A Book I’d Like to Write
I wrote my dissertation between 2002 and 2006. Since then I’ve gone back to school to get a Master’s degree in education so that I could be certified as a high school teacher. I’ve been an adjunct in philosophy alongside my day job as a social studies teacher, so I haven’t left the philosophical world entirely. But I’ve been wondering lately if I should pick up some of the academic threads I’ve left laying around since I defended my thesis.
At this point I don’t know if going back into a six-year-old thesis and trying to bring it up to date is my best move. But I might be able to take the themes and a lot of the ideas and find a way to use them in a new way. What I’d like to do in this post is sketch out a mini-proposal and then ask for feedback, especially for any readers in the education community. If this sounds like something that might be a useful part of the dialogue, I’ll pursue it.
First, some context. My dissertation was an attempt to take John Dewey’s work on philosophy, education, and democracy and show how the pieces fit together, and then use that information to construct a vision for what democratic reform should aspire to achieve. Its rough structure was as follows:
- Chapter 1 outlined Dewey’s philosophical position on the nature of the world and our knowledge of it, especially his philosophical pragmatism and his argument in favor of a method of scientific thinking.
- Chapter 2 applied that scientific method to questions of right and wrong in order to try to answer the question, “How should we live our life?” The basic answer was that we should live our life in a way that allows all of us to grow as people.
- Chapter 3 continued that argument and stated that the best way for us to grow as people was to live in a truly democratic culture and society, where people work together to understand the world and the effects of their actions. Dewey’s theory of democracy was compared to other theories, especially those within the field of “deliberative democracy.”
- Chapter 4 asked the question, “if building a democratic culture is the right thing to do, how do we do it?” I constructed a ten-point model of guidelines that reformers should try to achieve in order to increase their success.
- Chapter 5 tested the model by examining the history of the settlement house movement, especially the work of Jane Addams and others at Hull House.
- Chapter 6 tested the model by examining the history of the black civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, especially the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
- Chapter 7 was basically a conclusion, but I also noted that one thing that Dewey had not really accounted for is the potential of war to derail any efforts at democratic improvement.
Now, this historical work in chapters 5 and 6 was based almost completely on secondary sources. Part of me would love to do more case studies – I have a hunch that in a few years, there’s going to be a lot of fascinating documentation of the relationship between Barack Obama’s grassroots volunteers and the central staff, and there are lots of lessons to be learned from the Occupy movement. But what I’m thinking is that maybe now I could use the research and first hand experience I’ve had with education in the last six years to focus more specially on the relationship between education and democracy.
What I’m thinking of is something like a three or four part project.
- Part 1 would articulate a theory of democracy, still heavily influenced by Dewey. Maybe something like a condensed version of chapters 1 and 2 from the thesis and elaboration/updating of chapter 3.
- Part 2 would ask what citizens would need to know, understand, and do in such a democracy and envision how schools could help build these skills and practices. It would probably be built around a version of the model from chapter 4, but with the more specific aim of creating a school as a democratic reform movement.
- Part 3 would discuss the reasons why few, if any, American schools resemble the model from Part 2. This would be a combination of academic research on education and educational psychology; policy wonk discussion of current laws, practices, and structures; and reflections and observations from my own teaching experience. The disconnect between the research and the practice, especially in the political/lawmaking sphere, would have a heavy focus.
- Part 4 would discuss reasons for optimism and try to point out some directions for future improvement. Again, there’d be a mix of academic research and personal reflections, although I think I would also like to talk to a lot of the teachers I know online and offline to add their insights as well.
I think this could be an interesting book, and I think I could do a good job writing it. I honestly don’t know if it would produce anything journal-worthy, but that’s not a super-high priority. I could just as easily self-publish an e-book and make it available on the site and wherever else I could. What matters to me is, would I be adding anything of value to the conversation?
That’s where I could really use some feedback. If a book, or a series of articles, or what-have-you, like this is something that you think you would read and discuss and value (on the assumption that it’s any good), please let me know. If it’s not your thing, or you don’t think it adds anything useful to the discussion, I’d like to hear that too.
My next step would be to flesh out this rough idea into a more detailed outline/proposal, which would be another opportunity for feedback and discussion. But this is my attempt to get the ball rolling. What do you think?