Huxleyan utopia or Huxleyan dystopia? “Scientific humanism”, Faure’s legacy and the ascendancy of neuroliberalism in education

Yoko Mochizuki, Edward Vickers, Audrey Bryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In addition to the longstanding threat posed by narrow economism, faith in the possibility of peace and progress through democratic politics – central to the humanistic vision of the 1972 Faure report – today faces additional challenges. These challenges include the ascendancy of neurocentrism in the global policyscape. Whereas the effects of neoliberalism on education have been extensively critiqued, the implications of a newer, related ideological framework known as neuroliberalism remain under-theorised. Neuroliberalism combines neoliberal ideas concerning the role of markets in addressing social problems with beliefs about human nature ostensibly grounded in the behavioural, psychological and neurological sciences. This article critically examines a recent initiative of one of UNESCO’s Category 1 Institutes – the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) – that seeks to mainstream neuroscience and digital technology within global educational policy. Comparing the visions of the 1972 Faure, the 1996 Delors and the 2021 Futures of Education reports with MGIEP’s International Science and Evidence Based Education Assessment (ISEEA), the authors analyse continuity and change in UNESCO’s attempts to articulate a vision of “scientific humanism” which advocates the use of science for the betterment of humanity. They argue that ISEEA’s overall recommendations – as represented in its Summary for Decision Makers (SDM) – reinforce a reductive, depoliticised vision of education which threatens to exacerbate educational inequality while enhancing the profits and power of Big Tech. These recommendations exemplify a neuroliberal turn in global education policy discourse, marking a stark departure from the central focus on ethics and democratic politics characteristic of UNESCO’s landmark education reports. Reanimating, in cruder form, visions of a scientifically-organised utopia of the kind that attracted UNESCO’s inaugural Director-General, Julian Huxley, ISEEA’s recommendations actually point towards the sort of dystopian “brave new world” of which his brother, Aldous Huxley, warned.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)709-730
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Review of Education
Volume68
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education

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