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.

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