Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The Department of Educational Theory, Policy, & Practice

Document Type



The current state of education focusing on standards and assessment, according to Wu (2004), reduces education to “technical problems and individual deficiencies, subject to surveillance and quality managerial procedures” (p. 308). This work uses Foucault’s discourses of discipline and power to understand standardization as a political utility of control that makes children docile subjects through “a set of practices by which one can acquire and assimilate” (Foucault, 1988, p. 31). The process of standardization provides an ineffective grounding for achieving a worthwhile life as children are shaped as results-driven individuals (Shun & Wong, 2004). Baker (2008) believes that only through “a moral notion of reasoning” can a sense of responsibility be learnt (p. 191).

The Confucian cultivation of Ren represents a moral notion of reasoning. It understands the very foundation of human existence, not as an epistemology based on a dichotomous way of thinking, but as a moral responsibility. Not relying on an extensive accumulation of knowledge, the cultivation of Ren is based on a belief that all children are born with a moral goodness that can be led to a moral responsibility. Moreover, it emphasizes the carrying out of the benefit for others through respect, propriety, and relationship, rather than the seeking of rewards for one’s own.

Furthermore, I explain the Confucian notion of rights as embedded in the autonomy of the self. The more the self becomes morally responsible toward others, the more one’s rights are assured. I cite the United Sates law cases on higher education to support the claim that the political protection of rights may be necessary, but it is not the only condition to achieve autonomy and justice. In the case of Iowa Redistricting Policy, when a moral responsibility is absent in the policymakers, an ideology of segregation continues to persist under the cover of diversity, which indirectly pushes the practice of discipline and assessment to its extreme. I conclude that the Confucian Ren celebrates a responsible living that cares children as lifetime achievers rather than results, rights-driven subjects. Moral responsibility can transform the existing power relations and make social, educational changes.



Committee Chair

Hendry, Petra