Wednesday, April 30, 2008

CSI Workshop Notes and Next Steps

Notes from Social Issues Workshop, John Dewey Society, Wednesday, 3/26/2008

The Commission on Social Issues of the John Dewey Society held a Workshop on Wednesday, March 26, 2008. Participants included Robert Boostrum, A.G. Rud, Liz Wiley, Virginia Benson, Virginia Jagla, Chad Lykins, Eva Hultin, Deron Broyles, Meryl Domina, Hongmei Peng, Barbara Thayer-Bacon, Kathleen Knight-Abowitz, Barb Pelz, Stefan Hopmann, Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman. Craig Cunningham organized the workshop and Leonard Waks chaired it.

At the beginning the chair set the workshop agenda in the context of the missions of the Dewey Society and the Commission: The Dewey Society has a primary mission to contribute to society’s intelligence in contending with its contemporary issues. The Commission seeks to engage members of the Dewey Society in making that contribution.

The chair stated that interest within professional and scholarly societies in promoting public communications is becoming widespread. He cited similar sessions and workshops at the fall 2007 meeting of the American Studies Association and the 2008 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies. The AAACS session, led by Tony Whitsun of the University of Delaware, cited the work of the Dewey Society’s Commission as a model to follow. The PES-GB has taken a leadership role in this regard by publishing its series of IMPACT books. The Dewey Society has a built-in advantage in pursuing public efforts, however, because unlike most scholarly societies, we have public communications on social issues as an explicit primary mission.

The chair also noted that Jim Garrison, as President of the Dewey Society, had organized the 2008 Dewey Lecture and Dewey Symposium at AERA in alignment with the public mission of the Dewey Society, by focusing on “un-cloistered scholars”. Jim Garrison then asked the Commission members to assume further responsibilities in planning subsequent Dewey lectures and symposia, to begin to institutionalize the Society’s public mission.

Past-President Larry Hickman reminded the participants of the forthcoming Dewey Sesquicentennial in 2009. This event will provide multiple opportunities for public speeches, symposia, and publications. Hickman also noted the formation of Dewey Study Centers in several countries including Turkey and China among others.

The members then introduced themselves and shared their ideas about how the workshop might help the Dewey Society and the Commission in pursuing these missions.

Two main questions were discussed, first in small groups and then in the general meeting.

(1) Would it be helpful to the work of the members if the Commission laid out some general principles or guidelines to shape the public communications of the Society’s members?


(2) What sorts of communications (e.g., blog posts, op-ed articles, articles in journals of opinion, policy reports) should the Commission encourage and support, and how can it provide incentives to the members so that they will make these communications?

With respect to (1):

(a) Participants agreed unanimously that the Commission should not state extensive philosophical principles to be “applied” to contemporary issues. Participants felt that such principles or guidelines would be unhelpful and would miscast practical intelligence as a matter of deducing practical conclusions from theoretical premises.

(b) Instead, they thought that contributors to Commission-sponsored communications should be urged first to think directly and concretely about the contemporary issues themselves, referring back to philosophical and theoretical ideas -- from the Dewey corpus and many other sources – only as the need for and relevance of such intellectual inputs surfaced, and only insofar as they were seen as practically useful helping to resolve the problematic situations addressed.

(c) Some participants felt that a simple “pocket guide” to progressive democratic ideas, on the order of Dewey’s “My Pedagogical Creed,” might be useful as an heuristic to stimulate some initial thoughts after a problem situation has initially been identified. Eva Hultin, a school principal from Canada, shared that non-academics in the Dewey Society might be especially helped by such a statement, as unlike academic professionals, they do not have occasion to rehearse and interpret such ideas on a daily basis.

(d) Craig Cunningham suggested, and participants agreed, that Dewey’s conception of “democracy” might serve as the basis for such a “pocket guide”.

(e) Barbara Thayer-Bacon and Kathleen Knight-Abowitz suggested that for certain publications, such as Commission-sponsored “white papers” on policy issues, a “style sheet” of the sort used by encyclopedia editors would prove useful. Such a style sheet could have guidelines regarding form, content, and point of view. The “pocket guide” considered in (c) might be situated within this style sheet for authors. Barbara said “These kinds of style sheets already exist; we don’t have to re-invent the wheel!”

(f) Along the way, several current issues surfaced as requiring attention in Commission-sponsored communications, including high stakes testing, educational rights of illegal immigrant children and the disabled, school resegregation and diversity, home schooling, and charter schooling, problems facing teachers (e.g., threats of violence), and others.

Turning to (2),

(a) Participants agreed that members would have more incentive to contribute communications for Commission publications if they counted as peer-reviewed.

(b) One way to make that happen would be to appoint a board of editors or a board of readers for Commission publications, from who reviews would be solicited.

(c) Stefan Hopmann urged the Commission to assign writing tasks to JDS members. The chair or some other officer of the Commission, that is, should actively solicit specific communications from specific members on a regular basis, because academics are most comfortable working within a framework of assignments and deadlines, and are unlikely to take time away from busy schedules to make spontaneous contributions.

(d) Matt Pamental suggested that “how to” guidelines for writing blog posts, op-ed pieces, and articles in journals of opinion would be particularly useful for younger scholars, especially for graduate students. Such guidelines would be along the lines of the “style sheets” mentioned in 1(e) above. He said that we shouldn’t “make it a mystery” how to frame up such contributions.

(e) Kathleen Knight Abowitz stressed the importance of connecting the work of the Commission with that of other professional and scholarly associations, such as the ASA and the AAACS mentioned above. PES-US is also exploring an out-reach mission at this time

(f) Participants then spoke about the value of forging connections to make common cause on social issues across borders, e.g., with PES-GB. The various Dewey societies and study centers are also natural allies.

(g) Different kinds of publication formats were seen as appropriate for issues with different “time scales”. Some problems arise and demand immediate attention. Some are enduring. Some come to a head and become ripe for consideration by policy makers.
Andrea English noted that many issues develop slowly, surfacing in the public eye again and again over time. Through this process, simple blog entries with links to news stories and other information sources might be sufficient. Then as a problem ripens, a “white paper” would be valuable to organize the elements of the problem and frame it as a policy issue in terms appropriate for policy makers.

(h) A.G. Rud called our attention to the notion of “scholarship of engagement”. He noted that Purdue had held a full-day workshop covering the “what,” “why,” and “how” of this kind of scholarship. This notion might be useful in providing incentives for academics to make public communications, by providing a language and context for recognizing them as scholarly activities appropriate as resume items. (Waks and Rud followed up this suggestion. See:

(i) Several members spoke of the potential usefulness of a clearing house of exemplary public communications such as blog entries, op-ed pieces and articles in journals of opinion that could serve as style templates for JDS members. Craig Cunningham said that a “ning” is a good digital format for such a clearinghouse and volunteered to create one for the Commission. (He has subsequently done so).

The most important after-meeting action steps appear to be these:

(1) The creation of a short “pocket guide” (perhaps 1-2 pages) of democratic progressive ideas, grounded in Dewey’s conception of democracy (1c).

(2) The creation of a style sheet for Commission white papers, with items regarding form, content and point of view. The pocket guide above may form part of this style sheet (1e).

(3) A list of contemporary problems and public policy issues calling for attention at this time (1f).

(4) The appointment of a board of readers for conducting peer-review of Commission white papers (2a, b).

(5) Actively soliciting members of the Dewey Society (and others) interested in communicating with various publics and policy-makers under the sponsorship of the Society, and assigning tasks for them to do (2c).

(6) Preparing brief “how to” guidelines for blog posts, op ed pieces, articles in journals of opinion and white papers to assist younger scholars and graduate students by taking the mystery out of these forms of communication (2d).

(7) Forging alliances with other scholarly societies in the US and beyond to collaborate in working on social issues (2e, f)

(8) Encouraging university leaders to commit to taking the ‘scholarship of engagement’ seriously as an important kind of scholarship with its own forms of peer-review, to be appropriately considered in assessments for promotion and tenure (2h).

(9) Forming a clearinghouse for public communications to serve as exemplars for engaged education scholars including members of the John Dewey Society (2i).

The chair wishes to thank all of the participants for their contributions.

The first next step is to prioritize these nine steps and discover JDS members interested in working on them.

Please comment on this report and express or amplify your own ideas so that I can include them in a more complete report of the Commission. And please let me know which of these action steps you are willing to work on along with other JDS members.

Leonard Waks, chair
Commission for Social Issues

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Philosophy of Education and the Scholarship of Engagement

Having grown up in Brooklyn, baseball analogies come naturally to me. They can be gender specific, however, excluding half the audience. Can we agree on softball, which is as associated with girls and women as well as boys and men?

O.K. Then let's think of philosophy of education as something like softball. Like all forms of scholarship, it is a team sport. Every player is deeply dependent on others, to provide fodder, supporting arguments, data, responses and counter-arguments. To think of philosophers of education on analogy with weight lifters, competing against one another as individuals, is a deep fallacy.

On the softball field players on the team are assigned positions: infielder, outfielder, catcher, etc. What are the positions in philosophy of education? And how does that help us understand the scholarship of engagement?

Following yesterday's comment about experimental logic and the scholarship of engagement, we can assign many different positions on the philosophy of education team.

Some philosophers of education are sentinels. Their role or position is to stay attuned to developments in other education games, played outside of university scholarship: schooling, teaching, policy making, youth culture to name a few. These sentinels bring the news back to our field in the form of communications attuned to the norms of academic communication and publication. These philosophers may get a lot of their news second hand, from popular writers such as Jonathan Kozol. But some of the sentinels have to get out into the field, into these other games, as participant observers, or the field will inevitably suffer input bias. We can't just take Jonathan's word for everything.

And to be clear, Jonathan Kozol is a superstar in another game but he is not a philosopher of education. He is not a member of our team; he doesn't play in our games, or by our rules; he doesn't speak our language. To get his insights into our game he needs one of us to take them on and shape them as philosophical communications.

Once inside the university as the house of inquiry, the data, insights and ideas from these external practices are subjected to various forms of philosophical study. Some philosophers make analyses of problematic concepts, others make normative arguments, to name two among several typical forms of study. In doing so they both draw upon the works of other members of the philosophy of education team and respond to these others, and depend upon the responses of these others to their own work. We may think of these inside-the-field or intra-field studies, published as the typical articles in Educational Theory or Studies in Philosophy and Education, or the Journal of Philosophy of Education, as the core of philosophy of education, but in doing so we have to remember that the core of the apple is hardly the most important part.

Philosophy of education may be a branch of philosophy, but, as Randy Curren argued in last week's Philosophy of Education Society meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts, philosophy is all branches and no trunk now. If we hope to go to something called "mainstream philosophy" to solidify our work, we will be disappointed to find nothing there. Whether in the American Philosophical Association or elsewhere, there are just folks more or less like ourselves, doing many different things. Solid foundations may be sought by some more than others, but none are on offer.

One important kind of position on the philosophy of education team, then, are the in-fielders, those fielding materials from within professional philosophy. The in-fielders are attentive to and knowledgable about work in other branches of philosophy. Some, like Ken Strike, keep their eye on developments in systematic ethics. Others, like Harvey Siegel, attend to epistemology. Still others, like Michael Peters and Jim Marshall, monitor contemporary continental philosopers.

At the meeting in Cambridge Harvey Siegel argued that the philosophers of education playing these in-fielder roles should, to test or prove themselves, also play in the philosophical games they monitor for us. If you are our ethics man, or post-structuralist feminist woman, Harvey thinks, you should authenticate yourself by moonlighting in ethics or poststructural feminism. If you pass their peer review processes, we'll know that you know what you are talking about so we can take your word for what you say about those fields.

Some in-fielders should no doubt do this, just as some sentinel philosophers of teaching should occasionally teach school classes, and some philosophers of curriculum should get occasionally get involved in curriculum projects. There are, however, many ways of observing and associating with others that don't require full participation as insiders in their games. And philosophers of education have many ways of assessing the input colleagues bring in from other branches of philosophy. We don't have to rely entirely upon their peer-review processes.

Once upon a time philosophy was considered an autonomous, self-contained discipline. I am not sure anyone thinks this today. Philosophical studies often draw on insights from other disciplines and fields, especially the other humanities disciplines like history and literary studies, the social sciences, and educational research. Those who monitor work in these fields and report back to us in philosophical communications we may think of as our inter-fielders.

All philosophers occasionally think about what they are doing, how to go about doing it, and how it fits both on the map of knowledge and the map of practice. These are known as meta-inquiries. We all entertain random meta-thoughts, write them in our journals, exchange them in conversations in the halls at conferences. Some meta-reflections take the form of philosophical communications. The session Randy Curren and Harvey Siegel addressed at PES on the relations between philosophy of education and mainstream philosophy was meta-philosophical. There is even a special journal, Metaphilosophy, for such communications. Some philosophers of education may work mostly at the meta-level, as meta-philosophers .

Just as the field needs sentinels on the input side to maintain a strong connection to the real world outside the university, it also needs its effectors on the output end, digesting and synthesizing philosophical results and re-shaping them as inputs for players in various practical games. Like the sentinels, the effectors will need to have close associations with these audiences. Even more than the sentinels, effectors need to be participants in those other practices. This does not mean they have to be inside players. Maxine Green, to take a well known example, is not a school teacher, but she has an audience among school teachers, because she communicates not only in scholarly journals and books, but directly to teachers, in many ways. Ken Howe and Barry Bull are not public officials who set policy. But they are policy influencers because they communicate directly within the policy process. These, and many others, are our effectors.

Sentinels and effectors are engaged scholars. They do not merely make scholarly communications about the real world. The sentinels make scholarly communications based on a direct, hands-on, engagement with it. The effectors make communications outside the world of scholarship, based on direct, hands-on, intimate knowledge of scholarly processes and results, including of course, their own scholarship. Importantly, the effectors need not be card carrying, university-based, professional scholars. Maxine Green's audiences are attuned to philosophy, and some of her listeners are equipped to make philosophical inputs in the insider games they play in schools and public agencies.

Here is a question about engaged scholars: should the sentinels and the effectors be the same people? Perhaps sometimes, because both will require engagement with these external practitioners and so will be positioned to speak with them. But it is a different talent to shape worldly news in the terms of scholarship and to shape scholarly results in worldly terms. There is no necessary correlation of these talents.

So here is the line-up of the team:

Sentinels, who monitor various educational practices and report to the field in philosophical communications;

In-fielders, who bring inputs from other branches of philosophy into philosophy of education;

Inter-fielders, who bring inputs from other scholarly disciplines into the field;

Intra-fielders, who use inputs from sentinels and other intra-fielders, in-fielders and interfielders, and others, to generate core works of philosophy of education;

Meta-philosophers of education, who reflect on the field and its methods and connections to other fields of knowledge and practice;

and Effectors, who digest and synthesize the processes and results of the field of philosophy of education, in communications from the field to other practices.

The sentinels and effectors are engaged directly in the scholarship of engagement. To engage is to associate, to connect, to share.
The intra-fielders, who write about the practices engaged scholars are engaged in, are not themselves typically engaged.

People without sense organs or arms and legs are severely disabled, regardless of the condition of their brains. The same can be said of most academic fields, no matter how abstract their core works.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dewey's Experimental Logic and the Scholarship of Engagement

John Dewey's experimental logic is neatly outlined in the three chapters on the stages of thought in Studies in Logical Theory. These three stages are useful in thinking about the scholarship of engagement.

On Dewey's account, actors are caught up in the stream of human events. Some of these are moving along without much friction, and thought is primarily qualitative and intuitive. Others are meeting with resistance or generating conflict. At this first stage, thought is more or less effortless and it not itself the main focus of consciousness. (Dewey will later call this stage that of primary experience).

But hesitation from resistance or conflict brings thinking to the center of consciousness. Thought sets out to map the situation, define problems, establish inquiries, gather data, consider the relevance of on-the-shelf knowledge, and draw and confirm conclusions. (Dewey will later call this secondary experience).

This second stage ends when thought knows where it stands. The third stage begins as the results of thought are placed back on the table of primary experience, along with other factors considered relevant by actors in the situation, as resources for finding a way beyond hesitation, beyond resistance and conflict. The results of thought can then be evaluated as instruments in restoring balance, in restoring the flow of experiernce.

In Logic: the Theory of Inquiry, Dewey considered the institutional setting of thought. The research university is the primary institutional home of the second stage of thought. In disciplined inquiry thought generates its own problems, which generate new lines of inquiry or even entirely new disciplines. Logic, epistemology, statistics, research methodology, are all among these tertiary contexts of thought -- thought serving those other areas of thought that serve primary experience.

The ramifications of thought within the university are vast and unpredictable. However, the results of these tertiary disciplines must be judged by how well they open up and contribute to work in e.g., sociology, psychology, and geography. Just as sociology is the study of society and its problems and conflicts, logic is the theory of inquiries in the various fields and disciplines. And the results of thought in these secondary disciplines must similarly be judged by how well they contribute to restoring the flow of primary experience by aiding actors in moving beyond hesitation and getting on with their affairs without resistance and conflict.

As Dewey puts it, the test of thought lies outside of thought. That is, work within university disciplines is subjected to a double test. First it must meet the staandards imposed by the approved methods within the discipline. The work does not yield "results" until that happens. But then these results themselves must be tested in the flow of experience that lies on the other side of the second stage of thought. It is in this sense that knowledge is good only if it works in experience.

This framework assigns two roles for the scholarship of engagement.

On the input side, problems framed for inquiry must be sensitive at some point, and in some way, to the real world needs that give rise to disciplined thought. There must, in other words, be a scholarship of engagement at the input point, at the border between the first stage of thought and the second, that influences the research agenda. Scholarship regarding the economics of the world food supply, in other words, must be alive to the doubts, hesitations, resistances and conflicts which make the food situation unbalanced or disturbed. There must be scholars in the field, so to speak, with in-person, face to face knowledge of farmers, hungry people, refugees, multi-national corporate decision makers, non-governmental organizations and social movement activists.

There also has to be a scholarship of engagement at the output side. This is a scholarship of translating academic knowledge into knowledge resources for practical ends, working with knowledge users, discovering what is useful and what is notin practice. And then communicating those discoveries back into the academy in such a way as to modify the research agenda so that subsequent academic work won't remain sterile and irrelevant.

The test of primary experience does not apply to each and every inquiry within academia. At the input stage it is the research agenda that is subject to this test. At the output stage it is the collective results of a field that are tested in this way. Within academia, that is, within the second stage of thought, there are all manner of internal inquiries, which may arguably be necessary to take up the problems of the world and move towards potentially useful conclusions confirmed by accepted methods. But if academic knowledge is to be more than a sterile game, it requires a scholarship of engagement to test its worth in primary experience and redirect it if it fails that test.

Writing to Make a Difference and Change the World

Tired of writing to hear your own voice? No longer excited to see your name in print and want something more?

Two books offer advice about how to make a difference and change the world. Both address the concerns of engaged scholars.

The first is Writing a Book that Makes a Difference, by Philip Gerard. It's designed to help you find your own big idea, check out its worthiness, develop it, and connect to the reader. Written in 2000, it does not touch on the new media formats such as blogs and e-books. It is strictly about writing books.

The second is Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher, author of (among other influential change books) Reviving Ophelia. Pipher's book is to my eye simpler and more direct, perhaps because she devotes a lot of attention to the sorts of simple and direct communications found in blogs, short articles, and op ed pieces.

If you want to un-learn the writing habits of academia and learn new ones that allow you to connect and make a difference try one or both of these valuable guides.