This essay examines critically the conceptual and normative underpinnings of various views about educational quality, emphasizing the centrality of different assumptions about educational aims. Two distinctions play a key role in the first part of the paper: that between transcendent justifications of educational aims, versus socio-cultural reproduction justifications—and that between what I call “strong teleological” and “weaker teleological” views of educational aims themselves. Most contemporary views of educational aims can be situated within these cross-cutting frameworks. I then move on to criticisms of the idea of educational aims, and suggest that while they may appear to be anti-teleological, they actually express their own implicit teleologies. But they do indicate some problems with teleological models of educational aims, which I explore at further length. I conclude with a proposal about a different way of thinking about teleology, and argue for the importance of an educational aim that includes the capacity to reflect upon and question the aims and purposes of education itself.
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