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Ethical Visions of Education: Philosophies in Practice (review)
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Reviewed by
David Hansen, Ed. Ethical Visions of Education: Philosophies in Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, developed in association with the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century, 2007. 224 pp. ISBN 0807747580, $24.95 (pbk.)

Ethical Visions of Education is an insightful and powerful collection of essays exploring the philosophy of education of ten prominent world educators, including John Dewey, Paulo Freire, W. E. B. Du Bois, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Jane Addams, Tao Xingzhi, Maria Montessori, Rabindranath Tagore, Rudolf Steiner, and Albert Schweitzer. The book provides an in-depth exploration of arguably the greatest educators and educational philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is a wonderful resource in two ways: First, each chapter makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the educational thought and practice of the featured educators and philosophers. Second, what is even more powerful than the clear and thoughtful articulation and analysis of the particular philosophies of education explored in the book is the overall philosophical framework.

The basic premise of the book, as articulated by David Hansen in the introduction, is that the work of philosophy concerns the development of "generative ideas," and thus philosophy of education pertains to the development of generative educational ideas. Hansen forcefully argues that ideas, being distinct from facts and information, constitute attempts by individuals to articulate the meaning of their experiences. Ideas in this sense cannot be transmitted from one person to another; they emerge from individuals' reflections on their own unique experiences. In addition, ideas move and transform us; they have generative power. In this sense, ideas have consequences; they matter, and therefore, they have moral import. Philosophy is understood here, not as the production of theory per se (theory defined as modes of explanation of phenomena), but as the pursuit of ideas so defined—philosophy [End Page 86] speaks not merely to theory but to our commitments to live in a certain way in the world. Philosophy is a way of life and thus possesses a profound ethical core as well as vision. This approach to philosophy constitutes a return to its original meaning. As Pierre Hadot has demonstrated, for the Greeks and Romans, philosophy did not primarily concern the construction of abstract theoretical systems; philosophy was instead conceived as a choice of a way of life, a justification for that choice, and the articulation of the path or curriculum leading to the realization of the ideals of that way of life. The focus of philosophy and education was the transformation of one's life as a mode of Being. As a path philosophy included sets of exercises necessary for the transformation of one's being in accordance with the vision of the philosophy. Schools were formed out of the chosen way of life of the philosophy and those attracted to the philosophy. In these schools the way of life defined by the philosophy and the understandings and exercises necessary to live that life were developed, taught, and experienced.1

Such a perspective on philosophy as a way of life based in the ethical vision of generative ideas is essential for every educator. So conceived, there is no one best philosophical system for education, but a plurality of educational ideas in dynamic conversation. This point suggests the fundamental importance for educators to dialogically encounter a variety of educational philosophies as a stimulus for the generation of their own educational ideas upon which the dynamism of their practice is based.

Each chapter of Ethical Visions of Education illustrates the power of ideas in this sense. The book embodies and manifests its own main premise. Each of the philosophies articulated in the volume is a unique example of the generative power of educational ideas. It offers an opportunity to dialogically encounter a rich set of educational ideas, and their concomitant practices, generated in response to the direct experience of a diversity of historical, cultural, and political conditions—the response of arguably the most visionary educators of the last one hundred and fifty years.

In terms of the specific chapters, David Hansen explores John Dewey's conception of education for deepening meaning, for leading a meaningful life. Stephen Fishman and Lucille McCarthy...