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What could education be?

The neoliberal university – largely privatised, steered by market logic, forcing academic inquiry into vocational strictures – looms large in the Australian imagination and in reality; as documented in our online magazine over the past few months, class sizes swell alongside student fees, academic workloads and vice-chancellor salaries.

‘The academy is not paradise,’ bell hooks writes. ‘But learning is a place where paradise can be created.’ The education we can make right now, in a society so constrained, hook argues, is one of resistance:

The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress.

So what could education be if our transactional notions did not limit the possibilities? If education was not focused on social mobility or securing a respectable position of employment, but if society instead worked toward expanding everyone? The founding vision for Melbourne’s Trades Hall and Literary Institute, as a site of public education for the betterment of workers and their families, is but one historical possibility.

Like many of our readers, we believe in a free education for all, but that right is under threat across the world. The authors in these pages outline some of the pressing concerns of the academy in an Antipodean context, in addition to offering ideas for alternative, non-institutional forms of learning and what the ‘repoliticisation’ of education might look like.

Fundamentally, education is about democratic participation – the ability to contribute, to question, to explore the self in society. Education can be confronting, of course: it compels us to interrogate, to become more engaged, to take responsibility. And ultimately, education gives us the tools to shape the world.




Jacinda Woodhead

Jacinda Woodhead is a former editor of Overland and current law student.

More by Jacinda Woodhead ›

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