Journal of Educational Controversy

OUR YOUTUBE VIDEOS FROM JECWWU CHANNEL -- 49 videos

Monday, March 18, 2019

Author Brian Schultz on the Second Edition of his book, Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way: Lessons from an Urban Classroom


In a time of endless policies that attempt to commodify and standardize educational practices, it is refreshing to read a book that reminds us of the deeply personal and relational nature of teaching.  The book, Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way: Lessons from an Urban Classroom,” by Brian Schultz is now in its second edition so we invited Brian to inform our readers about the content of his latest edition. 

Shortly before the publication of his first edition, Brian had published an article in our journal called “Living Savage Inequalities: Room 405’s Fight for Equity in Schooling,” where he first set forth his experiences teaching in an urban classroom that was to become the focus for his upcoming book.  A discussion of that article generated a rejoinder by Sherick A. Hughes entitled, “Toward a Critical Race Pedagogy of Hope: A Rejoinder to Brian Schultz.”  

Because of the importance of his book, the journal subsequently published two reviews of the book when it first came out.  One was by Carl A. Grant entitled, “Revealing Truths in a Troubled Time: A CounterNarrative,” and the other by Paula Johnson.

Brian has been on the editorial board of the Journal of Educational Controversy since its inception in 2006.  He is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Prior to joining the faculty at Miami, Brian was the Bernard J. Brommel Distinguished Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Inquiry & Curriculum Studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

Below is Brian’s description of the second edition of his book.

Brian Schultz on the Tenth Anniversary Second Edition of Spectacular Things Happen along the Way: Lessons from an Urban Classroom
The original book remains as it was originally published 10 years ago documenting how I as a teacher, alongside my 5th-grade students, co-created a curriculum based on the students’ needs, interests, and questions. Engaging with my students, who were mostly from a Chicago housing project, we develop an emergent and authentic curriculum based on what is most important to the 5th-graders—replacing their dilapidated school. As it was in the original edition, it details me as teacher in an urban school and his students juxtaposed against the powerful and entrenched bureaucracy of Chicago’s public education system.

This 10th anniversary edition adds new material on both the front and back end. In so doing, I examine how school reform continues to fail students in urban contexts, reflect on my teaching and writing from a decade ago, and offers updates on students and what became of the school. My reflections, and the ongoing insights of the students have a lot to teach us both from when they were young people and now as young adults. In the new material at the beginning, I push back on narratives of city kids, push back on common definitions of curriculum, and push back on my own storytelling. In the new materials at the end, I provide how this story fits into the neoliberal, corporatized school reform pervasive across the country and in particular in Chicago, provide updates on the school and the land where the school once stood, and provide and complicate updates on the students from Room 405. Also there is a new foreword by Pedro Noguera, “A Lesson for Teachers on Making Choices and Making a Difference" and a new afterword by Sonia Nieto, “On Teaching with Hope and Humility.”

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Tinker Turns 50 Today – A Compilation of Articles on Student Rights from the Journal of Educational Controversy


Today marks the 50th  anniversary of the  landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines, that helped define the constitutional rights of students in the public schools.  The Journal of Educational Controversy has published a number of articles on the topic over the years.
Below is a list of articles previously published in the journal.
 
1.      Strossen, Nadine and Larner, Daniel (2006) "Keeping The Constitution Inside The Schoolhouse Gate - Students' Rights Thirty Years After Tinker V. Des Moines Independent Community School District," Journal of Educational Controversy: Vol. 1 : No. 1 , Article 4.
Available at:
https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/vol1/iss1/4
 
2.      Hilden, Julie (2006) "How Judge Alito Applied the First Amendment on Campus: His Important Decision On a Public School's Anti-Harassment Policy," Journal of Educational Controversy: Vol. 1 : No. 1 , Article 6.  Available at: https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/vol1/iss1/6
 
3.      Caplan, Aaron H. (2008) "Visions of Public Education In Morse v. Frederick," Journal of Educational Controversy: Vol. 3 : No. 1 , Article 21.   Available at: https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/vol3/iss1/21
 
4.      Roberts, Nathan M. (2008) "“Bong Hits 4 Jesus”: Have Students' First Amendment Rights to Free Speech Been Changed After Morse v. Frederick?," Journal of Educational Controversy: Vol. 3 : No. 1 , Article 22.   Available at: https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/vol3/iss1/22
 
Our special issue on the “School to Prison Pipeline" also examined civil liberty and civil rights implications.  The editorial below provides a description of the issue.
Kasprisin, Lorraine (2013) "The School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Civil Rights and a Civil Liberty Issue," Journal of Educational Controversy: Vol. 7 : No. 1 , Article 1.   Available at: https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/vol7/iss1/1
  
See also our links to videos (interviews and forums) on our journal’s website. 
See especially:
INTERVIEWS FROM AUTHORS TALK LINK:
APRIL 30, 2008 - INTERVIEW WITH AARON CAPLAN, Staff Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union, Washington, Loyola Law School, California on the Morse v. Frederick case.
FORUMS FROM PUBLIC FORUMS LINK:
2018 - 19th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum, May 31, 2018.  Topic: Speech and Protest in Public Schools with Speaker, Vanessa Hernandez, Youth Policy Director, ACLU of Washington
2009 - 11th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum,  April 29, 2009 -  ACLU staff attorney Rose Spidell discusses "The School to Prison Pipeline."
2008 - 10th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum, April 30, 2008, “Democracy and Student Rights” with Aaron Caplan, Staff Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union—Washington.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Wisdom from the World’s Faiths and Traditions for 2019


Welcome back to our blog for the New Year.  We once again begin the new year with the wisdom from the different faith traditions.  The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, an organization that we have featured on our blog on different occasions, has shared with us a list of their resolutions drawn from the many traditions that make up our community.  Have your students ponder their meaning and check out the Tanenbaum resources and programs for teachers and principals at https://tanenbaum.org/programs/education/  We thank them for allowing us to share this with our readers. 

SHARED VISIONS
FOR 2019, TANENBAUM RESOLVES...


To Be Open Minded and Kind
Baha’i
Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirt of friendliness and fellowship.  

Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, Bishárát
 

To Express Love
Buddhism
Radiate boundless love towards the entire world.  Buddha

 

To Embrace Trust by Rejecting Fear
Christianity
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.  Isaiah 12:2

 

To Speak Truth
Hinduism
Truth cannot be suppressed and always is the ultimate victor.  Yajur Veda

 

To Practice the Best within Our Traditions
Islam
A man once asked the Prophet what was the best thing in Islam, and the latter replied, "It is to feed the hungry and to give the greeting of peace both to those one knows and to those one does not know."  Hadith of Bukhari
 
To Manifest Nonviolence
Jainism
Subvert anger by forgiveness.  Samanasuttan 136

 

To Educate Ourselves and Others by Confronting Fake News Head-On
Judaism
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. Proverbs 18:15
 
To Honor Earth
Native American Wisdom:
When a man moves away from nature his heart becomes hard.  Lakota Proverb

 
To Create Community
Shinto
Regard heaven as your father, earth as your mother, and all things as your brothers and sisters.  Oracle of the Kami of Atsuta

 
To Listen Deeply and Understand Others
Sikhism
To act without understanding is to lose the treasure of this human life.  Sri Guru Granth Sahib

 
To Be Grateful- Always!
Taoism
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.  Lao Tzu

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Invitation to our Readers


As we come to the end of 2018, we are preparing for future issues of the Journal of Educational Controversy.  We invite our readers to share with us the controversial issues they would like to see covered in the years ahead.  You can send your thoughts here on the blog or write us at CEP e-Journal CEP.e-Journal@wwu.edu
We have started to publish our latest issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme, “The Complexity of Collaboration: Personal Stories from a School and College Partnership.”  We will be publishing the articles incrementally for this issue.  So far, we have two articles and three videos up on our journal’s website.  Keep returning to see the latest articles that are published.
Finally, remember the June 30, 2019 deadline for our next upcoming issue of the journal on the theme, “The Ethics of Memory: What Does it Mean to Apologize for Historical Wrongs.”  See full description below.
Our best wishes for the new year to our readers across the world. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New Call for Papers: The Ethics of Memory: What Does it Mean to Apologize for Historical Wrongs


We are pleased to announce the theme for the 2019 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy.

NEW CALL FOR PAPERS

Volume 14, 2019

Theme: The Ethics of Memory: What Does it Mean to Apologize for Historical Wrongs

To apologize for a wrong committed can imply any number of things: that one has committed a wrong against another, that the wrong was done intentionally, that one committed the wrong with malice, that one is consciously aware of doing the wrong, that one has remorse, that one is seeking to right the wrong, that one feels a sense of guilt over committing the wrong,  and/or that one is seeking redemption and reconciliation.  But what does it mean for a state to apologize for an historical wrong that was committed long before its present members were born, but who may still continue to derive benefits from that wrong? Recently, a university chancellor apologized for her university's role in past racial injustices and acknowledged the “profound injustices of slavery” as she sought to reconcile the past with the present and the future. College protests around confederate statues stir conflicts between arguments over historical injustices and historical heritage.   Historical figures who laid the foundation for the enlightenment principles embedded in the founding documents are found wanting in the ethics of historical memory and identity. And the Supreme Court’s current reconsideration of affirmative action brings the issues back into the legal domain, as courts grapple with how to redress the effects of slavery and Jim Crow on educational opportunity. Alternatively, authors may find that the conceptual framework that embeds our question carries certain assumptions that ignores a framework that would center experiences like the Japanese-American internment camps or the Native American Boarding Schools rather than foregrounding them.  Would placing the experiences of those who have been wronged central to our inquiry change the very way we pose the problem.  How does the very notion of apology even look from the perspective of those who have suffered these wrongs? Words and their meanings have histories and continue through lived experiences that are named and experienced differently.  For instance, racialized and other marginalized communities often refer to ‘wronged’ as historically and generationally traumatic—perhaps a different metaphor that communicates suffering is needed?   In the midst of what is often highly contentious confrontations, this issue of the journal is seeking articles that can bring moral clarification and rigorous discernment to the topic.

Deadline for Manuscripts: June 30, 2019

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Recovered Voice of Ella Higginson to be Recognized at Celebration on November 2nd


Editor:  Readers will recall our earlier post entitled, “Meet Me at the Intersection of Lost Voices and Education: The Ella Higginson Project.”  The author, Professor Laura Laffrado, an English professor at Western Washington University and a JEC editorial board member, had just published her new book, Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature. Her book raised an important question for our readers to ponder.  What other writers need to be recovered in the literary canon and why have they been lost? 
On November 2nd a special reception to celebrate the installation of a bronze bust honoring Ella Higginson will be held in Western Libraries Reading Room from 4-6pm.

Below is the announcement of the event.  For an insightful look at the life of Ella Higginson, read Professor’s Laffrado’s earlier post at: http://journalofeducationalcontroversy.blogspot.com/2015/07/who-was-ella-higginson-award-winning.html


Ella Higginson celebration at Western Libraries set for Nov. 2
 
 

A special reception to celebrate the installation of a bronze bust honoring celebrated Pacific Northwest author Ella Rhoads Higginson will be held on Friday, Nov.2, from 4-6 p.m. The reception will take place in the Western Libraries Reading Room, (Wilson Library 4th Floor Central) and will include refreshments and live music.

At the turn of the 20th century, Higginson was the most influential Pacific Northwest literary writer in the U.S.  Among her many honors and awards, she was named the first Poet Laureate of Washington state in 1931. However, like many women writers after World War I, over time Higginson and her writings fell into obscurity. 

Higginson was a close friend of Western’s founding librarian Mabel Zoe Wilson, and her papers were ultimately deposited in the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Libraries.  Dr. Laura Laffrado of Western’s English Department conducted extensive research about Higginson in the Western Libraries Heritage Resources collections, which led to the publication of her recent book, Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature. 
As part of Laffrado’s work to restore recognition of Higginson as a significant voice in American Literature, she raised donations from generous  faculty, staff, students, friends of Western, and friends of Pacific Northwest women writers to fund the creation of the Higginson bust. The bust will be installed near the north entrance of Wilson Library, across from the portrait of Mabel Zoe Wilson.
“I am thrilled that this beautiful bronze bust will have a home in the foyer of Wilson Library, and am so pleased that Ella Higginson’s connection to Western and the Western Libraries is being recognized and celebrated,” said Laffrado.
For more information, please contact Laura Laffrado (Laura.Laffrado@wwu.edu  (360) 650-2886).
Photo of Ella Higginson courtesy of the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Free book on “Teaching for Black Lives” Available for Teachers in Seattle Public Schools


We are passing on some information from our friends at Rethinking Schools:

We've got some great news about Teaching for Black Lives — Grammy award-winning artist Macklemore and 3-time NFL pro bowler Michael Bennett have teamed up to purchase a copy of Teaching for Black Lives for every social studies and language arts teacher in Seattle Public Schools.

We're hoping that this model can be replicated in other cities throughout the United States and are hoping you can help:

1) Share this blog post with your networks: rethinkingschoolsblog.com/2018/09/18/wow-exciting-news-about-teaching-for-black-lives/

2) Share this Facebook post and Twitter post on social media (feel free to tag your favorite artist or athlete to do a similar action in another city 😀).
 

We also encourage readers to check out our current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme, “Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex.”  https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/

Monday, September 10, 2018

Journal Expanding Pool of Reviewers

The Journal of Educational Controversy is expanding its pool of reviewers.  We are also seeking additional copyeditors.  If you are interested, e-mail your resume and letter of interest to: cep-ejournal@wwu.edu

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

"Speech and Protest in Public Schools" Video Now Online


The journal's 19th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum on May 31, 2018 featured a special talk on “Speech and Protest in Public Schools” by Vanessa Hernandez, an attorney and Youth Policy Director of the ACLU of Washington.  Her lecture was videotaped and is now online on the website of the Journal of Educational Controversy.  Readers can find it on the link to "Public Forums" on the journal's site at:  https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/ or go directly to: https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/public_forums.html  A temporary link is also part of our revolving videos above on this page.

The lecture covered a wide range of topics.  The speaker discussed the law around student and teacher speech and protest in K-12 schools.  In particular, the talk focused on emerging issues around student protest, student clubs, the relationship between First Amendment and antidiscrimination protections, teachers’ use of social media and teacher and student engagement in political activity outside of school hours. 

The event was cosponsored by both the Journal of Educational Controversy and the Center of Education, Equity and Diversity at Western Washington University.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Immigration and the 4th of July


I am not sure what it means to celebrate the 4th of July.  My town celebrates the 4th with the usual family activities in the parks and the fireworks over the bay in the evening.    I do not mean to minimize family times, but we seem to be missing the whole point.  I have long imagined such celebrations to include a day of citizen seminars in libraries, bookstores, parks and homes all over the country where citizens actually read and discuss some the founding documents and their implication to current events.  What an inspiring education for our children. 

Well, I decided this morning to actually read the Declaration of Independence before the evening’s firework display.   All of us are familiar with the moving words from the beginning of the document:


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.


But I wonder how many of us actually have read the entire document.   So I decided to read more about the grievances that were enumerated and found this rather interesting one against King George III:


He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…


Apparently King George III was also concerned about immigration of non-British Europeans who would not be sufficiently loyal to the crown.  It looks like it was Germans especially that were the target in those days.

So here is my suggestion (which will never be a reality but I make it anyway as a candle in the dark). Let’s take some time today to actually read and discuss this document and perhaps relate it to the PowerPoint by Dr. Warren Blumenfeld that I featured in the post below on “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy” as a beginning.   It seems the founders were finding such immigration policies to be a grievance and an affront to freedom loving people.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Dr. Warren Blumenfeld’s PowerPoint Presentation on “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy”


For educators looking for a larger historical, political and social context within which to discuss the current issues surrounding immigration, see the link to Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld’s PowerPoint presentation below. Dr. Blumenfeld places current issues in U.S. immigration policies in an historical context in the PowerPoint: “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy.”  His presentation highlights the long racial basis and animus that underlies so much of our immigration policy from its beginnings. One theme that runs through Dr. Blumenfeld’s presentation is our notion of the “other” and how we as a nation have reacted to those who are seen as the “other.”

Dr. Blumenfeld writes: “Though politicians and members of their constituencies argue immigration policy from seemingly infinite perspectives and sides, one point stands clear and definite: decisions as to who can enter this country and who can eventually gain citizenship status generally depends on issues of 'race', for U.S. immigration systems reflect and serve as the country’s official 'racial' policies.”

 Here is a link to the PowerPoint presentation:


For a written description, see:

 

Educators: Please share how you are raising these issues in your own classroom and schools.

 

Friday, June 1, 2018

To All Those Who Would Be Teachers: Advice from Mandy Manning, 2018 National Teacher of the Year


Editor: We invited Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, to offer some advice to our students who are preparing to become teachers at the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University.  We share her advice to all who would be teachers.  Thank you Mandy!
 

 

Advice for Teacher Candidates at Western Washington University

Mandy Manning

2018 National Teacher of the Year

 

 As future teachers, you are embarking on a career with true impact. With every student who passes through your classroom, you are influencing the future.

 
I’ll never forget my first day in my own classroom in Spearman, Texas. I was teaching theatre and communications in a small rural school. Walking into that classroom the first day, I felt completely unprepared and unqualified. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure how to follow the teacher’s guide for the communications curriculum.

 
As soon as I met my students, though, I knew I’d found my place. On that first day, I looked at my class and I realized I wasn’t just there to teach communications and theatre. I was there to teach students, and those students came in all shapes and sizes and personalities. No matter how lost I felt, I knew I’d do anything to help my students grow academically and as people.

 
It took nearly half of my career—10 of my 19-years in the classroom—to realize that I did know what I was doing from that very first day.

 
I don’t want you to have to wait that long, so here is my advice for being the best teacher you can be:
 

1.     Get to know your students. Don’t just know them as learners, but know them as individual human beings. Find out what interests them, what they do outside of school, and learn about their home lives. It is only through knowledge of students that you will know how to teach them. Not only will you be able to tailor your lessons to the needs of your students, but your students will also know you care about them. Veteran educator Rita Pierson tells us in her TED Talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” You must show students you care about them in order for them to care about what you are teaching them. Moreover, use that knowledge of students to always do what’s best for them in your instruction, even when that means being a bit rebellious and adjusting the prescribed curriculum to meet the needs of the students in your classroom.

 
Also, give your students the chance to get to know their peers and connect with one another. This will help to build community in your classroom and create a safe learning environment where all students feel valued.
 

2.     Open your doors. We have a tendency to get comfortable in our classrooms, because we know we can control that environment and that we have an impact there, student-by-student. It’s our space. But, our impact shouldn’t stay only within our classroom walls. Our impact can stretch so much further if we open our doors and invite others in—community members, parents, school board members, district leaders, legislators and fellow teachers. We must also seek opportunities to observe other educators and educational environments. As educators we have much to teach our students, our colleagues, and our communities. On the flip side, we have just as much to learn and we must seek that knowledge through our colleagues and through experiences that challenge our perceptions.
 

3.     Join professional education associations, locally, statewide, and nationally. Not only have education associations provided me with some of the very best professional development, they also have helped me find my tribe - the group of people with whom I connect and can lean on for support throughout my career.
 

Education associations strive to recognize teachers as the professionals we are and give us the space to share our ideas and our perspectives. Our voice matters in the association. Most importantly, a single voice does not always bring the changes we need to see in our classrooms, schools, districts or states. Oftentimes it takes a collective voice. Education associations are that collective voice to amplify our ideas to impact policies that in turn impact our classrooms.

 
As you look out at your classroom of students on your first day, you will see the hope and potential on each of their faces. This is your purpose and your impact as a teacher: to help students see their own potential, to provide them tools and skills to meet that potential, and to guide them in creating a plan to achieve their dreams. No matter what anxiety you might be feeling that first day, remember it is our honor and our privilege as educators to shape the future, one student at a time.

Friday, May 11, 2018

19th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum will Feature “Speech and Protest in Public Schools”


The 19th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum will feature a speaker who will talk about “Speech and Protest in Public Schools.”  The lecture will cover a wide range of topics. The event is cosponsored by both the Journal of Educational Controversy and the Center of Education, Equity and Diversity. 

 Title of Lecture: Speech and Protest in Public Schools
 Speaker: Vanessa Hernandez, Youth Policy Director of the ACLU of Washington

Speaker will discuss the law around student and teacher speech and protest in K-12 schools.  In particular, the talk will focus on emerging issues around student protest, student clubs, the relationship between First Amendment and antidiscrimination protections, teachers’ use of social media and teacher and student engagement in political activity outside of school hours.

 The event will take place at:

Western Washington University
Center for Education, Equity and Diversity
Miller Hall 005
Thursday, May 31, 2018
4pm

 Bio of Speaker:  

Vanessa Hernandez formerly managed the ACLU-WA’s Second Chances Project, serving the legal needs of people reentering society from prisons and jails.  She is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law, where she was a Gates Public Service Law Scholar.  Prior to law school, Vanessa taught middle school history and drama, and is the parent to two children in Seattle Public Schools.

“My job is to fight to keep young people in schools and out of prisons and jails. I work with policy makers and community members to replace punishment-based approaches with positive, preventative, and restorative approaches that can eliminate pipelines to mass incarceration.”

The Journal of Educational Controversy has published several articles in this area. For example, see "Visions of Public Education in Morse v. Frederick" at: https://cedar.wwu.edu/jec/vol3/iss1/21/

See also our special issue on the "School to Prison Pipeline" and our Video Interviews with Authors.

This event is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Editor: In 2013 on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I shared these reflections with our readers.  On this day, in memory of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life was ended 50 years ago today,  I am re-posting it to remember the influence one life can have.


Personal Reflections on the Influence of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Commencement Address Two Months Before the 1963 March on Washington

I first learned about the March on Washington from Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the commencement speaker at my June 1963 graduation from the College of the City of New York. With the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Washington coming up on August 28th, I have been thinking about that commencement event that occurred just two months before the march and the effect that it was to have on my life. In fact, the events of those years had a profound influence on who I was to become as a person. They shaped my social conscience. They shaped the kind of moral questions that I continue to raise in my life even today. And they shaped the type of choices that I made in my life--- my decision to be a teacher, my decision to study philosophy - seriously and deeply, my decision to try to raise the old Socratic questions about the good life and the just society that Socrates raised 2500 years ago and which Dr. King was to raise later under a different set of circumstances, at a different moment in history, to my generation. Ultimately, it led to the creation of the Journal of Educational Controversy and this blog.


 In 1991, I was asked to deliver my own commencement address at Western Washington University as that year’s recipient of the university’s teaching award. The address gave me an opportunity to think about the nature of such speeches and their purpose. I decided to take a different approach from the traditional ones that are delivered at most commencements. Rather than viewing my own commencement address as an event in time and space - a talk given on the morning of December 14, 1991 in a small university town, I chose to treat it as a conversation that occurs through time - from Dr. King's words to me at my graduation - filtered through my life's experiences over the years – then to the young audience of new graduates as they embarked on their own journey and continued the conversation with their own generation. It was in a sense a conversation from one generation to the next about the questions that are central to why we educate - questions about the kind of persons we become - and ultimately, questions about the kind of community we create. It is a conversation, I might add, that is sadly lacking in the public debate of our time. One has only to listen to the media each night to see how far we are from a true conversation on these questions.


 I remember first talking about the nature of an authentic conversation and ways that it differs from the many false versions of it, for example, political conversations that have been increasingly reduced to a manipulation of the voter through effective 90 second sound-bites over the airwaves where issues become mere vehicles for projecting images rather than the source of concerned social debate. I remember talking about the way conversations about public education in this country have become increasingly articulated in a language in which impersonal, technical thinking dominates -- generating an educational ethos in which ethics as a category of discussion is largely suppressed. The liberal language of social action and social critique has been more and more reduced to a language of social control. But even those conversations which seem to affirm human agency and assert liberal values become emptied of their content when they are used inauthentically. The same words that can be used in a genuine, meaningful public debate can also be used to silence. Earlier in the last century, the American philosopher and educator, John Dewey expressed this concern when he wrote:


Even when the words remain the same they mean something very different when they are uttered by a minority struggling against repressive measures and when expressed by a group that, having attained power, then uses ideas that were once weapons of emancipation as instruments for keeping the power and wealth it has obtained. Ideas that at one time are means of producing social change assume another guise when they are used as a means of preventing further social change.1


 I pondered with my young audience about the nature of a more authentic conversation. For one thing, a conversation is not something that can be received or transmitted from one person to another; it has to be entered into; it has to be engaged in. Furthermore, it establishes a certain kind of relationship between us and the other - a relationship in which both remain as subjects and neither are objectified and dehumanized by being made into an object for the other. Essentially, there are two features I distinguished:



First, to enter into a true conversation requires us to really hear the other. We often listen but we seldom really hear. To understand the world of the other, whether the other is in the present or in the past, is to understand the ways the other has come to give meaning to our common experience, to understand the categories and concepts that shape its sense of social reality. It means to see the other, as much as is possible, from the inside - from a different reference point from our own. As the philosopher, Cora Diamond describes it, "Coming to understand a conceptual life other than our own involves exercise of concepts belonging to that life. When I understand what you say, I am using concepts internal to your thought."2 It is to appreciate what it means for persons or cultures to have such concepts as live notions governing their being in the world.



For example, only now are many of us beginning to comprehend our fragile relationship with our planet as the ozone slowly depletes and our rivers and lakes pollute. Our 19th century optimism about progress, science and technology, our dominion over the earth left us with a language and a conceptual framework that blocked us from seeing another way of relating to the earth. But ironically, it is a way that Jamake Highwater, of the Blackfeet Nation, talks about in his book, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America.3 When one enters into his world, words like "wilderness" take on a whole different meaning. Indeed, Highwater talks about the alienation he felt in seeing the way certain ideas he had grown up with found their way into English words. When thinking about what is implied by our word, "wilderness," he writes, "After all, the forest is not 'wild' in the sense that it is something needing to be tamed or controlled and harnessed. For Blackfeet Indians, the forest is the natural state of the world. It is the cities that are wild and seem to need 'taming.' For most primal peoples the earth is so marvelous that the connotation of it requires it to be spelled in English with a capital 'E.' How perplexing it is to discover two English synonyms for Earth - 'soil' and 'dirt' - used to describe uncleanliness, soiled and dirty. And how upsetting it is to discover that the word 'dirty' in English is also used to depict obscenities!"4 What does it mean to see the world with the conceptual framework governing Jamake Highwater's vision of the world? By entering Highwater's world, I see a different way of relating to the earth - a relationship characterized by awe and respect rather than ownership and exploitation. In a film featuring Jamake Highwater, he talked about taking his mother to New York City for her first visit and he showed her all the usual landmarks including the famous Central Park. Central Park is like a little oasis in the center of Manhattan with all the huge skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of the city surrounding it. When he asked his mother what her impressions were, she thought for a moment and then said, "I see they even put their trees on a reservation." In all the years that I lived in New York, I had never really thought of it that way.



But an authentic conversation requires more than entering into the world of the other for I could simply use that new understanding to exploit the other, or perhaps, more benignly, to simply bring the other within my own framework of understanding rather than expanding my understanding to include the other. I'd like to suggest that to enter into a true conversation, I must be willing to allow the understanding that I gain from that encounter to question my own conventional and habitual ways of seeing - to expand the horizon of my understanding by rendering aspects of my own world problematic as a result of that encounter.



In a very real sense a true conversation allows us to see ourselves for the first time. We are all born into a world that acculturates and socializes us into certain ways of seeing. Indeed, even the language we learn contains within it the structures and categories that give meaning to our experience. Our culture provides us with the lens - or the pair of glasses - that we use to make the world intelligible to us. But that same pair of glasses can also trap us from seeing the world in other ways. It becomes our frame of reference and begins to be taken for granted to the point that its control over our perceptions of the world is no longer seen. It becomes what we see with but cannot see through. In fact, it begins to be experienced as natural, as part of the natural scheme of things, rather than as a human and social construct. In an authentic conversation with the other, the hidden assumptions and cultural categories that have been largely taken for granted can suddenly be brought to the surface and revealed to our consciousness as only one of many possibilities. It can reveal ourselves to ourselves, but unfortunately, this self-revelation is not always comfortable as any proponent in a Socratic dialogue was soon to find out.



In fact, history has shown different responses that we make to conversations that begin to strip the fabric of the selves that we have created, that begin to question the certainties that we have lived by, that begin to make our conventional ways of seeing no longer tenable for us. One response is to go into denial - to deny the truths that are slowly coming to the surface of our consciousness - to deny that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Another response is to withdraw -- to retreat from the conversation completely. A third response, and one that unfortunately happens with too great a frequency, is to become defensive and to attack the other. But a fourth response is possible also, if we have the courage, if we have the concern, if we have the wisdom. There is the possibility for us and the other to reconstruct and reconstitute a new social reality which encompasses our new understanding and provides the conditions for a more ethical and humane existence. Indeed, the philosopher, John Dewey equated education itself with a continuous reconstruction and reorganization of our social experience - a reconstruction of the conditions of our lives.5



In many ways, the notion of a conversation can be a very powerful metaphor for the process of education itself. For education is an invitation into the conversation of life. It is something that cannot be merely received; it must be entered into; it must be engaged in; often it must be reclaimed, especially, those voices that have been neglected and silenced in the past. It is a conversation not merely about making a living, but a conversation about the kinds of lives that are worth living and the kinds of society that can make those lives possible.



Unfortunately, education can only invite us into the conversation; it cannot guarantee that we accept the invitation. Too often we can go through the motions of life without really engaging in it. We can easily begin to see our education, for example, as an accumulation of university credits without ever asking ourselves what we are becoming as result of our education - what we are allowing ourselves to be influenced by. Even in the darkest moments of our own history, too many people and too many institutions remained silent when they should not have. Even universities offered little moral resistance to the barbarism that engulfed much of our world in the last century. I remember a haunting passage in George Steiner's book. Language and Silence.6 Unlike writers like Matthew Arnold who could assert confidently that our education, especially our education in the literary and philosophical traditions, could humanize us, Steiner was less convinced as he recalled how easily people educated in what he called the "culture of traditional humanism" could read the poetry of Goethe and Rilke the night before they sent others to their deaths in gas chambers.



That was the conversation that Dr. King had with my generation as he struggled with the injustices and the inhumanity of his time and called upon us to face the moral blindness of our age and to fulfill this nation's dream of social justice. It left me with the questions that I shared with this new generation on that commencement day. I asked them to think about what our education demands of us? Is it enough to have some knowledge of society but not feel its injustices? To know some science but not care about the uses to which it is put? To become technically proficient and yet be blinded to the moral context in which our technical expertise will affect the lives of people? To understand something about economics but not care that huge numbers of our children are now living in poverty in this country? What is our responsibility in continuing the conversation? What is our responsibility in awakening others to these questions? What is our responsibility in making the institutions we enter more responsive to human needs? What is our responsibility in elevating the public debate in this country by raising the quality of its arguments and deepening an understanding of its moral significance?



I told my young audience that morning that it was their conversation now --- if they chose to enter into it -- if they chose to engage in it. I wished them well on their journey and on the choices they would make in their lives.



One of the unknown consequences of our words as teachers is to never really know whom we reach. I do know how I was reached that day in 1963 when I heard the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. at my own commencement. This journal and its blog are a testimony to that witness.



1. John Dewey, "The Future of Liberalism," in The Collected Works. Later Works. 1934, pp. 255-277.

2. Cora Diamond, "Losing Your Concepts," Ethics 98 (January 1988): 276.

3. Jamake Highwater, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

4. Ibid., p. 5.

5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: The Free Press, 1966).

6. George Steiner. Language and Silence: Essavs on Language. Literature and the Inhuman (New York: Atheneum, 1972).