Mindfulness and the Therapeutic Function of Education

Journal of Philosophy of Education 43 (1):119-131 (2009)
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Although it has been given qualified approval by a number of philosophers of education, the so-called ‘therapeutic turn’ in education has been the subject of criticism by several commentators on post-compulsory and adult learning over the last few years. A key feature of this alleged development in recent educational policy is said to be the replacement of the traditional goals of knowledge and understanding with personal and social objectives concerned with enhancing and developing confidence and self-esteem in learners. After offering some critical observations on these developments, I suggest that there are some educationally justifiable goals underpinning what has been described as a therapeutic turn. Whilst accepting that ‘self-esteem’ and cognate concepts cannot provide a general end or universal aim of education, the therapeutic function is more valuable and significant than is generally acknowledged. This claim is justified by an examination of the concept of ‘mindfulness’ that, it is argued, can be an immensely powerful and valuable notion, which is integrally connected with the centrally transformative and developmental nature of learning and educational activity at all levels.

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