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An attempt to define "emancipatory education" and why it is so important

The people on the International Student Movement (ISM) platform have two aims. On one hand we struggle for freely accessable education for all. On the other hand we also strive for emancipatory education! Due to the increasing commercialization of education around the world universities and also schools are turned into companies and therefore aim to become profitable. Institutions are forced to attract sponsorships from profit-driven corporations and companies and create an investor-friendly environment to stay competitive.

In the end only courses of study will survive, that have "sponsors" or "economic partners". The rest will be closed, unless higher tuition fees are charged. Usually those affected most are social sciences (philosophy, sociology, ethnology...) and other courses with “no economic value”. But often these are the ones, that encourage critical thinking or at least have the most potential to do so. Of course students are all looking for a job after graduation, but it is very dangerous to design courses and lessons only based on so-called “market needs”. A more broad education, with diverse courses of study should enable people to gain autonomy and emancipate themselves. We believe, that for any public education system it should be a principle task to teach how society generally functions, what power structures exist within it and what methods various social groups have to push through their interests. That's what differentiates "education" from "training", which focusses exclusively on delivering knowledge relevant to a job segment. Proper "education" is broad, takes time and contains emancipatory aspects. Students (be it in elementary school or higher education) need to learn how to critically reflect their (social) environment in order to become active citizens. As long as emancipatory education is not an essential part of education systems, societies can't claim to be truly democratic. How can one ask a person to shape the system he/she lives in (which is traditionally part of a democracy), if he/she doesn't understand it?

An emancipatory education should be open to everyone, regardless of age, social or financial background. We want free access to life-long learning, which includes emancipatory education and not only professional interests. Alternative education movements promoted by groups and organizations like the Attac network should also be promoted to demonstrate that institutions such as universities don't have a monopole of knowledge, and to facilitate the spread of emancipatory education on all levels of society. We encourage you to discuss with us in our forum what emancipatory education should include.  Here are some examples of what we think emancipatory education consist of:

  • The teaching of substantial analyses and theories (Sociology), that can help people to reflect their (social) environment better (e.g. by Bourdieu, Goffman or Foucault) in a creative way. They can help students realize the power structures within society/ societies and what strategies of manipulation are used or can be used.
  • Education in Philosophy can encourage students to ask themselves certain basic questions about religion or the meaning of life and help to question some of the seemingly most obvious things.
  • It is also vital for studens to learn more about themselves. How the human mind works and how it everyone is prone to manipulation. These psychological aspects could be part of Biology lessons.
  • Ethnology can help students to understand different cultures better, which would help to promote tolerance, respect and understanding.
  • Last, but not least: emancipatory education should also strive to enable people to realize ones personal interests and how to make use of the tools that society provides (for example the rights as a citizen or worker), to defend or advocate them. Emancipatory education can also inlcude the teaching of how co-operatives or other bodies with grassroots democracy are run.

It is in the interest of society as a whole and not just students, to unite for an education that will empower us on all levels! We don’t need a static society, but a society consisting of emancipated individuals, especially in an age of increasing control and manipulation.