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Knowledge versus emotion in education: a false dichotomy?

7:00pm, Monday 20 May 2013, London

Educational interventions in children’s and young people’s emotional lives are on the rise. From ‘worry boxes’ in primary schools to ‘puppy rooms’ in universities, extra curricular ‘additions’ to education are increasingly embedded at all ages and stages. For some critics such activities are symptoms of a therapeutic turn away from education as an intellectual endeavour. Such approaches are said to deny students access to the ‘best that has been thought and said’. In consequence, the pursuit of knowledge is undermined.

On the other hand, as far back as the 19th century there is another response to education as a purely intellectual project. John Stuart Mill described (in his Autobiography) a period of dejection and melancholy when he came to understand the limitations of his purely intellectual education because ‘the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings’. Indeed, Mill went further and observed that ‘The cultivation of the feelings became one of the cardinal points in my ethical and philosophical creed.’

Is the contemporary emphasis on the ‘cultivation of the feelings’ an attempt to maintain emotional balance and enable children and young people to have a fully rounded education? Or is it something new - a misplaced and manipulative intervention against the pursuit of knowledge at a time of uncertainty about what education means? Are the new approaches leaving education open to the ‘snake oil’ sellers of therapeutic intervention? Or can critical practice in education be renewed through a psychoanalytical approach which uncovers personal barriers to learning? Can the knowledge-emotion dichotomy be resolved or is there a state of permanent tension between the two approaches?


Introduced by Professor Dennis Hayes and Professor Linden West.

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