Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Hope and/or Grit: What is the future of character education?

The John Dewey Society
The Journal of School & Society
A Call for Public Scholarship

 Issue #4: Hope and/or Grit: What is the future of character education?

The John Dewey Society, founded in 1935, created The Journal of School & Society in order to meet one of its central aims: to support a vibrant public education system by fostering intelligent inquiry into problems pertaining to the place and function of education in social change, particularly among teachers, parents, and community activists.

We invite all those interested in engaged public scholarship to contribute to this exciting venue!

 At least since the rise of the Common School movement, American educators have agreed that an important part—if not the essential goal—of a public education entails the development of character.
John Dewey recognized this, writing in the very last passages of Democracy & Education that:

All education which develops power to share effectively in social life is moral. It forms a character which not only does the particular deed socially necessary but one which is interested in that continuous readjustment which is essential to growth. 

He goes on to add that, “Interest in learning from all the contacts of life is the essential moral interest.” [1]  There is perhaps no better rationale for the importance of character education: the ability to learn from all spheres of life the habits that will lead to a more just and beautiful society.

Over the past thirty years, the turn towards test-based accountability regimes and common academic standards eclipsed, to a certain degree, the focus on character. The emerging school marketplace initially led educational leaders to trumpet high test scores as the best guarantor of a quality education. They encouraged parents to vote with their feet—and some did.

But when educational leaders asked the next logical question—how do young children from such schools fair in college and career?—the situation became more complex. All of a sudden, character questions re-emerged, as it became clear that “success”—however we might define it—both requires and rewards perseverance as much as it does smarts.

Enter Paul Tough and the “new character education.” Tough’s writings reminded the public of the role of failure in learning and made a compelling case—at least to some—that schools should devote at least as much time to teaching the “soft skills” of grit, gratitude and zest as they do to academics.

Like a mighty wave, talk about grit suddenly seemed to flood public discussions about education (grit being the character trait that the public has largely come to equate with the new character education). Yet almost as quickly, a strong backlash emerged. Disparate voices, including such prominent educational leaders as Alfie Kohn and Tyrone Howard, asked hard questions:

  • Does a focus on grit and other such character traits “blame the victim”? Does it imply that a boot-strapping mentality is the best and perhaps only way to overcome such social evils as poverty, racism, and ignorance? 

  • Does a focus on grit and other such character traits divorce the learner from what is learned and how it is learned? Is it the learner that needs changing, the curriculum, or the teacher and her methods?

  • Does a focus on grit and other such character traits ignore questions of value? Are all goals equally worthy of persistent and gritty pursuit? What sort of life is worth living? What role should the school play in helping children develop a vision of the good life? 

These are questions for which the new character education has struggled to provide a compelling answer.

In this issue of The Journal of School & Society, we are interested in the broad fate of the new character education. As concerned teachers, parents, and citizens, in what ways has a focus on traits such as grit empowered you and the children you work with? In what ways has it limited or harmed you and the children you work with? In what ways should schools interact with the discourse around the new character education?

We at the journal believe that the new character education will succeed only if it can provide a compelling vision of what a just and compassionate society looks like. That is, it is questions of shared value that must be addressed by our schools and society. To that end, we would like this issue to contrast the grit of the new character education with a reconstructed sense of democratic hope.

For Stephen Fishman and Lucille McCarthy have suggested that it is, indeed, hope that we are really after. As they note:

at the heart of Dewey's theory of hope is what we call his ultimate, democratic hope: his goal of developing a more equitable, this-worldly existence that encourages all people to contribute their unique skills in service to the common-wealth. Alternatively put, Dewey's theory of hope rests upon the idea that this world, despite its precariousness and hazardous quality, is worthy of our piety and adoration rather than our scorn and disappointment. [2] 

In their work, Fishman and McCarthy put forward the idea that the advocates of grit [3] might have much to offer schools and families as they seek to reconstruct a viable character education for our times. That is, if they can overcome their hesitancy to inquire about questions of value and worth; if they can find ways to harmonize motivations for personal enrichment with the collective good; if they can conceptualize integrative rather than additive notions of growth; and if they can come to grips with the role that despair must necessarily play in lives lived in hope.

Hence, we invite contributions on hope as well as grit. As concerned teachers, parents, and citizens, what does hope mean for you and the communities in which you live and work? How is hope best cultivated within, alongside or apart from grit and other character traits?

Hope? Grit? What, then, is the future of character education?

How to Contribute to the Issue

Unlike many academic journals, this publication actively seeks out both its contributors and its readership. Working in the spirit of Dewey, we seek to create the dialogic spaces and public engagement that we believe is sometimes missing from educational debate.

We view our work as broadly educative, in that we want to help connect practitioners in public dialogue. To do so, we work closely with educators and community activists to bring out their voices and stories. We also work closely with academics who wish to contribute their expertise and insight to the conversation.

Invited Pieces

Work from educators and other communities members are welcome. This work may take either standard article form or may be submitted in alternative formats, such as a video interview or presentation. A grounding in scholarship is not necessary, although the author will want to situate their work clearly within the scope of the theme of the issue. Ordinarily, articles in this category will range from 2,000-5,000 words, although both longer and shorter submissions may be appropriate. Authors should expect to work closely with the editorial team to produce their submissions.

Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Articles 

Submissions for the peer-reviewed section of the journal are expected to conform to scholarly standards in their use of theory and empirical research to ground discussion of educational issues. Expected article length is ordinarily in the 5,000-8,000 word range, but both longer and shorter pieces can be considered. In addition to the Editors, articles in this category will be read by a minimum of two peer reviewers.

Submission Guidelines 

Please see our journal website for specifics. Submissions and inquiries should be emailed to Kyle Greenwalt, Editor of The Journal of School & Society and Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Kyle’s email is greenwlt@msu.edu.

Submissions should be received by October 1, 2016.


1 John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: The Free Press, 1916/1997), 360. Emphases added.

2 Stephen M. Fishman and Lucille McCarthy. 2005. “The Morality and Politics of Hope: John Dewey and Positive Psychology in Dialogue”. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 41(3), 676.

3 That is, the field of positive psychology.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Journal of School & Society: Welcome to this Issue

Kyle Greenwalt
Michigan State University
Jared Kemling
Southern Illinois University
Along with my associate editor, Jared Kemling (Southern Illinois University), I am pleased to share with you this editorial team’s first issue of The Journal of School & Society. We thank the many members of the John Dewey Society who have supported us in this project as well as our contributors to this exciting issue.
The Journal of School & Society
            The John Dewey Society was founded in 1935. While the ideas and topics that interested Dewey are shared by many in our organization, as an editorial team, more than anything else, we seek to work in the spirit of the great American philosopher—and in particular, with his commitment to the use of the method of conjoint experience and communication for the enrichment of democratic living.
            TheJournal of School & Society seeks to position itself as speaking to all those interested in the place and function of education in a democratic society—to academics, certainly, but even more so to public school teachers, to parents, and to community and labor activists. To that end, we actively seek to highlight voices from diverse constituencies. We seek to be a journal of intelligent practice for creative and justice-oriented practitioners.
            To that end, this issue deals with the future of vocational education.

Our Contributors Reflect on the Work Vocational Education
The term “vocational education,” it seems, is quickly losing its popularity in favor of other terms and other trends: CTE (Career and Technical Education), POS (Programs of Study), and, perhaps most excitingly, the MakerSpaces that have been popping up in communities across the globe. A whole new way of working has brought with it a whole new way of learning to work. James R. Stone III, Director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at Southern Regional Education Board, makes this abundantly clear in his article in this issue.
            What accounts for the decline in vocational education, as it was once known? Certainly, federal policy and legislation have played a part in this—as Stone makes clear. But there are perhaps other reasons as well. The older view of vocational education got itself entangled on the horns of several dilemma from which it was never able to free itself. Was it about enrichment of the living present or was it about preparation for a coming future? Was it about fitting children to the needs of industry or was it about re-shaping industry towards more socially-just outcomes? Was it about the preservation of the skills of the past or about learning the skills of the future? And just who, in any case, should engage in topics we might consider “vocational?”
            Needless to say, Dewey would have rejected any such dualisms and asserted the importance of vocational education—rightly understood—for all learners. Pieces in this issue by Anthony DeFalco and Liu Xing make this point in compelling ways: any worthy educational endeavor must, it seems, have its cake and eat it too. It must combine appreciation of the past with readiness for the future, present enjoyment with future demands, individual gifts with social needs, and efficiency with equity.
            To that end, the piece by the Reverend Kit Carlson of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Michigan, is deeply resonate for me—as a scholar, as a teacher, and as a parent. Drawing upon figures such as Martin Luther, Frederic Buechner, and Parker Palmer, Carlson asks us to consider the difference between vocation and career, all the while asking how we can connect our “deep gladness” with “the world’s deep hunger.”
            In our everyday lives, when pipes break, we need plumbers to fix them. But in a democracy, surely we need not just plumbers who know their work, but plumbers who carry with them a sense of their worth and purpose. Such is the story told by Karen Murphy, Communications Director of Michigan State Employees Association: of plumbers who rushed into Flint to install new filters and faucets for residents threatened by the lead poisoning of the city’s water. Can we appreciate the work done by these plumbers and, at the same time, deny them a fair wage? Can we appreciate their work and deny them the right to collectively organize? Can the new wave of vocational education concern itself with credentials but ignore issues of social justice? It must not.
            Those carrying out the work of CTE must ensure that this does not happen. We turn, then, ultimately, to those doing the work. Both k-12 public school teachers and community organizations are well represented in this issue.
            Erica Swinney of Manufacturing Renaissance tells the fascinating story of her organization’s work to partner with Chicago Public Schools in offering the very type of cutting-edge CTE that seems so promising to those working in the field: stacked credentials, long-term career counseling, and attention to the so-called “soft skills” that make a person a valued colleague, comrade and citizen—all in a Chicago community hard hit by the flight of manufacturing jobs and institutional racism.
            Where, indeed, will the next Grace Lee Boggs come from? Erica Swinney just might be able to tell us.
            From the classroom, we hear from John Denson, an agricultural teacher in Texas. Drawing upon his experience as both a parent and a classroom teacher, Denson points out the continued opportunities for learning as we help a new generation of farmers feed the world. Love of animals—something that seems almost inherent to our species—can, in the hands of a talented educator, be led into love of both agricultural methods and democratic purposes. It also builds traits of character—the lovely notion of “horse sense” that Denson speaks of—that serve young adults well in the future.
            We also hear from Diane Allerdyce in a wide-ranging interview with Natasha Perez—all in a video that has been wonderfully edited and produced by James Jackman. Allerdyce is a long-time John Dewey Society member and a founder of the Toussaint L'Ouverture High School for Arts & Social Justice in Delray Beach, Florida. In this interview with Perez, Allerdyce broadly considers how her incredible school contributes to “the vocation of being human” among a group of students who clearly have so much to offer the world. From the arts, to social justice, to career education, Allerdyce helps us consider of what a truly integrated school curriculum consists.
            Finally, we hear from Kevin Russell, a social studies educator turned manufacturing instructor. Russell helps us see how these two subjects, in the hands of the right educator, are actually not so far apart. They both aim to ready kids to transform their communities through work done in service to others. Russell lays bare for us the struggles that teachers will have to confront as they open themselves up to the idea that colleges—with their ever increasing tuition rates—might not open as many doors as they promise. That teachers might demonstrate to students the beauty and worth of many different life paths.

John Dewey and Vocation
One senses that everything that John Dewey cared about could be fruitfully approached through the topic of vocational education. As he said in Democracy & Education: “The dominant vocation of all human beings at all times is living—intellectual and moral growth.”1
            What this means, then, is that vocational education—in the sense developed by the contributors across this issue—is a process that never ends.
            The excitement of vocational education can be sensed when we realize that each day brings opportunities for further growth and transformation—that today can be different than tomorrow, if our society values the human potential within all of its diverse members.
            Dewey understood this and he insisted upon honoring the diverse talents that each human being brings to the world. In his reconstruction of society, he called for new ways of working and serving, ones that would put learning at the forefront.
            As he noted, “ if even adults have to be on the lookout to see that their calling does not shut down on them and fossilize them, [then] educators must certainly be careful that the vocational preparation of youth is such as to engage them . . .”2
            This, then, is a vocational education worth pursuing. One that contributes to a life devoted to learning in, through, and for our work—broadly understood—all in pursuit of the common good.

1  John Dewey, Democracy and Education  (New York: The Free Press, 1916/1997), 310.

2  John Dewey, Democracy and Education  (New York: The Free Press, 1916/1997), 311.

Click here for submission guidelines

Monday, March 28, 2016

Democracy in Education: Crafting Vision, Policies, and Strategies

A Statement for the John Dewey Society
Kathleen Knight Abowitz, Harry C. Boyte, by Deborah Meier

March 2016
“It is the main business of the family and the school to influence directly the formation and growth of attitudes and dispositions, emotional, intellectual and moral. Whether this educative process is carried on in a predominantly democratic or non-democratic way becomes…a question of transcendent importance not only for education itself but for…the democratic way of life.” John Dewey, Democracy in the Schools
We face an avalanche of privatization of education at every level, tied to narrowing views which
radically shrink the meaning of democracy and of education. This avalanche increasingly
renders education as a ticket for individual advancement, not public purpose. Education is more
segregated by race and class than in the time of Brown v. Board of Education. Educators feel
increasingly powerless. At the same time education is under widespread attack, with efforts to
shape both K-12 and higher education by outside interests and policy makers, both liberal and
conservative, using marketplace and technocratic rationales. State government in many states
are defunding public post-secondary education. Costs put many schools out of the reach of poor
and working classes. All this contributes to the disempowerment of educators and students.

Internal changes as well as external forces erode the agency of educators and students.
Studies such as American Academic Culture in Transformation, edited by Thomas Bender and
Carl Schorske have demonstrated that research cultures have become increasingly detached
from community and the public culture in many fields in recent decades. Rankings fuel what
Lani Guinier calls the “testocracy,” narrow, individualist understands of merit and achievement
and erode earlier norms of cooperative and democratic excellence in both K-12 and higher
education (The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education). Colleges today,
ranked by how many students are denied admission, often game the system by increasing
applications. Prestige goes to institutions which place students in jobs with the highest pay and
prestige, regardless of public contribution. Sustained, deep attention to skills and habits of
agentic action crucial to a democratic way of life has been sidelined.

It is worth recalling how much agency - the human capacity to act with others to shape the world
around us - was central both to the original meaning of democracy and also to the concerns of
John Dewey. As Josiah Ober, the classicist and political theorist, has shown in a detailed
etymological study of classical regime types (“The Original Meaning of ‘Democracy’: Capacity to
Do Things, Not Majority Rule,” Constellations 2008, 7), democracy for the Greeks did not mean
rule by the majority. “Rather it means, more capaciously, ‘the empowered demos … the
collective strength and ability to act...and indeed to reconstitute the public realm through action.”

Though Dewey rarely used the term “agency,” it is worth recalling the close connection between
agency, individual and civic, and his view of democracy as an empowering way of life. In
Democracy and Education, he proposed that education involves cultivating “initiative and
adaptability” (MW 9, 93-94). Following Jane Addams’ call for educators to “free the powers,”
Dewey advanced the idea that democracy’s diversity of stimuli “secure a liberation of powers”
(Jane Addams, On Education, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1994, 98; Dewey, MW 9, 93)
Emphasizing the relational qualities of development against atomizing intellectual trends, he
argued that “the new individualism was interpreted philosophically not as meaning development of agencies for revising and transforming previously accepted beliefs, but as an assertion that
each individual’s mind was complete in isolation from everything else” (MW 9, 315).

Drawing on the Deweyan tradition, many educators and scholars have begun to fight back and
also to re-articulate why the public matters in education and why education’s deepest purpose is
preparing students for a democratic society. In K-12 education, new programs help educators
to build students and their own civic agency and capacity. Deliberating in a Democracy helps
educators and students design lessons for deliberating difficult issues. The Discovering Justice
program helps elementary and middle school students explore meanings of justice and the law.
“Action Civics” movements and programs such as Public Achievement, Mikva Challenge and
The Freechild Project help young people to learn skills of effective civic action in schools and
communities, including learning and research about problems, everyday political skills, and
tie learning to real world community projects and problems. The Coalition for Essential Schools
emphasizes democratic principles, as well as the “student as worker and the teacher as coach,”
shifting from education as something delivered.

At the post-secondary level, recent associations such as Campus Compact, Imagining America,
the American Democracy Project, The Democracy Challenge and AAC&U, are developing a
new emphasis on higher education’s role in democracy as well as innovative approaches to
education for student agency. The Kettering Foundation’s Campus Conversations on
Democracy brings together presidents to recover their leadership as public philosophers of
education and democracy. Two national deliberations of the National Issues Forums growing
out of the American Commonwealth Partnership in 2012, celebrating the 150 anniversary of
Education?, have involved several thousand citizens in every region of the country. These have
surfaced deep public concerns about higher education’s future and loss of public purposes.

Deweyan concerns with agency also form one inspiration for the new transdisciplinary field
called “civic studies,” founded by a group of seven engaged political theorists. The group,
including Elinor Ostrom, past present of the American Political Science Association and 2009
Nobel Prize winner, and future APSA president Jane Mansbridge, is organized as a framework
for civic engagement focused on themes of agency and citizens as co-creators of communities
at different scales. Tufts University hosts the website and an annual international institute. The
Civic Studies journal is The Good Society.

All these are foundations to build on. Yet the dynamic trends of privatization and technocracy
continue to gather momentum on campuses, in curriculum and in educational policy. How can
we reimagine a public educational ecosystem with revitalized democratic aims, and effectively
work to enact it in practice, policy, and law?

We are convinced that this is the time to work with others in organizing a democracy movement
of K-16 educators and students and our allies, reimagining education as crucial to a democratic
way of life for ourselves and for future generations, advancing policies that support democracy
education, and creating strategies to build broad publics. Here are several potential elements:

  • Strategy, grounded in local, grassroots effort, needs to include state and national prongs of action, across educational sectors and in diverse coalitions of community and civic organizations. Many tools will be necessary for this work, including public deliberation, organizing, experimentation, research, and a robust strategy of what can be called “cultural organizing, stimulating wide public discussion in many media settings.
  • Deliberations and organizing efforts need to be informed by research and scholarship that is transdisciplinary not simply interdisciplinary. This means recognizing that while academic scholars are creating new knowledge of great value we also need new patterns of collaborative knowledge-creation and infrastructures and reward systems which support them, recognizing the multiple kinds of knowledge needed for effective political democratic change.
  • At local and regional levels, we need new strategies for deliberation and organizing action for change that builds new, deeper, more reciprocal relationships with scholars and schools, students, parents and families, civic groups and local governments, asking “why” and “so what” questions with new forcefulness.
  • At the state level where much education policy is established, we need to “bring the public in,” creating citizen-based deliberations about the purposes of education at every level. Representatives and participants from schools, teachers unions, families, businesses, religious and civic groups, and community organizations as well as local governments will need to be involved.
  • We also need ways to bring findings of public deliberations to new levels of public visibility through new media tools and through partnerships with sympathetic journalists and opinion-makers in the mainstream media. This will be essential to effect a significant shift from the narrow test-based accountability that lawmakers and others have devised in the last two decades.
  • At the federal level, we need a variety of strategies to engage a new administration with the Deweyan vision of democracy as a way of life and education as its midwife.

A democratic education vision for K-16 publicly supported education in the U.S. and for policies
that strengthen the democratic purposes of private and liberal arts education will require
leadership in all sectors, from all corners of educational practice, policy, and research. How to
develop such leadership will require discussion and thought about what is the appropriate
organizing form and structure for such work. But the need seems unmistakable.

In our history, democracy had overtones of immensity. "A word the real gist of which still sleeps,
quite unawakened...a great word, whose history remains unwritten," as Walt Whitman put it in
Democratic Vistas.

It is time to awaken the possibilities of the word.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The 2016 John Dewey Society Annual Meeting

The 2016 John Dewey Society Annual Meeting will be held concurrently with the American Educational Research Association Meeting in Washington, D.C. from Friday, April 8 through Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

The John Dewey Society
Annual Meeting

 Washington Convention Center, First Floor Room 103A

FRIDAY, April 8
12:30–2:00 pm John Dewey Symposium:
                         Race, State Violence and Education after Ferguson
                         Paul C. Taylor, Penn State University
                         Sheron Fraser-Burgess, Ball State University
                        James Earl Davis, Temple University

2:15–3:45 pm   School and Society Forum:
                         Public Schooling and the Quest for Racial Justice
                         Liz Collins & Anna Laura Grant, Washington Latin Public Charter
                         Chair: Kyle Greenwalt, Michigan State University

4:00–6:00 pm   John Dewey Lecture:
                        The Continuing Challenge of Progressive Thought
                        Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Bard College

6:00–7:30 pm John Dewey Society Reception

8:45-10:00 am Philosophy of Education and Educational Studies
                    Editors Round Table
                     Christopher Higgins, Educational Theory
                        Jessica Heybach, Critical Questions in Education
                        Peter Nelson, Democracy and Education
                        Kyle Greenwalt, School and Society
                        Bruce Maxwell, Philosophical Inquiry in Education
                        Chair: Eli Kramer, Southern Illinois University

10:00–11:00 am  JDS Student Working Group Meeting

11:00–12:15 pm Executive Board Meeting

12:30–2:00 pm John Dewey and American Philosophy Panel:
                         Democracy and Education at 100
                     Peter Nelsen, Appalachian State University,
                        “Why Self-Direction Requires Others: Autonomy in Democracy and Education”
                        Susan Mayer, Independent Scholar,
                        “Reconceptualizing Deweyan Pragmatism for a Pluralistic World”
                        Megan Laverty and Bill Gaudelli, Teachers College,
                        “Reconstruction of Social Studies”
                        James Scott Johnston, Memorial University of Newfoundland,
                        “The Logic of Democracy and Education”
                        Chair: A.G. Rud, Washington State University

2:15 – 3:45 pm Dewey Through the Generations Panel:
                        The Aims of the Public Intellectual
                        Grassroots Movements and Organization
                        Justo Serrano Zamora, Institute for Social Research,Frankfurt am Main                         (Germany): “Challenging Public Inquiry: A Deweyan Approach to Emancipatory                         Movements”
                        Elizabeth Liu, McGill University: “Reaching to A Mature Social Life: the Ultimate 
                        Goal of Deweyan Democracy”
                        Stephanie A. Burdick-Shepherd, Assistant Professor, Lawrence University: “‘I’m 
                        here to speak up…!’ Illuminating John Dewey’s philosophy of participation through 
                         Malala Yousafzai’s childhood activism”
                        Respondent: Kurt Stemhagen,
                        Virginia Commonwealth University

4:00 – 5:30 pm John Dewey Society Annual Members Business Meeting