The encumbered student: an ethical exploration of personhood in education
As educators rightly seek to renew a vision of greater public significance for their work in the face of the increasingly circumscribed and technically managed role accorded to the profession, a new set of ethical ambitions has arisen with a distinctive orientation towards the self. The dominant impulse, as this dissertation will proceed to characterize it, views the work of education as part of a broader social project to open up, loosen, or unsettle the fixed or closed nature of the student that arrives in the classroom. In close connection with this goal stands an assumption that these inner barriers of our fixed and exclusive identities and commitments tend to constitute the primary source of outer social injustices, thereby connecting the need for critical disruption on the individual scale to a powerful moralizing narrative of broader reform. Yet this model of liberation rests upon a narrowing rejection of those aspects of our situated and often familial or religious encumbrance that constitute the fullness of personhood; or more accurately, as this dissertation will frame the problem, educators and theorists who pursue liberation by privileging disruption and contingency when directing students to interrogate the deposits of their past and situated identities are merely substituting one ethically opinionated vision of personhood for another, without attending to the many languages and domains of truth that this preference implicitly denigrates and precludes. An engagement with elements of the historical and contemporary ethical framing of education will reveal that which is unable to be articulated within the spaces and presuppositions of our public classrooms today, culminating in an alternative sketch of the gifts of particularity that give weight to our situated personhood.