Education’s Ark of Imperfection

Year: 2018

Author: Toscano, Maurizio

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Paul Standish, drawing upon both the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and also Stanley Cavell’s interpretation of them, sheds light upon an important distinction in the purpose of education: that between perfectibility and perfectionism (Standish, 2003). Perfectibility posits the possibility that at some stage every deficit and shortcoming in the constellation of entities and characteristics that make up human beings will be overcome: its agenda for education is one in which we can (and must), with the aid perhaps of science and technology, endeavour to fill in all the gaps and imperfections of our being. By contrast, perfectionism, in the Emersonian sense, fully acknowledges our imperfections as an “essential incompleteness, not an incompleteness to which we might add some missing component to make ourselves ‘complete”’ (ibid., p. 230, original emphasis). Perfectionism’s injunction for education is to encourage us to live life more fully by acting in the world in ways that acknowledge that what grounds our commitments to, and aversion from, membership of communities is likewise necessarily incomplete. Perfectionism is a project with an aim but without an end. With this in mind, this paper seeks to examine the strengths and limitations of educational perfectionism with special reference to an artwork – the Ark of Imperfection – that itself seeks to underscore the perpetual nature of educational incompleteness.
Standish, P. (2003). The nature and purposes of education. A Companion to the Philosophy of Education, 221-231.