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Nicholas C. Burbules

Meritocracy is a normative principle directing the distribution of opportunities and benefits based on ability, talent, or effort. It is a central issue in education, which seems centrally concerned with identifying, developing, and rewarding merit. But many have come to doubt the reality of meritocracy, apart from its worth as an ideal; and in a society in which opportunities and benefits (including educational opportunities and benefits) are in fact not distributed based on merit, the belief in meritocracy functions as a kind of legitimating myth. The essay concludes that meritocracy is an ambivalent principle, producing some things that we want and many things that we do not want.


Justice and Education  

Christopher Martin

One of the fundamental tasks of philosophy is the search for the just state, or “best regime.” Discerning the right, or most desirable, norms and principles of governance and the fair treatment of citizens extends back into antiquity. To ask “What is just?” is to make salient enduring questions about what people are owed as members of a political community, as well as the kind of political community that can ensure that people receive what they are owed. Answering the question, “what is just” also requires inquiry into the scope and substance of education within a just and fair society. This, because a just regime is not self-sufficient. It must be cultivated, developed, and preserved. Here we are concerned with the values and aims that a just society should strive to provide for citizens and how access to those values and aims should be justly structured. For example, what kind of educational provision should be allocated to all citizens as a matter or basic justice or fairness? How should limited educational goods and resources be allocated between different citizens? To what extent should education promote norms of conduct and points of view among members of a political community in order to promote greater justice and fairness between citizens, and what should these norms and points of view consist? However, in addition to the reasons why education can contribute to a just society, engaging in these questions also requires a careful consideration of the reasons why (or why not) people are owed an education. I am here suggesting that philosophers interested in education and justice must contend with what it is about education that might make it something that individuals rightly have a claim to as a matter of justice alongside a consideration of the ways in which the provision of education can promote a justice in a more widespread sense. The two are not one and the same. For example, imagine an indoctrinative education that ensured future citizens acted with flawless impartiality and fairness in all things resulting in a society of perfect equality. One might claim that, merits aside, such an education would unjustly deny individual citizens an education for critical thinking and independence. Consequently, inquiry into education and justice raises numerous philosophically complex questions arising from the interplay of general political principles and educational values including the nature and scope of educational rights, tensions between the cultivation of individuals and the development of communities, the attribution of differences in educational achievement to desert (or not), and the role and limits of educational allocation in supporting a more equal society, to name just a few.


Researching Relationships Between Rural Education, Space and Social Justice  

Hernan Cuervo

The relationship between rural schooling, space, and theories of justice is important to understand the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals (e.g., students, teachers, principals) learning and teaching in rural places. To understand these challenges and opportunities, social justice needs to be comprehended at the level and setting where it is being enacted. This need for a contextualization of social justice, rather than universal and impartial notions of the concept, contributes to make visible the structures and relationships that constitute the space of rural schooling. This is important because the entrenched inequities experienced by rural school participants (e.g., students, staff, and the community) can only be fully addressed through a plural conceptualization and practice of social justice. This plurality needs to include a politics of distribution and a politics of recognition if it aims to make rural school spaces equitable and just. The work of Iris Marion Young, Nancy Fraser, and Axel Honneth has been key to theorize the plural conceptualization of social justice in the intersection with space and rural education. Their scholarly work has been crucial because traditionally, a politics of distribution has tended to be the main social justice dimension applied in educational policies to redress perennial inequalities, such as shortage of staffing. This has produced a shortcoming and one-size-fits-all approach that can homogenize the diversity of rural spaces and schools. Against this dominance of distributive justice, a politics of recognition, through the work of Young, Fraser, and Honneth, is key to enhance the resignification and value of the rural space, knowledge, and schooling. To illustrate the need for a plural approach to social justice, two issues in rural education are particularly important: the constitution of the rural school curriculum and the perennial problem of recruiting and retaining school staff. While distribution of resources is important, at the core of both issues is a need for the social respect and cultural resignification of rural knowledge, experiences, and ways of life. This approach that takes recognition theory seriously into account, as well as distributive justice, helps to better understand how rural schooling can be socially just.