Enriching the narratives we tell about ourselves and our identities: an educational response to populism and extremism

Educational Philosophy and Theory 54 (1):21-36 (2022)
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The normative ideals of democracy, trust and respect are under threat from the forces of populism and extremism. I argue for a recalibration of some basic ideas in the moral and social domains in which each person sees her/himself as one among others. I defend 0093The Principle of Personal Worth0094 which asserts that persons are more valuable than non-persons such as nations, religions, ethnicities, tribes, gangs, and cultures. The 0091collectivist0092 mentality denied by this principle is often held up against a strongly (individualist) or atomistic one. However, these two extremes are not the only possibilities.Collectivism and identity politics link our identities to those associations and institutions with which we identify. This link is based on a confusion between qualitative and quantitative identity. Our actual (numerical) identities are determined by a combination of semantic (conceptual) and deictic (referential) factors, not by our qualitative associations.The Alt-Right combines extremes of individualism and collectivism by way of self-serving narratives that simultaneously elevate the individual over the State, and promote the agendas of specific religious, ethnic, gender and sexuality groups. These impoverished narratives support an impoverished sense of community which functions as an echo chamber for its own ideas, while rejecting those coming from beyond its boundaries. Ultimately, the task of repairing and reconstructing such narratives lies in formal education. Teachers and students need to enact forms of discourse and community which are intellectually, ethically and affectively powerful, both as tools for better teaching and learning, and as preparation for living worthwhile lives.



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