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KJEP 8:2 (2011), pp.

345-363

An analysis of practical autonomy in education:


The case of Korean Self-directed Learning Policy
Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo
Korean Educational Development Institute, Korea

Abstract
The concept of autonomy encompasses different dimensions of meanings
in education. If we are concerned with how to deal with practical autonomy in
educational contexts, it is crucial for us to adopt the pertinent types of autonomy in
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of autonomy, and then apply the analytical distinctions to actual policy cases in which
the concept of autonomy is employed. This will help us to examine whether there is
conceptual coherence or cacophony in applying the meanings of autonomy to practical
prescriptions. This article offers four different ways of conceiving of practical autonomy
based upon its origins, directions, boundary and treatment, and maintains that one
type of autonomy may transfer into another in the course of education. Both theories
and policies concerning education for autonomy should reflect important conceptual
properties of autonomy to secure its logical validity. The Korean Self-directed Learning
Policy is examined in light of this analysis, as an example of a policy that lacks a deeper
understanding of the different types of autonomy and coherence in the policy logic.
Keywords: autonomy, self-directed learning, educational policy, applied philosophy,
policy logic

KEDI Journal of Educational Policy ISSN 1739 4341

Korean Educational Development Institute 2011, Electronic version: http://eng.kedi.re.kr

Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

Introduction
In recent years, the Korean government has administered several education
policy measures that are closely connected with the concept of autonomy: the
Self-directed Learning Policy, the Subject-classroom System, establishment of
independent public and private schools and a policy direction making regional
offices of education more autonomous, just to name a few. Furthermore, in the
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is receiving attention as an overarching educational aim, as is the case with nearly
all the other democratic societies (Winch, 2002, p. 27). Probably in the same context,
there is a wide currency of a phrase of creative and autonomous talent as a future
image of an educated person in Korea. Compared to the frequent appearance of
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student, a school or a school district to be autonomous.
It is then crucial to fully flesh out the definitions and types of autonomy and
examine what kinds of definitions are actually embedded in the policy measures
intended to foster the autonomy of students, schools or school districts. As a response
to the need for clarifying the diverse concepts of autonomy underpinning all the
related policies, this work elucidates the idea of autonomy by making four different
conceptual distinctions in light of its origin, directionality, boundaries and treatment.
And the analysis is applied to one Korean educational policy, called the Self-directed
Learning Policy (SLP), designed and implemented recently to grapple with current
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is cacophony in the meanings of autonomy in the aim and actual practical directions
of the SLP, with a request for securing logical coherence in applying the concept of
autonomy to the policy measures.
For a project in applied philosophy such as the philosophy of public policy or
the philosophy of education, two particular research approaches are available. An
Inside-out approach starts with a philosophical analysis of the pertaining concept
or theory and later applies it to an actual problem, whereas an Outside-in approach
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position at the end (Burke, 1969). This work adopts an Inside-out approach,
beginning with an analysis of a concept (i.e. autonomy) that is later applied to an
existing educational policy. Yet before an inside-out discussion of a concept and a
policy, the target policy and the related impending issues are examined to better
provide an overview of the problem.

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An analysis of practical autonomy in education

Statement of problems: Autonomy in the Self-directed


Learning Policy
After several years of policy research, the Korean Ministry of Education,
Science and Technology (MEST) came up with a new way of renovating the current
learning practice of Korean students, namely the Self-directed Learning Policy. A
theory known to be developed by Knowles (1975) and Zimmerman (1986), the selfdirected learning theory proposes a procedural learning that starts with diagnosing
learning needs and setting up pertinent learning goals, continues with procuring
relevant human and physical resources for the planned learning and executing
chosen learning strategies, and ends with evaluating the self-guided learning process
(Y. O. Lee, 2010; MEST, 2010a; Park, 2010; So, 2011). Based on this theory, the SLP is
intended to take the task of directing learning processes and strategies away from the
hands of the teachers to those of the students, ultimately to better equip our children
with autonomous learning skills required for adapting to rapidly changing future
societies (MEST, 2010a). Stressing self-controlled motivation, cognition and behavior,
the SLP asserts that self-directed learning does not mean studying alone without
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be enough even for one subject as deeper interest and motivation for one particular
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and motivation to learn (MEST, 2010a).
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spending on tutoring. The MEST guidebook explicitly condemns private education
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fostering heteronomous learners (MEST, 2010a). With the sense of crisis that the
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of public education, the current government has strived to reduce and discourage
private spending on tutoring and the SLP is one of the several policy measures that
the government came up with. It naturally follows then that the effectiveness of
the SLP is assessed by academic success with much less private spending, which a
number of studies currently attempt to show.
This economically motivated policy has executed two particular concrete
measures (MEST, 2010a). First, the school curriculum has been revised in 2009 to
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per semester from 13 to 8, ultimately to give students more room for autonomous
curiosity and exploration as well as to allow each school more administrative
authority to determine the schedule and composition of subjects matters to better
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purpose high schools such as foreign language high schools, international high
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of 2010. These high schools are known as elite high schools that are said to send more

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Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

students to prestigious colleges than average high schools, and so many Korean
parents are deeply concerned with admissions to these schools. Formerly, applicants
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scores, school GPAs, and academic competition records; but now the government
has set up a new SLP-based application process that draws more on qualitative
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one related subject (English for international high schools, for example), applicants
in the second round take an in-depth interview regarding the contents of the
documents that they have submitted: 1) a study plan at a high school, 2) an essay
for a subject choice, 3) an essay on learning path and career pursuit, 4) a description
of community services and experiences, 5) a description of reading activities, and 6)
recommendation letters by the teacher and the principal (MEST, 2010b).
Logical soundness of a policy obtained through securing coherence between
an aim and a method as well as the analytically clear usage of a central concept
is important in that logical soundness is the fundamental basis of persuasion of
a promise presented to the public who would be affected by the policy; a policy
that lacks a sound logic is a deception designed to achieve something else than its
original aim and a confusion that will render its execution ineffective. With regard to
the logical soundness of the SLP, two particular questions are to be asked regarding
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constructed. The first question concerns the status of autonomy as an educational
aim within the scheme of the SPL. If the autonomy of learning is the ultimate goal
that the SLP is designed to achieve, as the government documents maintains, is such
autonomy also rightfully conceived as an ultimate goal in the actual policy measures?
Or is the autonomy of learning presented in different ways between the theoretical
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an assumption that an educational policy ought to contain a coherent conception
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for its logical soundness. The second question concerns the discernment of the
autonomy of learning both as an educational aim and an intermediary principle. If
the autonomy of learning is to be achieved in the end, does it follow that the same
type of autonomy of learning ought to be preserved in the process of learning as
well? This question concerns one of the fundamental educational problems, namely,
whether an end result should be the same as the intermediate material that are
taught for. Whether it is crucial to apply this distinction to the case of autonomy in
SLP should be examined in light of the conceptual analysis conducted below.

Fourfold analysis of autonomy


Autonomy is closely associated with rational judgement. For instance, it

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An analysis of practical autonomy in education

is defined as rational independence in validating information, choosing among


available options (Deardon, 1968; J. H. Lee, 2000), or offering appropriate reasons for
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critical and motivational components as it signifies the capacity to appreciate the
reasons upon which one chooses to act and an ability to weigh evidence that might
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position, and draws upon a set of motivations that correspond to those reasons or
evidences (Merry, 2005). Whether autonomy is just a rational process or requires
motivational and behavioral outcomes, however, such definitions leave much to
be stipulated further, particularly regarding from where it originates (the problem
of origin), in what ways autonomy is exercised (the problem of directionality),
how much can be allowed in autonomy (the problem of boundary) and whether
it is something we acknowledge or request (the problem of treatment). Most of
the discussion about autonomy-centered educational practice and policy without
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render it improbable to reach a logically tenable policy direction.

Origin of autonomy: Heterogenic vs. Autogenic


In regard to the origin of being autonomous, depending on whether the rational
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the self or other(s), one can be autonomous in two different ways. One is autogenically
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as originated solely from within the self, whereas heterogenic autonomy is engendered
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rational process. Let us consider an example of a high school student who strives
to take music class at school, yet facing an objection of her parents who deem
it better for her to take the other courses that are directly helpful for the college
entrance examination. In this case, her independent pursuit to study music may be
autonomous in two different ways. If her wish to take music class has begun solely
through the search of her own interest, she is autogenically autonomous; and yet, if
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a handful of her close friends, her autonomous pursuit of music class is heterogenic.
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practically cannot, signify only the very onset of the whole process. Even in the
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middle and initiate another process to deal with the input. For instance, if the student
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persuasion and the viability of deferring music study to take the classes her parents
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heterogenically initiated by an external input even in the middle of her autogenically

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Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

autonomous pursuit of taking music class. Thus it is possible to swing between


autogenic and heterogenic autonomy.

Directionality of autonomy: Negative vs. Positive


The widely known distinction between negative and positive liberties (Berlin,
1975) may be applied to the case of autonomy. One can be regarded as free when
there is no substantial obstacle (i.e. barriers, constraints, or interferences from others)
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sense, being free from any binding forces. In contrast, one can be free in a positive
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respectively. When one is left completely without any sort of constraint in choosing
from the menu at a restaurant, for instance, one is negatively free; when one is
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menu, one is positively free to choose what to have at a restaurant. The distinction
can be more simply made by the recognition of external hindrances and internal
capacities, as negative liberty concerns external conditions and positive liberty
concerns internal capabilities (Carter, 2008).
Similarly, one type of autonomy postulates the absence of oppression that
annuls self-governance, and in this case one may be negatively autonomous, governing
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capacities to independently operate motivational, intellectual and behavioral
procedures can make the self positively autonomous, even with a certain non-absolute
degree of external governing at work. When the aforementioned high school student
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striving for negative autonomy (autonomy from external governing) and thus is
currently not quite autonomous in the negative sense. Yet, even in the same case,
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courses at the moment and postpone music study to a later time, she is positively
autonomous even under a certain level of external governance as she exercises her
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persuasion.

Boundary of autonomy: Strong vs. Weak


Critical stances are often requested in exercising autonomy, particularly when
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irrationally oppressive interference. Critical stances may not be desperately
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350

An analysis of practical autonomy in education

set for both the individual and the society. Then there remains the problem of
distances an autonomous person may pursue, as autonomy can be preserved either
within or beyond a boundary depending on the diverse circumstantial needs. One
can be strongly autonomous when one moves beyond what is allowed by social
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and behavioral determination, whereas one can be weakly autonomous when one
strives to exercise independent rationality staying within the social and traditional
boundaries (Winch, 2002).
A homosexual couple may pursue marriage, for instance, in a society where gay
marriage is not legally or culturally permitted and thus exercise strong autonomy
in doing so, whereas the couple may opt to live simply together without marriage,
breaking neither the law nor the cultural code, and thus exercise weak autonomy.
Now one may wonder if giving up marriage in this case is a truly autonomous
decision. Yet if the couple determines the best way to pursue their relationship is to be
in a safe environment of living together without any threats to the relationship itself
stemming from legal or cultural reasons, giving up an official marriage might be a
practically better choice for them and thus can be an (weakly) autonomous decision
depending on the circumstances and their considered preferences. In this case,
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autonomies of learning as well. Weak autonomy of learning is exemplified when a
young homosexual person learns (and thus believes) that she is not allowed to (and
thus will not) pursue a homosexual marriage, whereas strong autonomy of learning
is exercised when the person learns to critically move beyond what is socially and
culturally permitted and attempt to overcome and even reform the current practice.

Treatment of autonomy: Ascriptive vs. Descriptive


The distinction in light of the treatment of autonomy could be more easily
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today that he wants to stop taking the medication that has helped him with the pain
and made the development of the disease slow up to this point. He seems to feel
that the medication is of no good to him anymore, because his senses have become
weaker than before and so cannot feel the difference. But his doctor knows that
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progress, even if the patient does not feel it. In such a case, a paternalistic view
may require the doctor to continue to prescribe and help the patient to take the
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medication, he would ask for the medication for reducing the pain and slowing the
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autonomy in a healthy situation and thus becomes the ground of paternalistic

351

Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

interventions even against his clear but impaired preference, surmising the
different kind of wishes he would make in a good health. A human rights activist
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prescription, because his independent judgement, if impaired, is to be respected just
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his capacities are impaired or not.
This type of distinction regarding how to treat autonomy in special cases as
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autonomy that are to be treated in two different ways (Fallon, 1994). Autonomy
as a descriptive concept concerns the extent and degree to which an agent is
meaningfully self-ruled in an environment shaped by various causal forces, and
regard the actual condition of personas as partial and contingent (Fallon, 1994,
pp. 877-878). Descriptive autonomy is thus the hypothetical autonomy of the patient
in the example above, which becomes the rationale for paternalistic treatment of
continuously providing him with the medication. On the contrary, autonomy as an
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capacity and also their right to make and act on their own decisions, even if those
decisions are ill-considered or substantively unwise. Ascriptive autonomy marks
a moral right to personal sovereignty (Fallon, 1994, p. 878). Ascriptive autonomy is
thus the kind of autonomy that is to be treated as it is and thus becomes the ground
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In fact, the patient-doctor case in light of descriptive and ascriptive autonomy
is closely related to educational contexts. As Montessori (1964) has pointed out a
long ago, young minds, especially in their early years, show some similar traits with
the disabled or the ill in terms of the limitations of cognitive and practical abilities
and the lack of information needed for decision making. Teachers and parents
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desires, justifying that their whims or desires could be suppressed for the time being
for a better educational good; thus, we see that the descriptive concept of young
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ascriptive autonomy.
It must be noted that the distinction among the four pairs of autonomy hinges
upon the discernment of degrees, not upon the clear-cut norms of directionality,
origin, boundary and treatment. Whether autonomy is positive or negative is a
matter of degrees to which certain external governance is in effect, as there is no
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of the island. The divide between autogenic and heterogenic is not a clear-cut
demarcation because there can be no absolutely autogenic autonomy as all human

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An analysis of practical autonomy in education

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what is regarded as original is not fundamentally original but has originated from
some (combination of) external inputs. Moving beyond a certain social boundary
may be viewed as autonomous, but there can be no absolutely strong autonomy,
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within that conceivably infinitely final boundary, which could perhaps be the
boundary of all living humans as the matter of autonomy does not concern the dead,
there can be no absolutely strong autonomy and so all strong autonomy is in fact
a kind of weak autonomy, autonomy within the ultimately final boundary. While
ascriptive autonomy turns upon the obligation to respect human intentions squarely
as they are stated, it is hard to imagine any human situation that does not need any
paternalistic intervention given the limitation of all human capacities.
Some may be inclined to aver then that positive, heterogenic, weak and
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in those senses is still oppressed, initiated by other(s), remaining within a limited
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autonomy, as a real human condition, is to be conceived as a practical concept, not
as a purely abstract one and thus we ought to acknowledge practical limitations in
which human beings can still be autonomous. As mentioned above, there can be no
absolute kind of autonomy, the status of completely being free from any external
governance, originating completely from within, breaking all the boundaries and
respecting all the wishes.

Practical autonomy in education


The anatomy of practical autonomy then requires us to seriously consider the
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maintains that, for instance, while autonomy concerns acts that are fully endorsed by
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that positive and heterogenic autonomy, perhaps descriptive autonomy as well,
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that one could be said to be autonomous even under external pressures as long as
one agrees with it stresses out the importance of voluntary acceptance exercising
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to independent choices, but also to the acts of consenting to decisions that originate
from external forces, thus heterogenically autonomous acts and decisions. He further
elaborates that one does not necessarily lose autonomy when complying with that
which, under other circumstances, one would voluntarily do, which implicitly
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Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

steps in pointing out the infeasibility of an absolute degree of autonomy and the
necessity of validating only the incomplete kinds. In reality, he argues, autonomy
is not the actions and thoughts without complete constraints, but actions and
thoughts based on the willing agreement to external influences. Autonomy does
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exaggerated as there is still certain necessity to consider the other side; we should,
for instance, still be concerned about preserving the autogenic, negative, strong and
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strong voice leaves little room for us to do so.
In this regard, it would be convenient to group the two disparate combinations
of the types of autonomy. The maximalist view of autonomy may admit of that
which the autogenic, negative, strong and ascriptive types are somehow combined
as the preferable kind of autonomy, whereas the minimalist view may endorse the
combination of the heterogenic, positive, weak and descriptive kinds as practically
meaningful autonomy. In reality, of course, the mixture of the types would not be
that easily severed as the maximalist versus the minimalist compounds, and yet,
grounded upon the degree to which autonomy is conceived in educational practice
and policy, such distinction should be useful particularly in discerning autonomy as
an aim and an intermediary instructional principle.
Another point is to be made regarding practical autonomy in education beyond
its fourfold analysis; namely the transfer among the types of autonomy in educational
processes. Autonomy can be cherished as an educational aim based upon intrinsic (as
autonomy is itself valuable as a human right), instrumental (as autonomous persons
may work better), or psychological (as autonomous actions can give psychological
rewards and comforts) rationales (Deardon, 1968, 1972, 1975b; J. H. Lee, 2000). In
contrast, autonomy as something that is to be fostered through education can be
GHHPHGFRQFHSWXDOO\FRQWUDGLFWRU\IRUDXWRQRP\OLWHUDOO\VLJQLHVVHOIJRYHUQDQFH
that is not supposed to be governed by others and yet education takes a form of
heteronomy, as the teacher-learner relationship, by its very nature, involves an offer
of control by one individual over the functioning of another (Hawkins, 1973, p.
 ZLWKRQHVLQWHQWLRQWRLQXHQFHJXLGHFRQWURORUGHWHUPLQHDQRWKHUVWKLQNLQJ
and behavior (Giesinger, 2010). Teaching is a purposeful and deliberate activity.
Teaching consists of planned behaviors intended to induce learning (Moore, 1973, p.
662). If it can be planned and governed by others, it is not autonomy anymore and
thus it seems impossible to teach for autonomy. One way to reconcile such contrast
between autonomy and education is to assume that autonomy as an ultimate
educational goal and autonomy as what is exercised in the process of education are
different and compatible.
The similar solutions have already been attempted by some educational
thinkers. Peters (1967, p. 49, 51) argues, for instance, the autonomy of children
under education ought to be limited and guided by their educators, considering

354

An analysis of practical autonomy in education

certain developmental stages in which children are not capable yet of benefiting
from fully exercising their freedom and autonomy. Similarly, Merry (2005) points
out, inculcating moral habits and behaviors may very well clear the path for
the later inculcation of reasons that will serve to reinforce those selfsame habits.
Non-rational beliefs at the moment need not conflict with autonomy or with
reasonableness due to the psychological resilience of autonomy that may rise at
a later moment (Merry, 2005, pp. 419-420). Even much earlier, the philosopher
John Locke has argued, [h]e that is not used to submit[ting] his will to the reason
of others when he is young, will scarce hearken or submit to his own reason when
he is of an age to make use of it. And what kind of a man such a one is likely to
SURYHLVHDV\WRIRUHVHH S 6XFKQRWLRQVGLIIHUHQWLDWHWKHPHWKRGVRI
HGXFDWLRQIRUDXWRQRP\EHWZHHQDQDXWRQRP\SUHVHUYLQJZD\DQGDQDXWRQRP\
constraining way (see Figure 1), which even further complicates the issue and may
ironically adumbrate that autonomy is not to be educated for, for now, for the sake of
educating for autonomy.
Autonomy-preserving method

Un-educated
for autonomy

Educated
for autonomy
Autonomy-restricting method

Figure 1. Autonomy as an end and an intermediary principle


What is to be considered in applying the anatomy of practical autonomy
to educational contexts is then, as education involves (better) changes in human
conditions (Peters, 1973), that there can be certain changes in the types of autonomy of
those being educated, instead of quickly assuming either that no autonomy should be
allowed for students or that students should be entitled to full autonomy. Even if one
particular combination of autonomy types is conceived as an educational aim, it does
not translate into an argument that the same kind of autonomy should be educated
for. Just as the depth of mathematical knowledge may vary according to the levels
of mathematics learning, it is more tenable to assume the transferability of autonomy
typesZKLFKVLJQLHVWKDWWKHOHYHOVRUNLQGVRIDXWRQRP\FDQHYROYHLQWKHSURFHVV
of educating for autonomy.
7KHWUDQVIHUDELOLW\DPRQJWKHW\SHVRIDXWRQRP\LQHGXFDWLRQVLJQLILHVWKDW
one type of autonomy can be taught for now, ultimately to foster another type of
autonomy. Weak autonomy is to be educated for, for instance, while a learner is
young and immature, even with an educational aim for fostering strong autonomy
(Winch, 2002). It could also be said that the minimalist type of autonomy is to be
allowed in educational processes to ultimately educate for the maximalist type of

355

Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

autonomy (see Figure 2). It is regretful, however, to witness that autonomy is often
dealt with as if it is one and the only kind throughout the whole educational process,
without any transfer among its types. Notice, for instance, that the following quote
seem to propound that there is only one kind of autonomy as both what is to be
taught through as well as what is aimed at.

Un-educated
for autonomy

The minimalist type of


autonomy if preserved in
the process of education

Educated for the


maximalist type
of autonomy

Figure 2. Different types of autonomy in education


In the intellectual realm, autonomy means self-governing, and heteronomy
means being governed by somebody else. Unfortunately, in school,
children are not encouraged to think autonomously. Teachers use sanctions
in the intellectual realm to get children to give the right answers
they want to hear. Children who are thus discouraged from thinking
autonomously will construct less knowledge than those who are mentally
DFWLYHDQGFRQGHQW .DPLLSS 
7KLVUDWKHUVXSHUFLDODFFRXQWRIDXWRQRP\LQHGXFDWLRQPDNHVWKHGLVWLQFWLRQ
only between autonomy and heteronomy, and there is no deeper consideration
regarding the kinds of autonomy, nor any possible transfer in the types of autonomy.
It is not clear what it means for children to think autonomously; does it mean to
think independently without any heteronomously provided information or trained
VNLOOV",VDFKLOGDVVHQWLQJWRWKHWHDFKHUVH[SODQDWLRQPHQWDOO\QHLWKHUDFWLYHQRU
FRQGHQW",VH[SODLQLQJDEHJLQQHULQPDWKHPDWLFVWRDFFHSWDEDVLFDULWKPHWLF HJ
  WDNLQJDZD\KHUDXWRQRP\",VDYH\HDUROGER\VWKLQNLQJDXWRQRPRXVO\
DQGPLVWDNHQO\ WKDWWKHZRUOGLVDWWKHVDPHZLWKDIW\\HDUROGPDWKHPDWLFLDQV
WKLQNLQJDXWRQRPRXVO\WKDWWKHZRUOGLV GLIIHUHQWLDOO\ DW",QRWKHUZRUGVVKRXOGD
YH\HDUROGVDXWRQRP\RIWKLQNLQJDQGOHDUQLQJWKDWWKHZRUOGLVDWEHSUHVHUYHG
WRWKHVDPHGHJUHHWKDWDQH[SHULHQFHGPDWKHPDWLFLDQVDXWRQRP\LVH[HUFLVHG"
*LYHQ WKH GHVFULSWLYH WUDLW RI VWXGHQWV DXWRQRP\ WKDW WKH \RXQJ XQGHU
education are not quite equipped with intellectual information and skills to process
determination and judgement as independently and maturely as adults would yet,
it is logically sound to assume that the kind of autonomy for the young should differ
from the kind that adults can exercise. It follows then that the types of autonomy as
an educational aim (what is ultimately aimed for) and an intermediary principle (what
is actually allowed for in learning) ought to differ. More in particular, the minimalist
type of autonomy is what should be allowed for while the young are not fully ready
yet to access the maximalist kind. Nevertheless, if an actual policy measure promoted

356

An analysis of practical autonomy in education

E\DJRYHUQPHQWGRHVQRWUHHFWVXFKFUXFLDOWUDLWVRIDQHGXFDWLRQDOFRQFHSWQDPHO\
the distinction and transferability of autonomy types, it may render the project of an
educational policy logically invalid.

Autonomy and Koreas Self-directed Learning Policy


The conceptual distinctions made regarding the four norms, the maximalist
and minimalist groupings of the types, and the transferability of autonomy types
between autonomy as an educational aim and as a procedural principle enable us
to better tackle the formerly stated problems of the SLP. First, the logic of the policy
is found inconsistent in that, even if the fundamental rationale of the policy is to
equip the future generation with the skills required for the future society, among
which autonomous and creative adaptabilities are the primary skills, the government
states (MEST, 2010a), the success of the policy is measured only by an increase in
examination scores and reduction in private spending on tutoring (see, for example,
Kim, 2011; Y. O. Lee, 2010; MEST, 2010b; Park, 2010; So, 2011) and there is no
government report on the growth of autonomy (or self-directed learning capacity)
itself through the SLP measures. Though, in academia, there has been a discussion
UHJDUGLQJZKHWKHUVHOIGLUHFWHGOHDUQLQJLVDQHGXFDWLRQDODLP %URRNHOGSS
87-90) or an educational process and method (Knowles, 1975) or both (Candy, 1991;
Park, 2010), SLP seems to use the concept of autonomy, the gist of the self-directed
learning theory, just as a nominal rationale for a battle against private tutoring. This
type of logical cacophony is already imbedded in the prologue of the government
document on SLP, which can serve as a summary of the policy logic.
The global age requires a creative mind equipped with self-directed learning
ability and potential. This mind is not bred through forced cramming or
dependent learning, but through the process by which students solve the
problems by themselves.
To select such students capable of self-directed learning, MEST adopts
the new Self-directed Learning Admission System to improve the quality of
admissions into foreign language high schools, international high schools,
science high schools and some independent private high schools.
The Self-directed Learning Admission System is the measure to select
students who have been faithful to their school education, and not those who
DUHGHFRUDWHGZLWKZHOOSUHSDUHGTXDOLFDWLRQVWKURXJKSULYDWHHGXFDWLRQ
In order to make the self-directed learning culture settled down through
the new application system, it is necessary for students, parents and teachers
to understand correctly what self-directed learning is and how the new
admissions system works (MEST, 2010a, p. iii).

357

Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

7KLVSURORJXHLPSOLHVWKDWWKHSROLF\SODFHVDXWRQRP\IRUHIURQWDVWKHDJVKLS
EXWZKDWLWLVDFWXDOO\GHDOLQJZLWKLVQRWVWXGHQWVDXWRQRP\RIOHDUQLQJEXWWKH
reduction in private spending on tutoring. This logical discrepancy adumbrated in
the prologue becomes conspicuous in the ways in which the actual values of selfdirected learning are demonstrated in the body of the document.
The 189-page government document on the SLP discusses the projected effects
of the SLP in the forms of success stories, qualitative reports of actual cases and
historical examples, and there is only one case among them, which can be regarded
as a case for actual growth in self-directed learning capabilities, as shown in Table
1. All the other examples the document uses are the success stories in achieving the
highest standards on various tests and admissions into the top 10 U.S. universities
without reliance on private tutoring (though it is further confusing why admissions
to American universities should be presented as a possible success case of a Korean
SROLF\  $OO WKHVH H[DPSOHV , FODVVLI\ DV XQUHODWHG VXFFHVV FDVHV RI VHOIGLUHFWHG
OHDUQLQJLQWKHWDEOHGRQRWKDYHDGLUHFWUHODWLRQWRZKDWWKHSROLF\SXUSRUWVWR
foster, namely, a creative mind equipped with self-directed learning abilities
DQGSRWHQWLDOV 0(67DSLLL 5DWKHUWKHVHDUHWKHHYLGHQFHWKDWZKDWWKH
government actually tries to demonstrate is the methodological value of self-directed
learning for success in tests and college admissions, which cannot be the proof of
self-directed learning capabilities.
Table 1. Categorization of the SLPs outcome effects in the MEST document (2010a)
Types of outcome effects of SLP and private
education in the MEST document

Effects

Unrelated success cases of


Self-directed Learning

$GPLVVLRQVWRWRSFROOHJHVLQWKH86 S 0LFKHODQJHORV


persistence (p. 61), increase in memory capacity (pp. 63-65),
highest achievement on a test (p. 69, 81)

5HODWHGVXFFHVVFDVHRI
Self-directed Learning

Increase in self-regulating skills (p. 91)

Negative effects of
private education

6WXGHQWVGHSHQGHQFHXSRQSULYDWHHGXFDWLRQ SSSS
43-44), negative economic effects of private education (p. 45)

Furthermore, some of the research articles that have appeared around the
time SLP has been introduced focus on the effectiveness of self-directed learning
in terms of increasing test scores and reducing private spending on tutoring as the
government document does. Kim (2011) argues, for instance, that the time spent
on self-directed learning is more effective for increasing scores on the Korean SAT
H[DPLQDWLRQWKDQWKHWLPHVSHQWRQSULYDWHWXWRULQJVHVVLRQV,QIDFW.LPVVWXG\LV
DZHGLQWKDWWKHDFWXDOYDULDEOHKHXVHVIRUWKHWLPHVSHQWRQVHOIGLUHFWHGOHDUQLQJ
LVQRWWKHWLPHVSHQWLQVHOIGLUHFWHGOHDUQLQJDVGHQHGE\.QRZOHV=LPPHUPDQ
or MEST, but just the time spent studying merely alone, and no one knows whether
students studied private tutoring materials or anything else while studying alone
(see, for example, Kim, 2011, p. 13). Yet it is a good example of studies geared toward

358

An analysis of practical autonomy in education

SURYLQJWKHHFRQRPLFHIIHFWLYHQHVVRIWKH6/3ZLWKLQGLFDWLRQVRIUDWKHUVXSHUFLDO
success in academic achievement.
Overall, the SLP sets up the autonomy of learning as its ultimate object, but
actual measures are aligned toward academic success on the tests and reduction
in private spending as if the autonomy of learning, or self-directed learning, is
merely a means to achieve the goals that have nothing to do with the autonomy of
learning. There is a gap between what the policy presents at front as the ultimate
aim and the methodological value of self-directed learning, or the autonomy of
learning, the document actually shows. And there is no consideration of the different
characteristics of autonomy as an aim and autonomy as an intermediary principle,
but autonomy is adopted as an aim as well as a method for non-autonomy goals
all at the same time. The policy should have a clearer logical connection among its
purpose, means and outcomes, and a better conception of the nature of autonomy in
light of its status as an aim and a method.
The second problem lies in one of the actual policy measures; the application
materials required for admissions to special purpose high schools. The government
HPSKDVL]HVWKDWWKHFULWHULRQRIHYDOXDWLRQLVWREHFRKHUHQFHDPRQJWKHSUHVHQWHG
application materials, which can be checked both in evaluating application materials
DQG FRQGXFWLQJ LQWHUYLHZV 0(67 E  $V WKH 6/3 YDOXHV VWXGHQWV RZQ
motivation for studying what they opt to pursue, the evaluation for admissions
need to check the validity of motivational claims expressed coherently in the essays
and descriptions of their study plans, concentration choices, and career aspirations.
Additionally, the recommendation letters should also support the motivational
coherence students express in the other materials. Overall, the every application
material has to point to one direction, showing the coherently composed descriptions
RIVWXGHQWVEDFNJURXQGFKRLFHDQGSODQV
It still remains highly questionable, however, whether middle school students
are capable of autonomously determining their concentration choice and career
paths they would walk through in their full adulthood. That is, it is highly doubtful
whether it is right to ask 15 year olds to establish what they wish to become, say, in
10 or 15 years. Given that autonomy postulates rational and motivational capabilities,
such conditions are to be checked in allowing any sort of autonomy for any purposes.
And it is hardly acceptable to demand that 15 year old students be intellectually and
empirically mature enough to set up their future career and concentration to study
LQWKHLUKLJKVFKRROVDQGFROOHJHV,QRWKHUZRUGVWKH6/3VUHJXODWLRQWRUHTXLUH
FRKHUHQWDSSOLFDWLRQPDWHULDOVRQWKHDSSOLFDQWVPRWLYDWLRQGRHVQRWUHIOHFWWKHLU
intellectual development, and thus unduly demands their autogenic autonomy
and treats their autonomy as an ascriptive one though heterogenic autonomy and
descriptive treatment may suit better for their age. With insufficient knowledge
and experiences, it is also hard to imagine a 15 year old student to aspire exercising
constructively strong autonomy in her career, breaking undesirable boundaries and
leading a way toward a new boundary. And these directions exposes the students

359

Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

unduly widely to negative autonomy encouraging them to think and plan on


WKHLURZQWKRXJKWKH\PLJKWEHVWLOOLQJUHDWQHHGRIWKHLUSDUHQWVDQGWHDFKHUV
DVVLVWDQFH$OOWKHVHHIIRUWVWRVKDSHRQHVRZQFRQFHQWUDWLRQDQGFDUHHUSDWKVDUHWR
EHGRQHZLWKVXIFLHQWLQIRUPDWLRQDQGFDSDELOLWLHVZKLFKLVSRVVLEOHRQO\ZKHQRQH
is mature enough to exercise the maximalist kind of autonomy. Yet the SLP hastens
young students to establish and exercise the maximalist type of autonomy when the
minimalist type has more educational and intermediary value as shown earlier.
In fact, the self-directed learning theory has been designed primarily for adult
learners in lifelong education (Y. O. Lee, 2010; Park, 2010; So, 2011), and there is not
enough research findings on applying this learning theory to young students (Y.
O. Lee, 2010, pp. 5-6). Any study or practical prescription that attempts to link selfdirected learning to young students should, therefore, modify the types of autonomy
particularly for the young, which the SLP has not done. In other words, even if the
PD[LPDOLVWNLQGRIDXWRQRP\FDQEHXVHIXOIRUDGXOWVOHDUQLQJDFWLYLWLHVLWZRXOG
be something closer to the minimalist kind of autonomy that can be meaningful for
RXUFKLOGUHQVOHDUQLQJDFWLYLWLHV(YHQLI0(67GHPDQGVPLGGOHVFKRROVWXGHQWVWR
present what they wish to study for the next 7 years including the high school and
college periods and thusly choose high school concentrations related to their career
aspirations, it is practically not feasible for them to be able to do so without seriously
intervening assistance from the adults around, such as parents, teachers or, probably,
private tutors who are quickly adapting to a new market demand. In this sense, the
government may drive students to depend more upon adults for what only adults can do (the
maximalist type of autonomy), which is exactly opposite to what it purports to achieve. MEST
should seriously consider the conceptual aspects of autonomy such as the distinction
between the maximalist and minimalist types of autonomy as an aim and a method,
DQGWKHWUDQVIHUDELOLW\RIDXWRQRP\W\SHVDQGUHHFWVXFKLPSRUWDQWQRWLRQVLQWKH
better designed policy measures.

Conclusion: Policy suggestions


Autonomy is there somewhere in a human self from the moment of birth. And
it grows into some different sorts of autonomy from the kind it originally has been.
A new born baby exercises a totally heterogenic, positive, weak and descriptive
DXWRQRP\ZKLFKVKRXOGEHVWLOOUHVSHFWHGLQWKHPLQLPDOLVWVHQVHDVDKXPDQEHLQJV
IXQGDPHQWDOULJKW$VL[W\\HDUROGHPSHURUPD\H[HUFLVHLQFRQWUDVWDVLJQLFDQWO\
autogenic, negative, strong and ascriptive autonomy. While an infant grows into an
HPSHURUHGXFDWLRQOLHVLQWKHPLGGOHJURXQGRQWKHSDWKIURPDQLQIDQWVDXWRQRP\
WRDQROGHPSHURUVDXWRQRP\HPSRZHULQJWKHDXWRQRP\RIWKHOHDUQHUE\DOORZLQJ
gradually more maximalist kind of autonomy. The task of education is then not
to transform a non-autonomous being into a fully autonomous subject (Giesinger,

360

An analysis of practical autonomy in education

  EXW WR FXOWLYDWH D KXPDQ EHLQJV EDVLF DXWRQRP\ LQWR D PRUH IXOOIOHGJHG
kind of autonomy. Practical autonomy in education thus can transfer into different
W\SHVDQGHGXFDWLRQDOWKHRULHVDQGSUDFWLFHVVKRXOGUHHFWWKLVHVVHQWLDOSURSHUW\RI
practical autonomy.
Accordingly, if a policy concerns the development of autonomy, the coherent
logic should be preserved among its aim, methods and expected outcomes, and the
more attentive application of the conceptual aspects is required to establish better
policy logic. In this regard, the SLP has two particular remedies to be made. First,
the SLP should turn more to the growth of the self-directed learning capacities,
or the development of autonomy of learning, and move the reduction in private
spending or the increase in test scores aside. If the SLP is genuinely concerned with
the development of an autonomous mind, the reported or projected outcome of the
policy should take the forms of measurement on the growth or transfer of autonomy
types. There is no clearly shown finding that private tutoring virtually diminishes
any sort of autonomy as well as that an increase in academic achievement test
VFRUHVLVWKHSULPDU\VLJQDORILQFUHDVHLQWKHVRFDOOHGVNLOOVUHTXLUHGIRUWKHIXWXUH
VRFLHW\LQFOXGLQJWKHDXWRQRP\RIOHDUQLQJ5HGXFWLRQLQSULYDWHVSHQGLQJPLJKW
be necessary for economic reasons and boosting test scores might be of concern for
many parents. These outcomes may in fact be achieved on the way to the ultimate
goal of fostering the self-directed learning capacity, but cannot be the primary goals
for which self-directed learning is merely a tool, given the policy logic that the
government expresses in the SLP document.
Second, the SLP should lower the tonality of requiring strict coherence in the
application materials for admissions to special purpose high schools, and leave
URRPIRUPRUHH[LEOHDQGHYHQLQFRKHUHQWPDWHULDOVLQWKHDSSOLFDWLRQFRQVLGHULQJ
WKHGHYHORSPHQWDOVWDJHVRIWKHDSSOLFDQWV7KH\RXQJDSSOLFDQWVFRPSUHKHQVLYH
and coherent demonstration of the maximalist type of autonomy in the application
materials is likely a sign of dependence upon the assistance by those who have
access to the maximalist autonomy, that is, the adults in their lives, or an indication
of imaginary construction of life aspirations built upon their immature interests or
beliefs. Middle school students should not have to choose their concentrations at such
an early age, nor suffer from the possible discrepancy between their course of studies
DQGWKHLUJHQXLQHLQWHUHVWWKDWFDQEHIRXQGDWDPXFKODWHUDJH<RXQJVWXGHQWV
pretension of the maximalist autonomy cannot be the indication of autonomous
potentials. Thus the policy measures should provide more free space in which the
applicants can express the willingness to explore more possibilities for careers and
concentrations at a later time.

361

Josh Sung-Chang Ryoo

Address for correspondence


-RVK6XQJ&KDQJ5\RR
5HVHDUFKIHOORZ
Korean Educational Development Institute
5HVHDUFKEOGJ%DXPRHUG6HRFKRJX
Seoul, 137-791, Korea
Tel: 82 2 3460 0471
Fax: 82 2 3460 0112
Email: ryoo@kedi.re.kr

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