how was the policy of paternalism like social darwinism

Title: Exploring the Similarities between Paternalism and Social Darwinism in Education Policies


Education policies have always had a significant impact on the growth and development of societies. Over the years, different theories have been proposed to justify educational policies ranging from social darwinism to paternalism. Social darwinism, a theory postulated by Herbert Spencer, was aimed at justifying the actions of the powerful and rich by allowing them to dominate the weak and poor. Paternalism, on the other hand, was a policy aimed at taking care of the weak and poor by providing for their needs. Despite its seemingly altruistic nature, paternalism was not always beneficial to its subjects, as it often led to a cycle of dependency and underdevelopment. This article delves deeper into the similarities between paternalism and social darwinism in education policies and examines how these policies impacted societies.

Paternalism and Social Darwinism:

Paternalism and social darwinism were both aimed at providing a justification for social hierarchies and distinctions. Social darwinism posited that the strong and wealthy were intended to exert their power and influence over the poor and weak. This theory was ultimately used to justify colonialism, imperialism, and other forms of economic domination by the West over other parts of the world. Similarly, paternalism was a policy aimed at taking care of the weak and underprivileged by providing for their basic needs. However, this policy often led to a cycle of dependency, where the less privileged were unable to become self-sufficient or take control of their destinies. Additionally, paternalism reinforced the power structures in society by allowing the wealthy and powerful to dictate the direction of social policies.

Impact of Paternalism and Social Darwinism on Education:

The policy of paternalism had a detrimental effect on education policies as it did little to empower learners and was more focused on providing for their basic needs. This often resulted in learners who were unable to take charge of their own learning and were overly reliant on their benefactors. On the other hand, social darwinism created a system where learners who came from wealthy backgrounds were given preferential treatment and were allowed to prosper, while those who came from poor backgrounds were left behind. This perpetuated an educational system that was structured around binary oppositions, with no allowance for diversity or equal opportunities.


In conclusion, it is clear that both paternalism and social darwinism had similar effects on education policies. Both policies reinforced instead of challenging power structures in society and perpetuated economic imbalances. These policies were also highly prescriptive and did little to empower learners. Moving forward, it is important to design education policies that allow for inclusivity and diversity while creating opportunities for all learners. Ultimately, education policies must be aimed at providing every learner with the tools necessary to achieve their full potential and take charge of their destiny.


paternalism and social darwinism

The policy of paternalism is the practice of a person or an organization limiting the freedom of those they think are unable to take care of themselves; this is done for their own good. In contrast, social darwinism is a theory of natural selection that promotes the idea that some people are naturally superior to others. The similarities between these two concepts are quite clear in the educational sector. This article will explore how the policy of paternalism is similar to social Darwinism in education.

What is Paternalism?


Paternalism is a policy mindset that involves taking decisions for people instead of allowing them to make choices on their own. This policy is common in education where parents or guardians make choices for their children or wards. In the context of education, paternalism can be seen as a positive or negative thing depending on how it is applied.

At its best, paternalism can be described as a decision-making policy that aims to protect the best interests of children in terms of their academic, social, and emotional well-being. Parents or guardians who adopt this policy usually have good intentions for their children but sometimes, this comes at a cost. While making decisions for children, parents and guardians could sometimes overlook their children’s input and interests which may cause them to feel left out of the decision-making process.

On the other hand, paternalism can be seen as a negative policy where parents or guardians impose their will on their children without considering their children’s wishes. This approach to parenting or education can lead to a breakdown in communication. It could also create an emotional gap between the parent and child, thus leading to negative outcomes like the child being rebellious or passive.

In essence, paternalism as a policy in education can be seen as overbearing or protective depending on how it is applied. It’s important for parents and guardians to understand that children have a voice and want to be heard in decisions that affect them.

What is Social Darwinism?

Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism is a belief system that emerged in the late 19th century and early 20th century. It was based on the biological theories of Charles Darwin, who postulated that the stronger and more fit individuals survive and pass on their genes to the next generation. The idea of Social Darwinism was applied to society, where some people believed that the strongest and fittest individuals would rise to the top of society, while the weaker individuals would either fall behind or perish.

Social Darwinism was used as justification for policies that favored the strong and powerful, and left the poor and weak behind. It was seen as a way of justifying the competitive and individualistic nature of capitalism, which was seen as the natural order of things. Moreover, it was used as a way of justifying the superiority of certain races over others.

How did Social Darwinism relate to education?

education in Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism had a significant impact on the education system during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The belief that only the strongest and fittest individuals would survive and flourish in society was applied to education. Students were seen as individuals who needed to compete with each other to succeed.

In this system, the weaker students were left behind while the stronger students were given more opportunities and resources. This was seen as a way of ensuring that the strongest and most talented individuals would succeed and that society would benefit as a result. Teachers were expected to be strict and to place a strong emphasis on discipline and obedience to authority. Students were also encouraged to be obedient and to follow the rules. Those who did not were seen as weak and were often punished.

The philosophy of Social Darwinism was also used to justify racial discrimination in education. Minority students were often seen as inferior and were given less opportunity than white students. This was seen as a way of ensuring that the strongest and most successful races would rise to the top of society.

In summary, Social Darwinism had a significant impact on education during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The philosophy of competition and individualism was applied to students, and the strongest and fittest were given more opportunity. The weaker students, often minorities, were left behind and given fewer opportunities to succeed.

Paternalism and Social Darwinism in Education

Paternalism and Social Darwinism in Education

Paternalism and social Darwinism are two ideologies that have a significant impact on the education system. Both the policies of paternalism and social Darwinism focus on the idea of competition, hierarchy, and the survival of the fittest. Although these two concepts have different ways of analyzing things and making decisions, socialist scholars have always seen commonalities in the way that they look at the educational system.

Paternalism in education refers to a paternal figure or an authoritative figure making decisions for a student, typically without their input. Those in charge of the educational institution make decisions based on the best interest of the students, who they see as incapable of making choices for themselves. The paternal figures are there to take care of the students and make the right choices for them.

On the other hand, social Darwinism looks at the survival of the fittest as the primary principle. Social Darwinism in education embraces the idea that different individuals have varying levels of intellectual capacity. Thus, social Darwinism in education posits that the educational system should enable the “fittest” to outcompete others.

The two concepts are similar in their focus on competition. Paternalism makes decisions by determining what is best for the students’ future, while social Darwinism looks at improving the human race’s intellectual capability. Both discriminate between those who excel academically and those who do not. They carry a common belief that competition leads to the best outcomes.

Hierarchy is also another fundamental similarity between these two ideologies. Paternalism in Education supports the notion of hierarchy by placing the authority figure on the top and students/faculty on lower rungs. There is no equality. By making decisions, the paternalistic authority figure separates themselves from the decisions made by others. This increases the disparity between authority and the students/faculty. Social Darwinism in Education solely teaches at a select level of cognitive ability, emphasizing the hierarchy among students.

Moreover, social Darwinism promotes the notion of the survival of the fittest as a guiding principle. Students compete to be the fittest, and thus they receive better grades. This competition encourages students to be more motivated and outdo each other in the quest for better cognitive abilities. Paternalism in education, on the other hand, used the idea of survival of the fittest to identify which students deserve to be in a rather hierarchical structure of student government and which do not. This enhances the control of the authority’s power by choosing who they believe is the best fit for a student leader, which can also give more bias to a predetermined outcome.

In conclusion, there are similarities between paternalism and social Darwinism in education. Both concepts focus on competition, hierarchy, and the survival of the fittest as their central themes. These two ideologies have an impact on the education system and significantly influence how students perceive and interact with the system.

The Impact of Paternalism and Social Darwinism on Education

Social Darwinism and Paternalism in Education

The policy of paternalism and social Darwinism have had a significant negative impact on education by reinforcing inequality and discrimination. It is essential to understand that these policies were prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they played a role in shaping educational systems that still exist today.

The policy of paternalism was defined by the government’s role in taking care of its citizens. This policy was believed to help the less fortunate and ensure they did not suffer from poverty or disease. While this policy was well-intentioned, it also undermined individual autonomy and perpetuated stereotypes that certain groups of people were unable to take care of themselves. This belief system perpetuated in educational policies that encouraged conformity to societal norms and discouraged individuality.

Social Darwinism, on the other hand, was a belief that certain races or cultures were inherently superior to others. This belief system had a profound effect on educational policies that favored certain students based on their race, class, and other factors, while neglecting others. Education was not viewed as a basic right but rather as a privilege that was only reserved for the “superior” races.

One of the significant impacts of paternalism and social Darwinism on education was that it perpetuated the belief in a hierarchy of races and social classes. The educational system was designed to reinforce the dominant social norms rather than challenging them. This meant that certain groups of students, such as women and minorities, were unable to access quality education and were relegated to lower-status jobs.

The policy of paternalism had a further effect on education by dictating what kind of knowledge was considered necessary or useful. The government’s role was often to impose a standard of knowledge that emphasized topics such as history, literature, and science. This meant that other subjects, such as music, art, or creative writing, were often ignored. The implication of this policy is that creativity and originality were not valued, which led to a narrow-minded academic environment.

Social Darwinism, in contrast, led to eugenic policies that were specifically aimed at students deemed to be of inferior races or social classes. Eugenics was the practice of selectively breeding the most “favorable” characteristics, which, in practice, meant that individuals who did not meet a particular standard were sterilized or even killed. This was a significant setback for educational systems that failed to encourage critical thinking or diversity of thought.

In conclusion, paternalism and social Darwinism had a significant impact on education by reinforcing the idea that certain groups of students were inherently inferior. These policies undermined the ideals of autonomy, creativity, and diversity of thought. It is essential to recognize the impact of these policies, and its lingering effects still exist in educational systems worldwide today.

Alternatives to Paternalism and Social Darwinism in Education

Alternatives to Paternalism and Social Darwinism in Education

Paternalism and Social Darwinism have been widely criticized for their negative implications for students in schools. These policies have been found to limit educational opportunities for students, particularly those from marginalized communities. It is important to explore alternative policies and approaches to education that reject the notion of paternalism and social Darwinism.

Equity Policies: One alternative to paternalism and social Darwinism is equity policies. Equity policies aim to level the playing field for all students in the educational system regardless of their background. This approach recognizes that students have different needs and that they require different forms of support to achieve success in their educational journey. Equity policies are designed to provide additional resources, support, and opportunities to students who would otherwise not have access to them.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Another alternative to paternalism and social Darwinism is culturally responsive teaching. This approach recognizes and values the cultural differences that students bring into the classroom. Culturally responsive teaching aims to facilitate learning by incorporating students’ backgrounds and experiences into the curriculum, instruction, and classroom culture. This approach promotes inclusivity and affirms the identity of all students, regardless of their cultural background.

Project-Based Learning: Project-based learning is another alternative to paternalism and social Darwinism. This approach emphasizes active and experiential learning by engaging students in real-world problems and projects. Project-based learning promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills. This approach empowers students to take ownership of their learning, make choices, and pursue their interests.

Universal Design for Learning: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is another alternative to paternalism and social Darwinism. UDL promotes accessible and inclusive education for all students by providing multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. This approach recognizes that students have different learning styles, preferences, and abilities, and that they need a variety of tools and strategies to access the curriculum and demonstrate their learning.

Restorative Justice: Restorative justice is another alternative to paternalism and social Darwinism in education. This approach focuses on repairing harm and restoring relationships between individuals in schools. Restorative justice emphasizes the importance of building a supportive and respectful community in which all members feel valued and heard. This approach aims to address conflict and misconduct in a way that is fair, just, and respectful to all parties involved.

Mindfulness and Social-Emotional Learning: Mindfulness and social-emotional learning are also alternative approaches to paternalism and social Darwinism in education. These approaches prioritize the development of students’ social-emotional skills, such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy. These skills help students to manage their emotions, navigate relationships, and make responsible decisions. Mindfulness and social-emotional learning also promote a positive and inclusive classroom culture that supports students’ well-being.

Overall, it is crucial to recognize the negative effects of paternalism and social Darwinism in education and explore alternative policies and approaches that prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion. These alternatives aim to create a supportive and inclusive environment for all students, where their unique identities, backgrounds, and experiences are valued and respected.



Throughout history, the policy of paternalism has been used to justify the oppression of certain groups by those in power. This policy gained traction during the 19th century, when social Darwinism was at its peak. The belief that certain races or individuals were inherently better than others led to policies that sought to “improve” the lives of marginalized groups by taking away their agency and freedom.

In this article, we have discussed how paternalism is like social Darwinism in that it seeks to exert control over those who are deemed inferior. Whether it is through policies that limit access to education, or through rules that restrict personal freedoms, paternalism has long been used as a tool of oppression.

However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the harmful effects of paternalistic policies. Educators and policymakers must come to terms with the fact that these policies are based on flawed assumptions and are not effective in improving the lives of marginalized groups. Instead, we need to adopt more equitable and inclusive policies that empower individuals and communities to make their own decisions.

The call to action for educators and policymakers is clear: we must reject paternalism and social Darwinism in all their forms. We must work to create policies that are responsive to the needs and desires of the communities they serve. This means that we must listen to those who have been historically marginalized, and involve them in the policymaking process.

We must also work to create more equitable systems of education and access to resources, so that everyone has the tools they need to succeed. This includes addressing issues of systemic racism, poverty, and inequality, and creating policies that work to dismantle these systems of oppression.

In conclusion, the policy of paternalism has a long history of being used to justify oppression and control. By understanding how it is like social Darwinism, we can begin to see the harm it causes and work towards more equitable and just policies. As educators and policymakers, it is our responsibility to create systems that empower individuals and communities, rather than seeking to control them.

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