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Education Forum organiser Harley Richardson has written a follow-up essay to his Letter on Liberty, The Liberating Power of Education, responding to objections to his claim we should teach ‘the best that’s been thought and known’…

“…During the century preceding the publication of Culture of Anarchy, a mass education system of sorts had been established in Britain, in the form of thousands of charity schools funded by a combination of church and commerce. These provided a deliberately restricted moral and religious education for poor children, designed to make them appreciate their allotted place in society so that they would cause no trouble for their ‘betters’.

Yet poor people in large numbers were not satisfied with their allotted place, and did cause trouble, demanding to be taken seriously, as voters and as rational, intelligent, moral beings. Understandably, during an era when revolutions were a fact of life, those in power were worried where this might lead. If knowledge was put in the hands of working men, it was feared this would mean the ruination of civilised society.

In this context, to argue, as Arnold did, that everyone should have access to the ‘best that’s been thought and known’ was a radical idea…” 

Read the whole essay on Learning through the ages.

The Liberating Power of Education is available for £2 via Letters on Liberty.

In a new Letter on Liberty published by the Academy of Ideas, Harley Richardson argues that education has always had a tension between the practical or technical application of skills and the broader appreciation of a liberal approach to knowledge

Drawing on the tradition of radical pamphlets from the seventeenth century onwards – designed to be argued over in the pub as much as parliament – Letters on Liberty promises to make you think twice. Each Letter stakes a claim for how to forge a freer society in the here and now.

The Liberating Power of Education is a powerful and historically informative essay on how our views of education and its worth have come to be – and why education is central to the idea of freedom.


“A masterful historical understanding of why liberal education is the way out of so many problems… people are always saying maybe we can add something to the curriculum, use education as a vehicle for propagandising this, that or the other… and Harley stands firm on the importance of education in its own right.”

Claire Fox, Director, Academy of Ideas

The Liberating Power of Education is available for £2+p&p from the Academy of Ideas.

Or purchase the latest bundle of three Letters for a fiver, the other two being ‘The Seductive Power of Literature’ by Phil Harrison and ‘Toxic Sociality: Reflections on a Pandemic’ by Josie Appleton.