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A social critique of open education: An analysis of the justification of open education in terms of its contribution to social justice and social control

Chadbourne, Rod (1980) A social critique of open education: An analysis of the justification of open education in terms of its contribution to social justice and social control. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The central objective of this inquiry is to investigate whether open education - as exemplified in the works of Ivan Illich, A.S. Neill and Charles E. Silberman - can be justified in terms of its intended and likely consequences for social justice and social control. More specifically, it is concerned with examining the validity of allegations that open education is designed to promote galitarianism rather than meritocracy and that it is directed at revolutionary social changes rather than at reforms within the structure of advanced capitalist societies. Embodied in these issues is the overall theme of the study, namely the contribution of open education to the problem of political order in societies characterised by class inequality.

The procedure adopted for developing this theme involved examining and interpreting the views of Illich, Neill and Silberman against the background of the conflict theory and functionalist perspectives on social justice and social control. From these perspectives a conceptual framework was constructed by juxtaposing the different responses of these two models of society to the following questions. Does social inequality necessarily give rise to a problem of social control? How is social control maintained in a class-structured society? What social control role do schools perform? Should schools continue to perform their social control function? What are the determinants of educational disadvantage? What can schools do to promote meritocracy and egalitarianism?

By analysing the open educationists' views against this conceptual framework, it was found that Illich and Neill tend to accept the egalitarian version of social justice because they hold assumptions which commit them to the conflict model of society. Silberman on the other hand emerged as an adherent of functionalism and a supporter of 'equality of opportunity to compete for rewards' rather than 'equality of rewards'. Another finding was that, consistent with their general nee-Marxist orientation, Illich and Neill tend to believe that the removal of educational disadvantage and the maintenance of 'real' social control is possible only by dismantling corporate capitalism; Silberman, however, was shown to believe that both of these objectives can be achieved by piecemeal social improvements. No conclusive case could be made from this study to confirm the view that the implementation of open education would increase the educational disadvantage of low socio-economic-status children. What the findings of this inquiry do suggest is that if implemented, Illich and Neill's educational proposals could help promote egalitarianism by undermining the political values, occupational character traits and social expectations of the subordinate groups which, according to conflict theory, lead them to accept the legitimacy and perpetuation of social stratification; contrastingly, Silberman's proposals were not found to be potentially subversive of social inequality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Hill, Brian and Porter, Paige
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