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M A RT H A C .

N U S S B AU M

Education for Profit,


Education for Freedom
EDITORS NOTE: Most of the authors development work has been conducted in India,
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and she provides an analysis of Indian educational issues in The Clash Within:
Democracy, Religious Violence, and Indias Future (Harvard University Press,
2006). The full manuscript from which the following article was adapted also includes
discussion of several examples from India that, regrettably, have been omitted here due
F E A T U R E D

to space limitations. The issues examined here are treated at greater length in Not for
Profit: Liberal Education and Democratic Citizenship, which will be published by
Princeton University Press in 2010.

EDUCATION IS OFTEN DISCUSSED in low-level utilitarian terms: how can we pro-


duce technically trained people who can hold onto our share of the global
market? With the rush to profitability, values precious
for the future of democracy are in danger of getting lost.
The profit motive suggests to most concerned politicians that science and
What would an technology are of crucial importance. We should have no objection to good
scientific and technical education. But other abilitiesabilities crucial both to
education for
the health of democracy and to the creation of a decent world culture and a ro-
human development bust type of global citizenshipare at risk of getting lost in the competitive flurry.
look like? I shall make my argument by pursuing the contrast between an education for
profit-making and an education for a more inclusive type of citizenship. This
contrast is related to another, familiar in discussions of global justice and global
citizenship, between two conceptions of development: the old narrowly eco-
nomic conception of development, and the richer more inclusive notion of
human development. The analysis of education used even by the best practi-
tioners of the human development approach tends to focus on basic marketable
skills. It neglects the humanistic abilities of critical thinking and imagining
that are so crucial if education is really to promote human development, rather
than merely economic growth and individual acquisition. What would an
education for human development look like, and how would it differ from an
education for economic enrichment?

Education for economic enrichment


What sort of education does the old model of development suggest? Education
for economic enrichment needs basic skills, literacy, and numeracy. It also needs
some people to have more advanced skills in computer science and technology,
although equal access is not terribly important: a nation can grow very nicely
while the rural poor remain illiterate and without basic computer resources.

MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law


and Ethics at the University of Chicago. This article was adapted from the opening
plenary address at the 2008 annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges
and Universities.

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Copyright 2009 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities
Martha Nussbaum,
Annual Meeting

Copyright 2009 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities


Given the nature of the information economy, What about the arts and literature? An edu-
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nations can increase their gross national prod- cation for enrichment will, first of all, have
uct without worrying too much about the dis- contempt for these parts of a childs training,
tribution of education, so long as they create a because they dont lead to enrichment. For this
competent tech and business elite. reason, all over the world, programs in arts and
F E A T U R E D

After that, education for enrichment needs, the humanities, at all levels, are being cut away
perhaps, a very rudimentary familiarity with in favor of the cultivation of the technical. But
history and with economic facton the part educators for enrichment will do more than
of the people who are going to get past ele- ignore the arts: they will fear them. A culti-
mentary education in the first place, who are vated and developed sympathy is a particularly
likely to be a relatively small elite. But care dangerous enemy of obtuseness, and moral ob-
must be taken lest the historical and economic tuseness is necessary to carry out programs of
narrative lead to any serious critical thinking enrichment that ignore inequality. Artists are
about class, about whether foreign investment never the reliable servants of any ideology, even
is really good for the rural poor, about whether a basically good one. They always ask the imagi-
democracy can survive when such huge in- nation to move beyond its usual confines, to see
equalities in basic life chances obtain. So criti- the world in new ways. So, educators for enrich-
cal thinking would not be a very important ment will campaign against the humanities and
part of education for economic enrichment, the arts as ingredients of basic education.
and it has not been in states that have pursued
this goal relentlessly. The students freedom of Education for human development
mind is dangerous, if what is wanted is a group Education for human development is a very
of technically trained docile technicians to broad idea. It includes many types of cultiva-
carry out the plans of elites who are aiming at tion that are pertinent to a students personal
foreign investment and technological develop- development. It is not simply about citizen-
ment. History might be essential, but enrich- ship, even when citizenship is broadly under-
ment educators will not want a history that stood. In what follows, however, I shall focus
focuses on injustices of class, caste, gender, and on the goal of producing decent world citizens
ethnoreligious membership, because that will who can understand the global problems to
prompt critical thinking about the present. which this and other theories of justice re-
spond and who have the practical competence
and the motivational incentives to do some-
thing about those problems. How, then, would
we produce such citizens?
An education for human development as
responsible global citizenship has a twofold
purpose. First, it must promote the human de-
velopment of students. Second, it must pro-
mote in students an understanding of the
goals of human development for allas goals
inherent in the very idea of a decent, mini-
mally just societyand it must do this in such
a way that when they are empowered to make
political choices, they will foster these capa-
bilities for all, not only for themselves. Such
an education will begin from the idea of equal
respect for all human beings and equal entitle-
ment of all to a range of central human oppor-
tunitiesnot just in ones own nation, but
everywhere in the world. It thus has a pro-
found egalitarian and critical component from
the start. Education will promote the enrich-
ment of the students own senses, imagination,
Annual Meeting thought, and practical reason, for example,

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Copyright 2009 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities
What is it
and it will also promote a vi- about human life them in a dominant role and

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sion of humanity according to that makes it so hard telling them that the others
which all human beings are are their inferiors. One partic-
entitled to that kind of devel- to sustain egalitarian ularly chilling example in-
opment on a basis of equality. democratic institutions, volves schoolchildren whose

F E A T U R E D
Before designing a scheme and so easy to lapse teacher informs them that
for such an education, how- into hierarchies of children with blue eyes are su-
ever, we need to understand perior to children with brown
the problems we face on the various types? eyes. Hierarchical and cruel
way to making students respon- behavior ensues. The teacher
sible democratic citizens who might possibly then informs the children that a mistake has
implement a human development agenda. been made: it is actually the brown-eyed chil-
What is it about human life that makes it so dren who are superior, the blue-eyed inferior.
hard to sustain egalitarian democratic institu- The hierarchical and cruel behavior simply re-
tions, and so easy to lapse into hierarchies of verses itself: the brown-eyed children seem to
various typesor, worse, projects of violent have learned nothing from the pain of discrim-
group animosity? Whatever these forces are, it ination (Zimbardo 2007).
is ultimately against them that true education We have to consider both the individual
for human development must fight. and the situation. Research does find individ-
Any account of human bad behavior has ual differences, and it also is plausibly inter-
two aspects: the structural/institutional and preted as showing the influence of widely
the individual/psychological. There is a large shared human psychological tendencies. So
body of psychological research showing that we need, ultimately, to look deeply into the
average human beings will engage in bad be- psychology of the individual, asking what we
havior in certain types of situations. Stanley can do to help compassion and empathy pre-
Milgram showed that experimental subjects vail in the clash over fear and hate. But situa-
have a high level of deference to authority. tions matter too, and imperfect individuals
Most people in his oft-repeated experiments will no doubt act much worse when placed in
were willing to administer a very painful and structures of certain types.
dangerous level of electric shock to another What are those types? Research suggests
person, so long as the superintending scientist several things (Zimbardo 2007). First, people
told them that what they were doing was all behave badly when they are not held person-
righteven when the other person was scream- ally accountable. People act much worse un-
ing in pain (Zimbardo 2007). Solomon Asch, der shelter of anonymity, as parts of a faceless
earlier, showed that experimental subjects are mass, than they do when they are watched
willing to go against the clear evidence of and made accountable as individuals. (Any-
their senses when all the other people around one who has ever violated the speed limit,
them are making sensory judgments that are and then slowed down on seeing a police car
off target. His rigorous and oft-confirmed re- in the rearview mirror, will know how perva-
search shows the unusual subservience of nor- sive this phenomenon is.) Second, people
mal human beings to peer pressure (Zimbardo behave badly when nobody raises a critical
2007). Both Milgrams work and Aschs have voice. Aschs subjects went along with the
been used effectively by Christopher Brown- erroneous judgment when all the other people
ing (1993) to illuminate the behavior of young whom they took to be fellow experimental
Germans in a police battalion that murdered subjects concurred in error; but if even one
Jews during the Nazi era. So great was the in- other person said something different, they
fluence of both peer pressure and authority on were freed to follow their own perception and
these young men, he shows, that the ones who judgment. Third, people behave badly when
couldnt bring themselves to shoot Jews felt the human beings over whom they have
ashamed of their weakness. power are dehumanized and deindividualized.
Still other research demonstrates that ap- In a wide range of situations, people behave
parently normal people are willing to engage much worse when the other is portrayed as
in behavior that humiliates and stigmatizes if an animal or as bearing a number rather than
their situation is set up in a certain way, casting a name.

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Copyright 2009 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities
We must also, however, look beneath situa- As concern develops, it leads to an increasing
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tions to gain some understanding of the forces wish to control ones own aggression: the child
in the human personality that make decent recognizes that its parents are not its slaves,
citizenship such a rare attainment. Understand- but separate beings with rights to lives of their
ing what the clash within is all about requires own. Such recognitions are typically unstable,
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thinking about human beings problematic re- since human life is a chancy business and we
lationship to mortality and finitude, about the all feel anxieties that lead us to want more
persistent desire to transcend conditions that control, including control over other people.
are painful for any intelligent being to accept. But a good development in the family, and a
The earliest experiences of a human infant good education later on, can make a child feel
contain a jolting alternation between blissful genuine compassion for the needs of others
completeness, in which the whole world seems and lead it to see them as people with rights
to revolve around its needs, and an agonizing equal to its own.
awareness of helplessness when good things The outcome of the internal clash is greatly
do not arrive at the desired moment and the affected not just by situational structures, but
infant can do nothing to ensure their arrival. also by external political events, which may
Infants are increasingly aware of what is make the personalities of citizens more or less
happening to them, but they cant do anything secure. In writing about religious tensions in
about it. The expectation of being attended to the United States, I have documented the way
constantly is joined to the anxiety, and the in which specific periods of political and eco-
shame, of knowing that one is not in fact om- nomic insecurity lead to increasing antipathy
nipotent, but utterly powerless. Out of this and even, at times, violencetoward religious
anxiety and shame emerges an urgent desire for minorities who seem to threaten cherished
completeness and fullness that never entirely stabilities (Nussbaum 2008). Such insecurities
departs, however much the child learns that it make it particularly easy to demonize strangers
is but one part of a world of finite needy beings. or foreigners, and, of course, that tendency is
And this desire to transcend the shame of in- greatly augmented when the group of strangers
completeness leads to much instability and is plausibly seen as a direct threat to the secu-
moral danger. The type of social bad behavior rity of the nation. Educators cannot alter such
with which I am most concerned here can be events; they can, however, go to work on the
traced to the childs early pain at the fact that pathological response to them, hoping to pro-
it is imperfect and unable to achieve the bliss- duce a more balanced reaction.
ful completeness that, in certain moments, it
is encouraged to expect. This pain leads to Three abilities of citizenship
shame and revulsion at the signs of ones own Now that we have a sense of the terrain on
imperfection. Shame and revulsion, in turn, which education works, we can say some
are all too often projected outward onto sub- thingsquite tentative and incomplete, but
ordinate groups who can conveniently sym- still radical in the present world culture
bolize the problematic aspects of bodily concerning the abilities that a good education
humanity, those from which people would will cultivate. Three values are particularly
like to distance themselves. crucial to decent global citizenship. The first
The other side of the internal clash is the is the capacity for Socratic self-criticism and
childs growing capacity for compassionate critical thought about ones own traditions.
concern, for seeing another person as an end As Socrates argued, democracy needs citizens
and not a mere means. One of the easiest ways who can think for themselves rather than de-
to regain lost omnipotence is to make slaves ferring to authority, and who can reason to-
of others, and young children initially do con- gether about their choices rather than simply
ceive of the other humans in their lives as trading claims and counterclaims.
mere means to their own satisfaction. But as Critical thinking is particularly crucial for
time goes on, if all goes well, they feel grati- good citizenship in a society that needs to
tude and love toward the separate beings who come to grips with the presence of people who
support their needs, and they thus come to differ by ethnicity, caste, and religion. We will
feel guilt about their own aggression and real only have a chance at an adequate dialogue
concern for the well-being of another person. across cultural boundaries if young citizens

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We will only
know how to engage in dia- have a chance at an persons active voice, we also

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logue and deliberation in the adequate dialogue promote a culture of account-
first place. And they will only ability. When people see their
know how to do that if they across cultural ideas as their own responsibil-
learn how to examine them- boundaries if ity, they are more likely, too,

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selves and to think about the young citizens know to see their deeds as their own
reasons why they are inclined how to engage in responsibility.
to support one thing over an- The second key ability of
otherrather than, as so often dialogue and the modern democratic citizen
happens, seeing political de- deliberation in is the ability to see oneself as a
bate as simply a way of boast- the first place member of a heterogeneous
ing, or getting an advantage for nationand worldand to
their own side. When politi- understand something of the
cians bring simplistic propaganda their way, as history and character of the diverse groups
politicians in every country have a way of do- that inhabit it. Knowledge is no guarantee of
ing, young people will only have a hope of good behavior, but ignorance is a virtual guar-
preserving independence and holding the antee of bad behavior. Simple cultural and re-
politicians accountable if they know how to ligious stereotypes abound in our world, and
think critically about what they hear, testing the first way to begin combating these is to
its logic and its concepts and imagining alter- make sure that from a very early age students
natives to it. learn a different relation to the world. They
Critical thinking is a discipline that can be should gradually come to understand both the
taught as part of a schools curriculum, but it differences that make understanding difficult
will not be well taught unless it informs the between groups and nations and the shared
entire spirit of a schools pedagogy. Each child human needs and interests that make under-
must be treated as an individual whose powers standing essential.
of mind are unfolding and who is expected to This understanding of the world will pro-
make an active and creative contribution to mote human development only if it is itself
classroom discussion. If one really respects infused by searching critical thinking that fo-
critical thinking, then one respects the voice cuses on differences of power and opportunity.
of the child in the planning of the curriculum History will be taught with an eye to thinking
itself and the activities of the day. critically about these differences. At the same
Let us now consider the relevance of this time, the traditions and religions of major
ability to the current state of modern pluralis- groups in ones own culture, and in the world,
tic democracies surrounded by a powerful will be taught with a view to promoting re-
global marketplace. First of all, even if we spect for ones fellow world citizens as equals,
were just aiming at economic success, leading as equally entitled to social and economic
corporate executives understand very well the opportunity.
importance of creating a corporate culture in In curricular terms, these ideas suggest that
which critical voices are not silenced, a cul- all young citizens should learn the rudiments
ture of both individuality and accountability. of world history and should get a rich and
Leading business educators with whom Ive spo- nonstereotypical understanding of the major
ken in the United States say that they trace world religions. They should then learn how
some of our biggest disasters to a culture of yes- to inquire in more depth into at least one un-
people, where critical ideas were never articu- familiar tradition, thereby acquiring tools that
lated. But our goal is not simply enrichment. can later be used elsewhere. At the same time,
Human beings are prone to be subservient to they ought to learn about the major traditions,
both authority and peer pressure; to prevent majority and minority, within their own na-
atrocities, we need to counteract these ten- tion, focusing on an understanding of how dif-
dencies by producing a culture of individual ferences of religion, race, and gender have
dissent. Asch found that when even one per- been associated with differential life opportu-
son in his study group stood up for the truth, nities. All, finally, should learn at least one
others followed. One critical voice can have foreign language well. Seeing that another
large consequences. By emphasizing each group of intelligent human beings has cut up

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Copyright 2009 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities
Annual Meeting
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F E A T U R E D

the world differently, and that all translation of sympathy has been a key part of the best
is interpretation, gives a young person an es- modern ideas of progressive education. The
sential lesson in cultural humility. moral imagination, always under siege from
An especially delicate task in this domain is fear and narcissism, is apt to become obtuse
that of understanding differences internal to unless it is energetically refined and cultivated
ones own nation. An adequate education for through the development of sympathy and
living in a pluralistic democracy must be a concern. Learning to see another human be-
multicultural education, by which I mean one ing as a full person, rather than a thing, is not
that acquaints students with some fundamen- an automatic achievement. It must be pro-
tals about the histories and cultures of the moted by an education that refines the ability
many different groups with whom they share to think about what the inner life of another
laws and institutions. These should include may be likeand also to understand why one
religious, ethnic, social, and gender-based can never fully grasp that inner world, why
groups. Language learning, history, econom- any person is always, to a certain extent, dark
ics, and political science all play a role in pur- to any other.
suing this understanding, in different ways at Instruction in literature and the arts can
different levels. cultivate sympathy through engagement with
The third ability of the citizen, closely related many different works of literature, music, fine
to the first two, is what I call narrative imagi- art, and dance. Thought needs to be given to
nation. This is the ability to think what it what the students particular blind spots are
might be like to be in the shoes of a person likely to be, and texts should be chosen in
different from oneself, to be an intelligent consequence. All societies at all times have
reader of that persons story, and to understand their particular blind spotsgroups within
the emotions and wishes and desires that some- their culture as well as abroad that are espe-
one so placed might have. The cultivation cially likely to be dealt with ignorantly and

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Learning to see
obtusely. Works of art can be another human being lie at their core are typically

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chosen to promote criticism of as a full person, left aside. In the United States,
this obtuseness and to help de- national testing has already
velop a more adequate vision rather than a thing, made things worse, as national
of the unseen. Through the is not an automatic testing usually does. The first

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imagination, we are able to at- achievement and third abilities of citizen-
tain a kind of insight into the ship are not testable by quanti-
experience of another group or tative multiple-choice exams,
person that is very difficult to attain in daily and the second is very poorly tested in such a
lifeparticularly when our world has con- way. (Moreover, nobody bothers to try to test
structed sharp separations between groups, it even in that way.) Across the board, the
and suspicions make any encounter difficult. curriculum is being stripped of its humanistic
Through carefully crafted instruction in the elements, and the pedagogy of rote learning
arts and humanities, we need to bring stu- rules the roost.
dents into contact with issues of gender, race, Democracies have great rational and imagi-
ethnicity, and cross-cultural experience and native powers. They also are prone to some
understanding. This artistic instruction can serious flaws in reasoning as well as to paro-
and should be linked to the citizen of the chialism, haste, sloppiness, and selfishness.
world instruction, since works of art are fre- Education based mainly on profitability in the
quently an invaluable way of beginning to un- global market magnifies these deficiencies, pro-
derstand the achievements and sufferings of a ducing a greedy obtuseness and a technically
culture different from ones own. trained docility that threaten the very life of
There is a further point to be made about democracy itselfand that certainly impede
what the arts do for the spectator. By generat- the creation of a decent world culture. If the
ing pleasure in connection with acts of sub- real clash of civilizations is, as I believe, a
version and cultural criticism, the arts clash within the individual soulas greed and
produce an endurable and even attractive dia- narcissism contend against respect and love
logue with the prejudices of the past, rather then as they feed the forces that lead to vio-
than one fraught with fear and defensiveness. lence and dehumanization, and fail to feed
Entertainment is crucial to the ability of the the forces that lead to cultures of equality and
arts to offer perception and hope. Its not just respect, all modern societies are rapidly losing
the experience of the performer, then, that is the battle. If we do not insist on the crucial
so important for democracy; its the way in importance of the humanities and the arts,
which performance offers a venue for explor- they will drop away because they dont make
ing difficult issues without crippling anxiety. money. They only do what is much more pre-
cious: the humanities and the arts make a
Democratic education on the ropes world that is worth living in, people who are
How are the abilities of citizenship doing to- able to see other human beings as equals, and
day? Education of the type I recommend is do- nations that are able to overcome fear and
ing reasonably well in the liberal arts portion suspicion in favor of sympathetic and rea-
of U.S. college and university curricula. By soned debate.
contrast, however, the abilities of citizenship
are doing very poorly in the most crucial years To respond to this article,e-mail liberaled@aacu.org,
of childrens lives, the years known as K12. with the authors name on the subject line.
Here the demands of the global market have
made everyone focus on scientific and technical
proficiency as the key abilities; the humanities REFERENCES
and the arts are increasingly perceived as use- Browning, C. R. 1993. Ordinary men: Reserve police
less frills that we can prune away to make sure battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland. New
York: HarperCollins.
our nation remains competitive. To the extent Nussbaum, M. C. 2008. Liberty of conscience: In defense
that they are the focus of national discussion, of Americas tradition of religious equality. New York:
they are recast as technical abilities to be tested Basic Books.
by quantitative multiple-choice examinations, Zimbardo, P. 2007. The Lucifer effect: How good people
and the imaginative and critical abilities that turn evil. London: Rider.

SUMMER 2009 LIBERAL EDUCATION 13


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