For the Scavengers and the Gleaners: An Anti-Heroic Vision of Education

Aislinn O’Donnell


What is the relationship between educational imaginaries and heroism? Much educational discourse mobilises a language of overcoming, of betterment, of success, of idealism, of resilience, and of perfectionism. Even if such aspirations are benevolent, the experience of education is, for many, one of failure. Not the ordinary failure of the human condition, but the kind of sadistic failure exemplified in the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” It is impossible for all to attain external standards, embody the ideals evolved by others, or attain goals prescribed universally. Educational systems do not calculate the cost of the ethos of perfectionism, competition and comparison in the lives of others who fail to accede to such standards, or who were never going to be in a position to do so in the first place. Unlike the language of hopes, dreams, and potentials that populates talk about education, many human beings instead face more tempered lives, punctuated with disappointment, tragedy and loss. If fortunate, they enjoy some contentment, some kindness, and some companionship. What if we were to have more modest, anti-heroic images in and of education? This might prepare us better to face the human condition. This paper looks at the possibility of an anti-heroic, renunciative image of education and of curriculum, to understand nihilism in a different manner, refusing teleological language and developing our awareness of the finitude of not only human existence, but also of the cosmos.


Educational alternatives; progressive education; alternative education; difference; educational theory; educational philosophy; home education; education policy

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