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Autonomy and Education

Autonomy and Education

The main objective of education is to enlighten the learners and enhance their personal understanding and rational reasoning. Through education, learners acquire ‘personal autonomy’ which is an essential tool in reasoning and academic ethics. Education brings about independent thinking and freedom of reasoning. Personal autonomy is part of intellectual practice which enhances our reasoning ability by increased room to reason freely and independently without prejudice. According to Kant, “a man was autonomous if in his actions he bound himself by moral laws legislated by his own reason, as opposed to being governed by his inclinations” (Hirst, & Peters, 2009, pp.335) This central idea (autonomy and freedom) is defined by hosts of terms including self-direction, independence, self-activity, and rational thinking.


Kant asserts that lack of enlightenment and education autonomy is characterized by self-immaturity. Self-immaturity and self-incurred undermine our reasoning ability and intellectual capacity. In addition to this immaturity, the lack of public and private freedom in society weakens the ability of an individual to reason and make rational judgments. Immaturity is the implied inability of a person to work independently without guidance or support from superior groups such as parents and guidance. However, breaking this cocoon of academic inferiority and lack of autonomy can only be broken through academic and educational enlightenment. Achieving this status of independence and freedom is limited by institutional factors.

According to Piaget, ‘autonomy follows upon heteronomy: the rule of a game appears to the child no longer as an external law, sacred in so far as it has been laid down by adults; but as the outcome of a free decision and worthy of respect in the measure that it has enlisted mutual consent’ (Hirst, & Peters, 2009, pp.338). Autonomy is only achieved by excising a higher degree of independence and personalized freedom. Therefore, public, intellectual, and private freedoms are key to academic and intellectual autonomy. Practicing civil freedom and intellectual autonomy is also restricted by legal and institutional factors and political leadership.

The concept of intellectual autonomy and freedom affects our daily life and practices. As asserts Kant, one is “autonomous’ to the degree that what he thinks and does cannot be explained without reference to his own activity of mind” (Hirst, & Peters, 2009, pp.42) Assertion of internationalizing freedom largely contributes to independent reasoning and thinking. Internalized reasoning of the mind is closely associated with personalized factors. Therefore, independence of the mind and the soul is very critical in determining personal reasoning and rational judgments. Besides, autonomy is a force behind one’s logical ability highly influenced by institutional and political factors.

On the contrary, heteronomy takes two possible forms. Firstly, one’s actions and thoughts are governed by other individuals. This can be observed when one (consciously or unconsciously) submits passively towards conditioning, indoctrination, compulsion, and expectations. In addition, authority strongly unfounded on personal recognition of personal entitlement plays a role in determining the level of autonomy and freedom.  The second heteronomy asserts that people are governed by internal and personal but are independent of one’s activity of the mind. This may take the form of psychosis and neurosis. According to Kant (2005, pp.78), autonomy cannot be absolute.

According to Kant, education and intellectual property acquired through learning increase personal autonomy and freedom. Even though education enhances our reasoning and ability to be independent, it is not an indication of perfection in society. The position held by Kant is that private and public freedom and autonomy increase with education. However, this is not realistic. Autonomy and freedom of a person do not imply that a learned person should be rebellious, uncooperative, or disobey the authority. This is not acceptable even if he wants to exercise our personalized autonomy.

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Even with education and academic success, it is worth noting that personal autonomy is not a power to disown those in authority and power. Education enhances our independence and freedom. Even as we excised our authority and freedom, we realize that institutions and legal frameworks are playing a vital role in shaping our daily lives (Kant, I., & Kant, 2005, pp.78). Our reasoning and thinking are guided by morals and personality. Autonomy and freedom come with an increased understanding of personal and moral values. Even with education and freedom, autonomy is not an indication of injustice and disobedience.

In conclusion, although education and academic achievements serve as a strong foundation for enhanced autonomy. However, autonomy is not an implication of disobedience and self-independence. Kant defines autonomy through self-legislated moral obligations. This research paper criticizes Kant’s position about authority. Autonomy and freedom of a person do imply opposing the public and leadership. Even with academically created autonomy, one still needs support and guidance from the other members of the public. Therefore, it is worth noting that the autonomy and freedom of an individual do not imply absolute independence and disassociation from the rest of the public (Phillips, & Wisnewski, 2012, pp.145-9).

We should recognize the power of institutions and respect these institutions. The authority and leadership are a representation of the general public and should be obeyed irrespective of one’s level of academic achievement. Autonomy should only be expressed in public and private institutions (Kant, 2009, pp.78). Not all institutions allow room for their members to excise their freedom and autonomy. Just like religious institutions headed by clergymen, other institutions have their policies and doctrines which should be upheld and respected by all members of the society, independent of their level of academic achievement. Similarly, although children acquire knowledge which further makes them more autonomous, what is more, important is the autonomy of the mind which cannot be expressed in the public. 

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