Essay On to What Extent Do You Agree That Teachers Should Be Public Intellectuals?

Published: 2021/12/06
Number of words: 766

The term ‘public intellectual’ is espoused when one (whom is skilled in a particular discipline) decides to write, speak or communicate with a wider audience than their professional colleagues (Lightman, n.d). Upon initial inspection, such a description seems to be synonymous with that of the role of a teacher whose main responsibility is to be ‘an instructional specialist’ (Harrison and Killion, 2007: 76) who is responsible for guiding others in their own subject (and other disciplines if they are skilled in more than one field). Despite this, Harrison and Killion (2007: 77) also articulate the multitude of roles and responsibilities which teachers must assume in their practice, such as being a mentor to the students under their tutelage and also undertaking pastoral responsibilities. Clearly, being a ‘public intellectual’ is not the only role which a teacher must assume. However, this partially detracts from the main basis of this piece which is coming to a conclusion over whether teachers should be public intellectuals or not.

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Seemingly giving impetus to the view that teachers are public intellectuals, the authoritative linguistic theorist Chomsky (2001), elucidates that if an individual chooses not to be a writer or a speaker, then they are therefore opting not to be an intellectual. This implies that all teachers are public intellectuals, although it does not shed any light over whether they should be public intellectuals. Seemingly reaffirming Chomsky’s (2001) earlier point, Gramsci (1971: 4) argues that all individuals are intellectuals (in some shape or form), but only certain individuals fulfil this function in society (such as teachers).

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In some cases, the role of education itself could be perceived to impact on the debate over whether teachers should be public intellectuals. Hodgson (2008:420) looks specifically at the introduction of Citizenship in the UK and the influence that this had on teachers’ roles as public intellectuals. She surmises that, the introduction of citizenship could be assumed to be recognising that teachers have increasing pastoral responsibilities in the contemporary era where education of the ‘whole’ child is prioritised so highly (Huitt, 2011). Alinsky (1946), a commonly renowned activist who was dismissive of Marxist Philosophy concerning education, articulated that active participation from citizens in democracy was crucial for ensuring that a population became more educated and informed. He also enforced the importance of pedagogy being individualised. Although Alinsky mainly made these comments in a political context, they could arguably be applied to education, particularly in assessing whether teachers should be public intellectuals or not. It could be conjectured that Alinsky was advocating teachers (or public leaders) displaying a transformational leadership style, where they are responsible for inspiring children to fulfil their potential (Bass and Riggio, 2005). This again seems to infer that the role of a teacher could be viewed in a social context, rather than being a ‘public’ intellectual, although it could be argued that teachers could inspire pupils’ intellectual curiosity through a love of their subject and modelling certain behaviours (Bandura, 1977), which is arguably indicative of being a ‘public’ intellectual.


Synthesising these points seems to indicate that teachers should be a public intellectual to some degree. However, it is also apparent that teachers have other responsibilities, with the social dimension of their job particularly pertinent. The conclusion that this essay has come is summed up eloquently by the following quote by the eminent educational philosopher John Dewey:

“Education is a social process, education is growth, education is not preparation for life, it is life itself”.


Alinsky, S. D. (1946) Reveille for Radicals. (1969 edn.) New York: Random House.

Bass, B. M. and Riggio, E. R. (2005) Transformational Leadership. New York: Psychology Press.

Bandura, A. (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Chomsky, N. (2001) ‘Intellectuals and the Responsibility of Public Life’, Public Anthropology (interview with Robert Borofsky).

Lightman, A. (n.d.) The Role of the Public Intellectual. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 21 April 2015).

Gramsci, A. (1971) “The Intellectuals” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence & Wishart: 3-23.

Harrison, C. and Killion, J. (2007) ‘Ten roles for teacher leaders’, Educational Leadership, 65 (1): 74-77.

Hodgson, N. (2008) ‘Citizenship education, policy and the educationalization of educational research.’ Educational theory. 58 (4): 417-434.

Huitt, W. (2011) A Holistic View of Education and Schooling: Guiding Children to Develop Capacities, Acquire Virtues, and Provide Service. Athens Institute for Education and Research, Greece.

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