Kieran Egan


On his book The Future of Education: Reimagining Our Schools from the Ground Up

Cover Interview of January 26, 2009

In a nutshell

The Future of Education is an attempt to do precisely what its subheading suggests—reimagine our schools from the ground up.  The book begins with a scenario in which a priestess in ancient Athens is holding up the bloody remains of a heifer’s liver, declaring that it is unspotted and that the goddess approves the idea of war with Corinth.  One of the men in the audience suggests to his friends that this doesn’t seem like the best way to make foreign policy.  His friends treat him like a fool; unpractical and not knowing how the world works—of course one has to sacrifice heifers to discover what the goddess wishes for the state.  We then move to the future, in which a historian is trying to account for the bizarre fact that between the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twenty first century all “modern” societies put their children in institutions called schools in order to educate them—despite the fact that all surveys suggested that these schools were hopelessly inadequate at performing this task.

Most people take so for granted the institutions they are born amongst that they find it almost impossible to reflect on them in any serious way.  The book begins by trying to show that our schools are dysfunctional because they try to perform three incompatible tasks at the same time—1. socializing children to the norms, conventions and values of their society; 2. shaping their minds to perceive the truth about the world, by engaging them in the academic enterprise that makes them skeptical of the norms, conventions, and values of their and other societies; 3. aiming to ensure the development of each child’s individual potential as far as possible.  Having three distinct aims that constantly undermine each other makes for an institution that is ineffective at doing any of them.

The rest of the book outlines an alternative conception of education and shows, in a “history” of education from 2010 to 2060 how this alternative conception of education can be brought into reality, step by step.