Exploring the ethics of agency through the lens of ‘Bildung.’

Experiencing something of a renaissance, the German pedagogical idea of ‘Bildung’ has recently been reconsidered for contemporary education. Most significantly, Bildung’s movement of interplay between self and other has been evaluated philosophically and proposed as an effective learning tool (2003 p. 31).

Initially proposed by Von Humboldt and other members of the eighteenth century ‘Frankfurt School,’ Bildung’s interplay represents a relational movement between a learner and the world that aims for personal freedom and growth, and a life endowed with ‘as rich a content as possible’ (2003, p. 32). Also identified as a means by which learners might become aware of their personal capacity to develop responses to their daily experiences, it attends to agency and as such has resonance with ideas in the areas of children’s spirituality and philosophy of education.

This paper examines whether such a notion of learning might be promoted as an alternative to the performance driven methods of the current educational paradigm. As well as exploring the ethical considerations of agency and freedom, it highlights the benefits of personal learning as well as the issues that arise from critique. It also proposes how a nuanced application of Bildung, considered through a Kierkegaardian lens, might address ethical concerns and finally proposes how a re-considered understanding of the notion might be valuable for classroom-based learning experiences.

Lovlie, L., (2003), ‘The Promise of Bildung’ in Lovlie, L., Mortensen, K.P., and Nordenbo, S.E., (2003), Educating Humanity. Bildung in Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.