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Why general education?: Peters, Hirst and history



Why general education 1 Why general education? Peters, Hirst and history John White I first met Richard Peters in 1960, as a part-time student enrolled in his recently created Joint Honours BA in Philosophy and Psychology at Birkbeck College, London. I found his classes in philosophy of mind, the history of psychology, and the history of ethics quite inspirational. When he left us in 1962 to take up a chair at the Institute of Education, I never imagined that three years later I would be joining him as a colleague – or that Patricia, whom I had just married, would be doing so too. But so it turned out. We were immediately caught up in his all-consuming project of transforming teacher education in England by basing it firmly in the educational disciplines, not least philosophy of education. All this tied in with government policy for an all-graduate teaching profession, based not only on the Post-graduate Certificate of Education, but also on the newly introduced four-year Bachelor of Education degree. Philosophy of education became a prominent feature of both courses. This meant that lecturers had to be trained to teach the subject in both university education departments and in the newly established Colleges of Education. In turn, this demanded a massive amount of work for Richard Peters and us his colleagues. The new Labour government directly supported our work, by funding a one-year, full- time Diploma in Philosophy of Education at the Institute, specifically designed for schoolteachers who wanted to become college lecturers in our subject. It may be hard now to imagine the sense we all had in those optimistic days of radical educational reform – it was also the time when secondary schools were becoming comprehensives – that we were engaged in a vitally important public service. Not that this was in the forefront of our consciousness. Rather, it was part of the taken-for-granted backgro

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