Moral Education in the Liberal State

Journal of Practical Ethics 1 (2):24-63 (2013)
Abstract
I argue that political liberals should not support the monopoly of a single educational approach in state sponsored schools. Instead, they should allow reasonable citizens latitude to choose the worldview in which their own children are educated. I begin by defending a particular conception of political liberalism, and its associated requirement of public reason, against the received interpretation. I argue that the values of respect and civic friendship that motivate the public reason requirement do not support the common demand that citizens “bracket” their comprehensive commitments in politics. Rather, citizens should seek to enact policies the justification of which is compatible with the truth of their fellow reasonable citizens’ worldviews. Next I argue that no single educational approach can meet this standard of justification. Many believe that state sponsored education in a pluralist, liberal society ought to present multiple worldviews in a neutral way. I argue that this aspiration is unrealizable, and no other educational model will plausibly meet the justificatory demand. Finally, I address two objections to my favored alternative: that it may allow for the inculcation of disrespect, and that it violates children’s autonomy. Against the first, I claim that political liberals have no grounds for thinking that reasonable citizens will seek to inculcate disrespect. Finally, I argue that there is no conception of autonomy that can sustain the second.
Keywords political liberalism  state-sponsored education  worldview
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