Democracy or intellect? The Scottish educational dilemma of the twentieth century

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


It is half a century since the publication of the book that has done more to shape debate about Scottish education than any other (except ultimately the First Book of Discipline). George Davie’s The Democratic Intellect, published in 1961, summed up the essential dilemma: is Scottish education characterised by democracy, to which the intellect contributes, or is it shaped by the intellect, enjoining it to behave in democratic ways? The chapter discusses these themes in the twentieth-century history of Scottish education. It is mainly concerned with developments in secondary schooling, not only because, until the very last decade of the century, that was the sector where by far the most change was happening, but also because Davie mostly ignores its fundamental importance. Within the story of the development of secondary schooling, the curriculum matters as much as school structures, because the meaning of the twentieth-century educational experience lies in the ideas that have been offered to young people rather than merely in their opportunities to move through institutions or to acquire credentials. The guiding questions are: is the twentieth-century story really one of decline from the intellectual distinction of the old university curriculum, as Davie (and his many followers) would allege? Or is it, by contrast, a process of heroically asserting a humane educational practice against the sort of competitive ethos that has now been widely deplored? Or is neither of these competing stories subtle enough to capture what actually happened?

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Edinburgh History of Education in Scotland
EditorsRobert Anderson, Mark Freeman, Lindsay Paterson
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-0-7486-7915-7
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Education
  • Scotland
  • Twentieth century
  • Liberal education


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