Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review of "Powers of the Mind. . ."

From TC Record:

coverTitle: Powers of the Mind: The Reinvention of Liberal Learning in America
Author(s): Donald N. Levine
Publisher: University of Chicago Press, Chicago
ISBN: 0226475530 , Pages: 256, Year: 2006

reviewed by James Horn � March 05, 2007
Search for book at

Even as the University of Chicago’s rich liberal arts foundations were still being poured in 1918, former faculty member Thorstein Veblen (1918), offered this observation on the ambitious rise of the American university superstructure:

It is always possible, of course, that this pre-eminence of intellectual enterprise in the civilization of the Western peoples is a transient episode; that it may eventually—perhaps even precipitately, with the next impending turn in the fortunes of this civilization—again be relegated to a secondary place in the scheme of things and become only an instrumentality in the service of some dominant aim or impulse, such as a vainglorious patriotism, or dynastic politics, or the breeding of a commercial aristocracy (Chapter 1, para 18).

Like many insights neglected long enough for them to become prophetic, Veblen’s prescience became clear to Donald Levine near the end of a career at Chicago that paralleled and crisscrossed the high times for the Chicago tradition of liberal learning.

Donald Levine began his undergraduate education at the University of Chicago in 1946, and he has been there pretty much ever since. His retirement in March 2007 marked forty-five years of distinguished service, including a stint as Dean of the College (the undergraduate program) during the 1980s. Sociologist, Simmel scholar, historian of liberal arts education, and aikido enthusiast, Levine embodies the spirit of the University of Chicago’s cross-disciplinary tradition, and it is that same decorous, yet bold, civilizing spirit that directs Powers of the Mind: The Reinvention of Liberal Arts Learning, Levine’s homage to the University of Chicago’s first hundred years of ground-breaking undergraduate curriculum making.

If the ongoing educational project at Chicago first resembles something akin to an unstable emulsion of experimentalism added to perennialism, it is because of the creative tension that began and which still emanates from the mixed influences of John Dewey and Robert Maynard Hutchins, the two titans who shaped the University’s “most distinctive contribution to the general education movement” (p. 185). If Dewey and Hutchins provided the philosophical material to work with, crafting the synthesis became the mission of subsequent generations of truly gifted and dedicated communities of scholars and curriculum makers, whose innovations into this century continue to honor the legacy of both Dewey and Hutchins. Levine gives two of these innovators, in particular, their own chapters: Richard McKeon, the brilliant and lastingly-influential scourge of many former University of Chicago undergraduates, including Susan Sontag and Richard Rorty; and Joseph Schwab, political moralist, maverick, methodological pluralist, and the pragmatist’s pragmatist in all matters pedagogical.

As proponents for liberal arts learning, both McKeon and Schwab focused on preserving the best of the past by continuing to reconceptualize it in ways that allow humans to experience the world anew and with good benefit to their intellectual and moral catholicity. Always fresh, interdisciplinary, and forward thinking, neither, in fact, ever became trapped by epistemic antiquarianism or by a sacrosanct shelf of books canonized for the benefit of its own exclusive perpetuation. Thus, in the ongoing undergraduate curriculum experiments at Chicago by McKeon, Schwab, Redfield and others, Hutchins’ propensity for preservation became mollified by Dewey’s instrumentalism, just as Dewey’s potential for idealization became solidified by Hutchins’ textual grounding.

It is this theme, then, of cogent consensus-building between the two alternating currents of Dewey and Hutchins that Levine massages throughout this engaging chronicle, collective biography, and undergraduate curriculum map all rolled together into a classy Chicago blend of pedagogical history. If in the process of epistemic peacemaking, Levine allows Hutchins’ and Dewey’s differences to be airbrushed by a coating of commonalities that fails to entirely cover in places, such a gloss is made forgivable by Levine’s repeated demonstrations of Dewey’s democratic experimentalism and Hutchins’s carefully-packed perennialism blended and layered to make a half-century of truly impressive examples of general education initiatives intent upon exploiting the relevance of the past to preserve a better future.

Not all of Levine’s focus is toward the past. In fact, he offers to the 21st century no less than a new paradigm for the continued reconfiguration of the liberal arts core, one based on neither subject nor discipline, but on the powers of the mind that become defined by each generation as the universal skills needed by modern civilization. Rather than seven elements that form the trivium and quadrivium, the Eight Powers are grouped under two quartets: the Powers of Prehension and the Powers of Expression. Quite ingeniously, it seems to me, Levine grounds these distinctions and their components in the most basic of human activities—breathing. Whereas prehension involves taking in, or inhaling (whether perceiving, moving, comprehending, or understanding), expression entails the outward movement toward forming, integrating, inventing, and communicating. Just as prehension fits the Hutchins focus on intellectual receptivity, expression embodies Dewey’s mandate for creative action. This continued enfolding of the Hutchins-Dewey complementarity is no coincidence. By extending it, Levine proves, once again, that he is thoroughly Chicago, in the best sense of that designation.

Levine tells us that on the way to writing this book, which began as a defense of the intellectual and moral development goals that have guided liberal arts education at Chicago, he ran into a bigger threat to the Chicago tradition than the misdirected ideological sniping that had broken out following the appearance of Allen Bloom’s (1987) The Closing of the American Mind. Who could have known 20 years ago, when Bloom was crafting a defense of his own version of the liberal arts tradition, that the most potent threat to the liberal arts would not come in the form of the anti-humanistic bogeymen of postmodernism, but, rather, in an out-of-control and amorphous form of modernism, itself.

This new metastasizing variety of modernism re-defines progress as unconstrained, runaway economic growth that, in the process of redefining students and faculty as tuition-generating and grant-generating units, respectively, sacrifices the health of the host in order to feed what will eventually cause its death if left untreated. In the process of writing this book, then, Levine realized that the real threat to sustaining the Chicago tradition was a creeping corporatism that assesses every curricular decision on the singular basis of generating more dollars for the university. That this book provides a retrospective on Chicago’s expansive experiments rather than a more current accounting is a sad reminder of “the ethos now sweeping the world and therewith many universities, an ethos that prizes quick fixes, instant gratifications, self-aggrandizement, and expanded gated communities based increasingly on the market model” (p. xiii).

As rich as the Chicago story is, then, and as quietly exuberant as Levine remains for the relevance of the Chicago tradition to the educational mission of advancing humanity, there runs through this book an inescapable sense of loss that is not matched by any appropriate level of indignation. Though there is ample rational justification to look to Chicago’s past accomplishments for sound clues to building a future for humanistic learning, Levine’s gentle persistence, in the end, represents an exiled intellectual’s note in a carefully-prepared bottle, offering precise coordinates and detailed directions to a handsome treasure that may be found with a little luck and some hard digging. Only time will tell whether those steaming past on their busy commercial vessels will ever take note of this bobbing speck of shimmering hope for the future of the liberal arts mission.


Bloom, A. (1987). The closing of the American mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Veblen, T. (1918). The higher learning in America: A memorandum on the conduct of universities by business men. Retrieved February 2, 2007, from

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fascinating New Article on Education and Global Development

I found this article by Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee fascinating. In the second half, he explores the evidence around the relationships between education and development, focusing on India. While this is far out of my area of expertise (Raji?) the article feels pretty evenhanded. He expores the complexities involved in figuring out what aspects of a particular system result in social changes more broadly, finding an almost endless hall of mirrors in the "answers" different economists have found.

An interesting paragraph:
Consider, as an illustration, one of the perennial favorite projects in the policymaking world: investing in education. There are three things that cross-country data tells about this. First, richer countries invest a higher fraction of their incomes in education. Second, more education in 1960 predicts faster subsequent income growth. Third, and much more surprising, between 1960 and 1985, there seems to be no relation between investment in education (measured by the increase in the number of years the average person spends in school) and growth in incomes. Some of the countries that invested the most in education grew very fast (Taiwan, Singapore, Korea), but others (Angola, Mozambique, Zambia) did disastrously.
And part of his overall conclusion, which, of course, resonates with the experience in the US:
The problem, in the end, is that we economists and development experts are still thinking in machine mode—we are looking for the right button to push. Education is one such button. Within education, there are more buttons: Economists talk of decentralization, incentives, vouchers, competition. Education experts talk about pedagogy. Government officials seem to swear by teacher training. If only we could do it right, whatever the favored “it” might be, we would be home free.

The reason we like these buttons so much, it seems to me, is that they save us the trouble of stepping into the machine. By assuming that the machine either runs on its own or does not run at all, we avoid having to go looking for where the wheels are getting caught and figuring out what small adjustments it would take to get the machine to run properly. To say that we need to move to a voucher system does not oblige us to figure out how to make it work—how to make sure that parents do not trade in the vouchers for cash (because they do not attach enough value to their children’s education) and that schools do not take parents for a ride (because parents may not know what a good education looks like). And how to get the private schools to be more effective—after all, at least in India, even children who go to private schools are nowhere near grade level. And many other messy details that every real program has to contend with.

(Also see this nice summary of current writing on poverty in the US)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Educating the Whole Child - what we owe our students

Let me explain why I am posting this here. In a time when national educational policy is under serious discussion, it seems important to me that we consider issues beyond those that NCLB seems to address. While I wrote the material below for dailykos, as will be event by the text at the end, it seems relevant enough to offer it to this community as well. If people strongly object, let me know and I will come back and delete it.

Oh, and by the way, when I first tried to post it, it seemingly came up garbaged, so this is a repost after I deleted the original version.

crossposted from dailykos

Each moment we live never was before and will never be again. And yet what we teach children in school is 2 + 2 = 4 and Paris is the capital of France. What we should be teaching them is what they are. We should be saying: "Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been another child exactly like you. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel." -Pablo Casals

The quote above is an epigraph from a new report of "the Commission on The Whole Child" published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development entitled The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action (this is a PDF). I urge you to keep reading.

For those who do not know about ASCD it describes itself as "a community of educators, advocating sound policies and sharing best practices to achieve the success of each learner" and consists of "175,000 educators from more than 135 countries and 58 affiliates. Our members span the entire profession of educators - superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members." I am a member of ASCD.

As a teacher I know that what occurs in my classroom is a small part of educating my students, even in my own domain of social studies. As a music major who teaches government and also coaches soccer, it has always been clear to me that school is about far more that mere intellectual development. History is replete with examples of the damage done when we develop the intellect and fail to develop behavior, morality, concern for others, physical awareness, and so on. And in a liberal democracy (for those two words are an accurate description in political science terms of our form of government) we should not be attempting to force all students to be the same - our society is enriched and enlivened by our variety and our differences, and our educational practices should be informed by an awareness of the importance of and respect for those differences.

I remind people that a few days ago I wrote a diary entitled Imagine in which I argued that given the exact uniqueness of each of us our educational system should reflect that, including in its assessment practices (one reason I have trouble, btw, with our overreliance upon high stakes standardized testing). At the time I wrote that diary I had not read this report.

Since it is a 36 page PDF that is available for free, I will not make extensive quotations. But I do want to give a few selections to whet your appetite for its contents.

The following two selections are from a letter from the Commission cochairs, Stephanie Pace Marshall and Hugh B. Price, and appear on page 6 of the PDF:

1. This report frames education within the most fundamental context - the personalized engagement and nurturing of the whole child.

2. It describes how the focus on one size fits all education has marginalized the uniqueness of our children and eroded their capacity to learn in whole, healthy, creative, and connect ways.

3. It offers a new learning compact with our children that rightly puts the children and learning needs within the center of every educational program and resource decision.

When we commit educating whole children within the context of whole communities and whole schools, we commit to designing learning environments that weave together the threads that connect no only math, science, the arts, and humanities, but also mind, heart, body and spirit - connections that tend to be fragments in our current approach.
If the whole child were truly at the center of each educational decision, as ASCD Executive Direct Gene Carter posits (see p. 4), we would create learning conditions that enable all children to develop all of their gifts and realize their fullest potential. We would enable children to reconnect to their communities and their own diverse learning resources, and we would deeply engage each child in learning. Finally, if the child were at the center, we would integrate all the ways children come to know the natural world, themselves, and one another, so that they can authentically take their place in creating a better future for all.
It is time that the United States begin a new conversation about K-12 education by asking, "What is possible now?" IT is our conviction that given what we now know about learning and development, we can do better and we can do more. And when we can do more, then we should do more."

ASCD has taken a position that academic achievement " is but one element of student learning and development and only a part of any system of educational accountability." It argues for a combination of elements that "support the development of a child who is healthy, Knowledgeable, motivated, and engaged." (this is from ASCD's position on the Whole Child which can be found on p. 7 of the PDF). It sees this as a cooperative effort by communities, schools, and teachers, each responsible for providing part of the necessary context. A few of the points for each sector (and in each case there are several more):


- family support and involvement

- Government, civic, and business support and resources


- challenging and engaging curriculum

- a safe, healthy, orderly, and trusting environment

- a climate that supports strong relationships between adults and students


- evidence-based assessment and instructional practices

- rich content and an engaging learning climate

- student and family connectedness

While I am going to urge people to download and read the entire report (don't I always encourage you to go to the source and not depend upon my interpretation? I do try to be a good teacher) I want to give two more summaries of what to expect.

The report will tell you on p. 10 (p. 14 in the PDF) that a whole child is

- intellectually active

- physically, verbally, socially, and academically competent

- empathetic, kind, caring, and fair

- creative and curious

- disciplined, self-direct, and goal oriented

- free

- a critical thinker

- confident

- cared for and valued

Elements of the compact are presented in a graphically rich display on p. 9 (p. 13 of the PDF)for which I give just the text:

- Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle

- Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults

- Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community

- Each student has accessed to personalized learning and to qualified, caring adults

- Each graduate is prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment

I have not had time to parse the document in as much detail as I might like. As with many things, there are points with which I might quibble. For example, on the last of the points of the compact, for far too many of our young people the economic future we are currently presenting to them has little connection with a global environment: flipping burgers or greeting people in a Walmart will seem very disconnected from anything global, and as a result may well not provide a motivation to be serious about present and future educational opportunities. But then, school cannot fix many of the problems of the larger society, and even this statement represents an aspiration, a goal to which we should be dedicated in the belief that we can model our schooling to match our hopes for all of our children and for the society which we will bequeath to them. We can hope, even against hope.

This diary is not part of the official Education Uprising /Educating for Democracy effort, that is, our efforts for the educational panel(s) at the forthcoming Yearlykos. But the content is intimately interconnected with the issues with which we have been wrestling in our presentations to you.

I hope that at least a few of you will find this useful, and that this diary will not simply scroll into oblivion with no notice. But that I leave to the larger community.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Will the Privileged Ever Help Inner-City Kids Because they Care? Nope. It's a Fantasy

A wide range of scholars, including Nel Noddings and Hannah Arendt, have discussed the "caring" problem. Fundamentally, people can't care about groups of people, only individuals.

An article in Foreign Policy lays out some of the empirical research behind these arguments.

Psychologists have found that the statistics of mass murder or genocide—no matter how large the numbers—do not convey the true meaning of such atrocities. The numbers fail to trigger the affective emotion or feeling required to motivate action. In other words, we know that genocide in Darfur is real, but we do not “feel” that reality. In fact, not only do we fail to grasp the gravity of the statistics, but the numbers themselves may actually hinder the psychological processes required to prompt action.
In fact, it turns out that the problem is even worse than one might have thought.
[In a recent study,] donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people’s feelings of compassion toward the young victim.

Other recent research shows similar results. Two Israeli psychologists asked people to contribute to a costly life-saving treatment. They could offer that contribution to a group of eight sick children, or to an individual child selected from the group. The target amount needed to save the child (or children) was the same in both cases. Contributions to individual group members far outweighed the contributions to the entire group. A follow-up study by Daniel Västfjäll, Ellen Peters, and me found that feelings of compassion and donations of aid were smaller for a pair of victims than for either individual alone. The higher the number of people involved in a crisis, other research indicates, the less likely we are to “feel” for each additional death.

When writer Annie Dillard was struggling to comprehend the mass human tragedies that the world ignores, she asked, “At what number do other individuals blur for me?” In other words, when does “compassion fatigue” set in? Our research suggests that the “blurring” of individuals may begin as early as the number two.
This doesn't mean that it is not possible at all to appeal, for example, to people's sense of fairness in a more general sense.

For example, a few years ago, our local organizing group was part of an effort that successfully increased the number of low-income schools with extra funding to support smaller class sizes. A legislature dominated by republicans and rural legislators not generally sympathetic to my city actually ended up funding more schools than we had asked for or expected.

I have no direct evidence of this, but it seems possible that the image of forty kids in a classroom was a compelling enough story to make these votes "common sense."

There is a difference, however, between a sense of fairness and actual compassion for the victims of oppression. This is why organizing groups generally present testimonies from individuals in their efforts to encourage their own constituency and responsiveness from those they seek to target. But this research indicates that there may actually be a conflict between the compassion these testimonies generate and the necessary presentation of statistics that accompanies them as justifications.

Of course, this barrier to compassion is only magnified by the intense racial and class segregation that afflicts our society.

If these studies are accurate, the problem is not that people don't care, it's that people can't care. And they indicate that the appeals to "reason" that are at the center of most academic scholarship about inequality may actually reduce readers' ability to feel compassion.

What do these findings mean for efforts to foster equity in education?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Parallels Between NCLB and Bush's Iraq Policy

[Kevin Drum] What an infuriating article on the No Child Left Behind Act in the Washington Post tonight. The question is whether NCLB's requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 is achievable, and the answer, as almost everyone in the article acknowledges, is no. 100% isn't achievable for anything. Everyone knows that. Nonetheless, here's a sampling of Republican bloviating on the subject:

"We need to stay the course," U.S. Deputy Education Secretary Raymond Simon said. "The mission is doable, and we don't need to back off that right now." . . .

Question: Why would NCLB mandate an obviously unmeetable standard? And now that it's up for renewal, why would Republicans continue to insist on that obviously unmeetable standard?

Answer: Because the 100% goal isn't just rhetorical. It comes with penalties. If you don't meet the standard, you lose money, you're officially deemed a "failing school," and your students are eligible to transfer to other schools. And needless to say, by 2014 there won't be any satisfactory public schools to send them to because 99% of them won't have met the standard.

Followup bonus question: What incentive does anyone have to label 99% of America's public schools as failures? That's crazy, isn't it?

Answer: Anyone who wants the public to believe that public schools are failures. This would primarily consist of conservatives who want to break teachers unions and evangelicals who want to build political momentum for private school vouchers. The whole point of NCLB for these people is to make sure that as many public schools as possible are officially deemed failures.

An alternative view, from Matt Yglesias:

Kevin Drum responds:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Discussion of "Education Scholars Have Much to Learn: An Essay Review of Jeannie Oakes's and John Rogers's Learning Power"

This essay is now available at Education Review Online here.

Welcome to a discussion of my review of Jeannie Oakes's and John Rogers's new book.

Please use the comment link, below, to add your contribution.

Let me start with one of my own critiques of my review. To some extent, the essay seems to set up a relatively stark binary between Dewey's vision of collaborative democracy and Alinsky's vision of mass-based social action. Of course this is too simple and leaves out many other models. I have left the review the way it is, however. Since an understanding of robust alternatives to Deweyan forms of democratic engagement is so lacking in the field of education, currently (at least in my opinion), it seemed enough of a task just to present Alinsky at some level of adequate complexity. But it's still a limitation of the essay.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Community Organizing and Urban Education VIII: Fracturing Across Lines of Race and Class

[To read the entire series, go here.]

In my limited experience in Milwaukee with MOVE--a congregational organizing group that work with the Gamaliel Foundation which operates nationally and internationally—the larger institutionalized community organizing groups have significant issues with race and class that they don’t deal with effectively. (Later I’ll talk about how intermediary organizations like Gamaliel work with local groups). From what I have read elsewhere, this reluctance to focus specifically on race and class in favor of more pragmatic and general visions of “self interest” and coalition building is a problem with mainline community organizing groups more generally. This has apparently led to the development of new groups outside of the larger national groups that deal more directly with issues of racial identity, nationalism etc.

In its early days, MOVE was primarily made up of inner-city churches and the participants were mostly people of color. Shortly before I joined, the group decided that if they were going to have enough power to really make a difference, they were going to need to expand their membership to include churches outside the central city. Many mostly white middle-class churches joined.

What happened then is probably pretty predictable. As the whites came in, the people of color began voting with their feet.

One key problem is that middle-class, white professionals have a fundamentally different discursive style than lower-income people of color. While this issue seems to be one more of class than of race, it is important to understand that being middle-class and black on the edge of the central city places one in a much more financially and culturally marginal position than is common among middle-class professionals, as Patillo-McCoy, among others, has pointed out. So even though, as I noted earlier, it’s true that most members of congregational organizing groups come from middle-class mainline churches, what it means to be middle class, and how that links to particular discursive and cultural practices is much more complex than this observation might indicate.

A couple of stories.

For a while I attended the mostly white and mostly upper-middle-class (in culture if not in $$) Unitarian church in the city, and we mobilized a number of Unitarians to attend a talking session with some local school-board members. A number of black churches also sent members, and participants of color significantly outnumbered the number of whites. This larger groups broke up into smaller dialogue groups to come up with issue to present to the whole meeting. As I walked around, I noted that nearly all of the groups ended up having a Unitarian as their note-taker and facilitator. So when the groups presented back, most of the presenters were whites. Afterwards, predictably, the whites wondered aloud why the people of color didn’t participate as much as the whites, and the whites complained that they didn’t want to take over.

This is an incredibly common outcome when priveliged whites and less priveliged people of color come together in dialogue. As Eric H. F. Law puts it in a wonderful little book, people with privelige assume that their voice ought to count, and just naturally jump in to get heard. People with less power are less likely to make that assumption. Then the powerful wonder, “why don’t ‘those people’ talk?” And the less powerful don’t feel welcomed and they don’t come back.

There is surprisingly little in the literature about how to deal with the inevitable power differentials that emerge when priveliged whites and less priveliged people of color come together in dialogue. Many solutions involve highly trained facilitators or intensive training, but community organizing groups are much too fluid and resource limited to allow this to happen in most cases. Law came up with a process that seems to work for groups engaged in cross-cultural dialogue, but it seems to me and to other organizers I’ve talked with to be too cubersome to work in action oriented settings like community organizing meetings.

The point is not that nothing works. Instead, I am beginning to think (and others better informed about this issue may correct me) that it may simply be too dificult to find procedures that will allow equal dialogue in such settings without prohibitive amounts of educational and facilitational superstructure. The fact is that even though I know all of this, I often find myself butting in and interrupting as the white male that I am. I have real trouble even training myself out of this.

There is some evidence from classrooms and elsewhere, however, that people with less power tend to feel more empowered if they are representatives of external groups. (Of course, this idea fits quite well with more general organizing perspectives on collective power). In MOVE. I have recommended a number of times that we try to recreate spaces where there aren’t many priveliged whites, where inner-city folks can build their own sense of collective identity and then send representatives to meetings with the surrounding white churches. I have heard that there are other examples of organizations with a “black caucus” or “inner-city caucus”, but I haven’t had time to seek them out. For a range of reasons, this hasn’t happened in MOVE.

Although I haven’t been to many large MOVE events recently, I remember a couple of years ago going to training meetings and noticing that the number of participants of color was falling quickly. At one point, I heard a powerful black pastor trying explain to a group of mostly whites why “his people” weren’t coming, which also involved a lecture about the different ways his community was structured, but it didn’t seem like others really heard what he was trying to say (and I’m sure I didn’t totally get it either).

This brings us back to the Gamaliel Foundation’s reluctance to deal with these issues directly. They apparently don’t want to “get into it.” In classic Alinsky form (although there is evidence that Alinsky was more savvy than some of his followers) they try to overcome these issues simply by finding common areas of interest that will allow different groups to come together. I vividly remember a meeting where the head of the Gamaliel Foundation stood in front of a large group of members berating us for our inability to get as many people out as MOVE had done in its early days. At no point did he point out that most of his audience was white, in contrast to the early days when almost everyone would have been black.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

I am a history-education half-breed

Over on my own blog, I've been outed as a Michael B. Katz student (when writing about the new Ravitch-Meier blog) and discussed in a sideways fashion the old debate over Diane Ravitch and presentism in education historiography. (My advisor isn't the same person as Michael S. Katz, a philosopher of education at San Jose State. They're two different Michael Katzes who have written about education and been elected presidents of their respective social-foundationsish scholarly societies.)

But there's a personal story that ties in to my graduate education and says a lot about the respective position of colleges and schools of education within universities, on the one hand, and the position of social foundations within colleges and schools of education, on the other.

When I first came to the University of South Florida, I heard from my fellow new historians of education how parochial our colleagues in Arts and Sciences were. I thought that a little strange; is the cattiness erupting so soon? I wondered. A few weeks later, I attended an event with some colleagues from Arts and Sciences. I introduced myself to several other assistant professors, and one of them asked me where I had my degree from. Penn, I said.

"No," she replied. "I meant, what department did you get your degree from?"


"Oh," she said with a nod. "So you're a real historian."

I was speechless at the incredible display of parochialism. "Oh," I thought to myself, "you probably don't know that my advisor got his degree from one of those inferior schools of education, the one up in Cambridge. And you probably don't know that my fellow historians of education you insulted a few weeks ago had advisors who had their degrees in history. So we're all just history half-breeds."

This parochialism is dangerous within institutions. Social-science and humanities faculty tend to marginalize social foundations faculty without realizing that the social foundations faculty are the best inroads for their perspective in colleges of education. And faculty in colleges of education tend to marginalize social foundations faculty without realizing that they're the faculty who have the greatest link to the disciplines. And all of this marginalization made me laugh when I read p. 23 of Arthur Levine's Educating School Teachers, where he says,

From their inception, America’s schools of education have engaged in a continuing quest to gain acceptance in the academy. It’s a story of unending accommodation to win the approval first of the university, then of education schools as they expanded beyond their initial teacher education programs to include a host of new and more highly prized subjects such as school administration, educational psychology, and the liberal arts disciplines (e.g., sociology of education and history of education).

So what fantasy world does Levine live in, where sociologists and historians of education are at the acme of a college of education? As I feel whenever I've heard the (generally rare outside the head of Ahmajinedad) conspiracy-of-Jews theory, I want to ask, "So where did my secret conspiracy decoder ring and my Swiss bank accounts go?" Sometimes, I'd like that kind of authority in my own institution, but it just doesn't exist.

For more on historians working within schools of education see a discussion last November about the history of education as an interdisciplinary field, held on the H-Education e-mail list.