Searching for excellence in education: Knowledge, virtue and presence?

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This article addresses two main questions: (1) what is excellence and (2) should epistemic excellence be the main purpose of education? Though references to excellence have become increasingly frequent in the UK education policy, these questions are perhaps especially important in Scotland where the curriculum is explicitly for excellence. Following Hirst and Peters, it is hypothesised that if the term ‘education’ implies possession of a certain breadth of general knowledge and understanding, then the term ‘excellence’ may imply a deep grasp of a specific body of knowledge. However, after consideration of Dewey's suggestion that being present in the moment is an excellence of childhood, it is concluded that (1) the development of epistemic excellence (having a deep grasp of valuable knowledge) should be regarded as an educational purpose rather than the only educational purpose and (2) pupil engagement with public traditions of knowledge provides necessary but not sufficient conditions for education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-165
Number of pages13
JournalEthics and Education
Issue number2
Early online date30 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • excellence
  • rhetoric
  • virtue
  • knowledge
  • presence


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