teaching teachers because of the generalized perception that teachers know it all. In line with Friere, most schools where I have worked, an adult teacher regards men as manageable and adaptable beings. Teachers are generally treated as professional beings adaptable to impart any kind of knowledge to students. Adult educators have a simple role of depositing knowledge and information to students who act as depositories. In addition, adult educators accept the passive role of being dictated on what to teach students as designed and approved by their education bosses. Because of lack of individual autonomy, adult educators lack opportunity of learning form their students.

My professional experience indicates that the contemporary education does not uphold capabilities approach. The education programs being used by most schools does not focus in enhancing the student capabilities. Students do not learn to sue their capabilities in learning and discovering new and higher knowledge but rather wait and accept what is delivered to them by their teachers. In addition, the contemporary education programs do not distinguish the capabilities of students based on their gender and cultural influence. There are few attempts in schools to promote personal autonomy illustrated by Dearden. I have learnt that the contemporary education have limited link to Dearden’s idea of personal autonomy. In rare cases, do student encourage students to uphold the sense of independence, self-activity, self-direction, as well as being a chooser in life.


The concept of individual autonomy is applied to schools when children as well as teachers are free to live within their own rules and regulations as opposed to being some external ‘oppressive’ laws. The philosophical underpinning of individual autonomy is based on Kant’s idea that a man is considered autonomous if his actions bind him to certain moral laws that are derived by his own reasoning and thinking as opposed to being controlled by his inclinations to external factors. Autonomy as an aim of education should be expressed in variety of corresponding innovations in educational practice.

By regarding individual autonomy as an aim of education, the contemporary educational schools are able to emphasize on individualized learning process and outcome. In addition, this approach allows schools to widen the scope of individual choices at all ages while at the same time stressing on learning how to learn for oneself. In schools where individual autonomy is regarded as the primary aim of education, children or learners are motivated to have a sense of responsibility and reasoning when making decisions. In essence, they think of the likely consequences of their decisions and this significantly help in their mental, moral as well as social development. Such schools stimulate the development of autonomy of children by exchanging children’s point of view with those of their teachers.

In conclusion, I maintain my position that autonomy should be an aim for education rather being the aim because the thoughts and action of an autonomous are determined by oneself. In addition, autonomy would subsequently give teachers and students independence thus fostering self-pride. On the other hand, it is the humanization as well as empowerment aspects of critical pedagogy that have ability to allow individual autonomy to be practiced in the classrooms. When using autonomy as an aim through the capabilities approach, students or individuals should be treated as end not a means of attaining education.


Work Cited

Dearden. R. ‘Autonomy and education’, in R. Dearden, P. Hirst and R. Peters (eds) Education and the Development of Reason, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 333-345, (1975). Print.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum Books, (1993). Print.

Nussbaum, Martha C. “Women’s education: A global challenge