Professor Emeritus Ivan Snook

Ivan Snook passed away on the 19th October, 2018 at the age of 85.

Professor Emeritus Ivan Snook was a celebrated analytic philosopher of education who came to prominence internationally for his work on the concept of indoctrination. He was a passionate defender of liberal education and spent his life in support of liberal causes including public education. In the late 1960s and 1970s he was one of the leading international representatives of the analytic ‘revolution in philosophy’ sparked by Bertram Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and others, that was championed in educational philosophy by R.S. Peters and his colleagues from the London Institute of Education.

Professor Emeritus Ivan Snook was very active in the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia during the course of his career and was made a Fellow of the Society in recognition of his contribution to the Society and the field.  He was well respected and published extensively in the Society’s journal Educational Philosophy and Theory. He has had a long interest in moral philosophy, the status of children, teaching and the rights of education, winning many honours and accolades both for his philosophical work and for his services to education in New Zealand and overseas. In a piece ‘Reflections on PESA: 1969-2009’ Ivan recounts how Richard Peters spent several months at ANU in 1969 and visited other Australian universities to meet with philosophers of education, who shortly after called a meeting to discuss the setting up of PESA. Leaving New Zealand, Peters spent two days visiting Ivan at the University of Canterbury where he, as he recounts: ‘signed me up for a book (which became “Indoctrination and Education”) and encouraged me to build up philosophy of education in New Zealand.’  He continues:

I was indeed present at the inaugural conference [in 1970] but can remember very little about it. I can recall some of the dramatis personae as mentioned by Bruce [Haynes] but the conference is merged with subsequent conferences. My own paper at the inaugural conference was entitled “Teaching Pupils to Think” and it was later published in “Studies in Philosophy and Education.”  I recall attending academically rewarding and socially satisfying conferences in Adelaide (2), Canberra, Melbourne (3) Sydney (2 or 3), Auckland (3), Christchurch (2), Palmerston North and, most recently, Wellington. I did not attend any conferences in Perth, Brisbane, Newcastle or Hobart or anywhere else in Australia.  During the later 1970’s and into the 1980’s I ceased to attend the annual conference, for a set of complex reasons which I can only dimly recall.

Indeed, Ivan remembered the PESA conferences in Christchurch (1972) and Auckland (1976) because Peters was the main speaker although Paul Hirst defended his ‘forms of knowledge thesis’ at the Christchurch. The Auckland conference

was memorable in that Kevin Harris presented his devastating critique of the linguistic approach to educational philosophy, “Peters on Schooling.” It affected different people in different ways (I suspect that some in Britain still haven’t “seen the joke”) but it changed my perspective for ever. Thereafter in my senior classes I would lead the students up the analytic garden path for a month or two and then slap them with Kevin’s paper; the results were among the pedagogically most satisfying of my career.

Forgive the extensive references to Ivan’s paper but it seems appropriate to allow him the final word on himself.

Was I an analytic philosopher? My first two published papers (written while a doctoral student at Illinois) consisted of strong critiques of linguistic analysis and a defence of traditional metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. But I had not then (1966) come across the work of what came to be called “the London School.” When I did, I found their work congenial because it seemed philosophically sophisticated (as much educational theory was not) and educationally relevant (as much educational philosophy was not.) I recall a feeling of great excitement at discovering this literature.  My dissertation was on “Indoctrination and The Teaching of Religion”, a combination of analytic techniques and more substantive philosophy of religion.

Ivan mentions the courses he took under direction of Harry Broudy and the selection of topics: ‘The nature and aims of education; the organisation and administration of education; the school curriculum; teaching and learning.’ He was by all accounts a formidable teacher.

Ivan confesses that he did not flirt with Marxism not understand thinkers such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Foucault, and Derrida, but:

The problem was “solved” for me in practice by devoting most of the last 20 years to writing critically of current policy initiatives where the techniques of argument, learned in the analytic tradition, were very useful for critiquing obscure and often ideologically motivated positions lacking in rigour or a research base.

The Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia formally honoured him, along with Jim Marshall and John Codd, at the 2007 at the Conference held in Wellington.

Ivan Snook was a rare individual – at once philosopher, reformer, activist and policy advocate who was able to work with teachers, other professionals and the community to improve New Zealand education. He is without doubt one of New Zealand’s leading educators of the modern era and one who engaged with education in the broadest sense.


Michael A. Peters, Editor-in-Chief

Tina Besley, President of PESA

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