The ideas that human nature is essentially good, that individual behaviour is autonomous (within the constraints of heredity and environment), that everyone is unique, that all people are born equal and subsequent inequality is a product of circumstance and that reality for each person is defined by himself or herself characterize a range of liberal humanist philosophers from Locke to Rousseau.10 Such principles, where accepted, have immediate relevance for educational practice. Learners, for humanists, are at the centre of ‘meaning-making’, which implies a relativist interpretation of quality. Education, strongly influenced by learner actions, is judged central to developing the potential of the child.11 The notion that acquisition of knowledge and skills requires the active participation of individual learners is a central link between humanism and constructivist learning theory. The latter was influenced strongly by the work of John Dewey, who emphasized the ways in which people learn how to construct their own meanings and to integrate theory and practice as a basis for social action.12 Piaget (1971) was also influential in developing a more ‘active’ and ‘participatory’ role for children in their learning.13 More recently, social constructivism,
which regards learning as intrinsically a social – and, therefore, interactive – process, has tended to supersede more conventional constructivist approaches.14 Box 1.6 summarizes the approach to education quality in the humanist tradition.