From a historical perspective this is a 19th‐century movement which arose from concerns that the education being offered to the artisan classes was little more than a process of indoctrination designed to stifle enquiry and discourage questions about the worker's place and meagre rewards. This was a debate over what constituted ‘useful knowledge’; and also about what it meant to be educated, and who was empowered to define which knowledge was ‘useful’ and which was not. The response of the radical educators was to set up an alternative to the existing educational provision for working people. This would offer ‘really useful knowledge’, which provided a more liberal education in the sense of being wide and not exclusively instrumental or work‐related. Its three main thrusts, as identified by Johnson (1981), were political knowledge aimed at bringing about democratic change; social science, informed by social cooperation, secularism, and feminism; and an exploration of the questions of poverty and exploitation. Such a curriculum might even today be described as radical.
Also sometimes classed as radical educators are those teachers and theorists who take a progressive, learner‐centred, or unconventional approach to the education of children. This category includes educationalists such as Loris Malaguzzi, Maria Montessori, A. S. Neill, Johann Pestalozzi, and Rudolph Steiner. See also mechanics' institutes.
R. Johnson ‘Really Useful Knowledge: Radical Education and Working Class Culture 1790–1848’ in J. Clarke et al. (eds) Working Class Culture: Studies in History and Theory (Hutchinson, 1981).