In its ideal form, education should be socially progressive. We teach the next generation of scientists, engineers and medical researchers who will improve our quality of life: they will learn more about the world, build better and safer modes of transport, cure diseases and overcome scientific boundaries.
We also want education to lead to a more ethically refined society. So from a young age, we teach children lessons in morality. But this is easier said than done, because of the quite subtle difference between teaching right and wrong – and teaching how to discern what’s right and wrong. If we want education to be truly socially progressive, then teaching students right and wrong can be counter-productive: it can be socially inhibiting and even regressive.
Growing moral consensus
I am an optimist. I believe that, on the whole, humanity is getting better and becoming more ethical. This optimism is of course often called into question when we see poignant examples of violence and blatant disregard for human life.
But progress has been made and many moral problems have essentially been solved: slavery and gender equality for instance, are no longer moral questions. This is not to say that gender inequality or slavery no longer exist, but in general, a consensus has been reached that both must be abolished. <Read more.>