Monday, November 24, 2008


“The current sad state of ‘arts and education’ as a specialty in philosophy of education, a discipline itself shrinking and potentially extinct on this continent”—This seldom considered circumstance “in the era of No Child Left Behind” was the thought-provoking “backdrop” for Deanne Bogdan’s George F. Kneller Lecture to the American Educational Studies Association in Savannah on October 30. Just one year earlier, AESA had celebrated Maxine Greene’s 90th birthday in Cleveland with accolades for her many inspiring, radical contributions to the arts and education specialty in philosophy of education, including her John Dewey Lecture The Dialectic of Freedom (1988). In Spokane two years earlier AESA had mourned the tragic death of a much younger radical philosopher of arts and education, Landon E. Beyer, whose last work was The Arts, Popular Culture, and Social Change (2000). Having authored Re-Educating the Imagination (1992) and having taught philosophy of literature and literature education, aesthetics and education, musical aesthetics, and women’s studies for over two decades, Bogdan noted that her arts and education position at OISE/University of Toronto was eliminated following her retirement and that “massive arts funding slashes” in Canada “were recently made by a federal government that believes support for the arts [should] be left to the marketplace (Smith 2008, R1-2).”

I cannot even begin to do full justice to her finely nuanced lecture here, "Betwixt and Between: Working through the Aesthetic in Philosophy of Education," which soon you can read in its entirety in Educational Studies if you did not hear it in person. Her eloquently theorized "betwixt and between" is at risk of becoming nowhere--that is not Bogdan's thesis, it is mine, albeit this is a fear that I suspect she shares. Therefore I want to respond to her lecture selectively here, to its office as “a memoir of one dying breed—the arts—within another—philosophy of education—in Educational Studies,” since it bears witness not only to her specialty’s “sad state,” but also to its potentially transformative significance for cultural politics and social issues.

Composed in three “movements,” her memoir recounts the subtle and dramatic phases of her journey through study of both Plato’s and Northrop Frye’s educational and literary thought and of feminist thought, within the context of disputes over censorship and curriculum, to construct an original theory of “embodied” reading and pedagogy. With this theory developed through reflection upon various exhilarating and troubling events that occurred within her own teaching practice in higher education, she has aimed to resist that same moral and spiritual destructiveness of “professionalization” which so deeply concerned both Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Virginia Woolf in Three Guineas—without falling into the domesticating, sentimentalizing, trivializing trap that arts education became as training in “female accomplishments” in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bourgeois culture.

Bogdan’s own journey sets out from an education in philosophy, literature, and music—which she calls mousike techne—into and through philosophical studies of literature and education. After a richly provocative engagement of feminist thought and pedagogy, gradually she reaches an impasse of paralyzing silence familiar to many millennial women—in Bogdan’s case wrought by that critical stance which Shoshona Felman has called “self-subversive self-reflection,” within a professionalized postmodern intellectual milieu that felt to her like an “emotional desert of discursivity.”

Without mentioning John Dewey’s Art as Experience, Bogdan stands out among recent philosophers of arts and education as one whose artistic performance and creativity inform and deepen her thought no less than aesthetic appreciation does, as one for whom the Deweyan dialectic between “doing and undergoing” is fecund indeed. For, confronting her own post-feminist impasse, she perseveres to reclaim the differently embodied but significantly wordless voice of the piano. Her pianistic voice becomes her resilient means for deepening her study of embodied reading and pedagogy as a simultaneously spiritual, social, political, and educational practice. While playing in domestic solitude and local nursing homes as well as at conferences, both at home and abroad, and in various master classes, she thinks about Glenn Gould, Marshall McLuhan, Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Jane Campion’s The Piano, and complex questions that music inevitably raises for educators concerning its inflections and invocations of race, nationality, ethnicity, and sexuality, as well as (implicitly here, but explicitly elsewhere) what Lucy Green has called “musical patriarchy.”

Bogdan’s narrative concludes logically—with her post-9/11 reflection upon music’s educational and philosophical significance for the democratic projects of social justice and nonviolence, in light of her recent participation in Tanglewood II, an international symposium “charting the future” of musical learning in the twenty-first century. Inspired by Bogdan’s journey, I will return next month to this blog to invite you to revisit with me Jane Addams’s Hull House and its descendant, Myles Horton’s Highlander Center, while thinking about the Tanglewood II Declaration—about what education in music and other arts has done and may yet do as education for social justice.

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