Macmurray and Dilemmas

One of the joys of spending a bit time on the 2nd edition of my Dilemmas book (due out in the autumn) has been re-reading Macmurray.   My favourite quotes come from the Moray House Lecture 1958, ‘Learning to be Human’ (published for the first time in the special December 2012 edition of the Oxford Review of Education dedicated to Macmurray):

‘..the first priority in education – if by education we mean learning to be human – is learning to live in personal relation to other people.  Let us call it learning to live in community.  I call this a first priority because failure in this is fundamental failure, which cannot be compensated for by success in other fields…. ‘ (2012 p670)

‘.. the greatest threat to education in our own society [is that] .. gradually we are falling victims to the illusion that all problems can be solved by proper organisation; that if we fail it is because we are doing the job in the wrong way, and that all that is needed is the know-how’.  To think thus in education is to pervert education.  It is not an engineering job.  It is personal and human.’ (p674)

All politicians who think examination results are a good proxy indicator of the quality of schooling would do well to read Macmurray!


The special edition of the review is introduced by Michael Fielding, whose recent book (with Peter Moss), ‘Radical Education and the Common School’ ( see here) put forward arguments for a different kind of schooling, based around less instrumental values; arguments partly founded on Fielding’s reading of Macmurray.  It’s well argued and describes an ideal model of schooling – it’s nice to see these arguments put, arguments that went out of fashion in the 1980s when the profession retrenched on what it thought was a defensible line against the attacks of the right.  It doesn’t really engage with the difficult ‘how do we get from here to there?’  question – just sets up the ideas.  Given the present Education Minister in England, you could compare a book like this to spitting into the wind (classy ‘spit’, right enough, but a bit of a hurricane coming the other way).   It may not be very effective in changing the world, but it helps keep up your morale!


One thought on “Macmurray and Dilemmas

  1. Hello Danny Murphy,

    My friend Prof Martin Lawn (who has, I think worked with you in the past and is an admirer of your work) alerted me to your blog.

    Glad you warmed to the publication of Learning to be Human. It is part of my life’s work to assist in getting Macmurray better known in educational circles. You will have noticed I cited you work in my Introduction to LTBH.

    Am coming up to Edinburgh to do a session at the university on 2nd May and then to Dundee on 4th May.

    Would be good to meet up if you are around.

    All the best

    Michael Fielding

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s