Spring 2009

Democracy and Education

Listed in: English, as ENGL-68


Barry O'Connell (Section 01)


The focus of the course will be on education within the United States. From the earliest days of the new republic Americans have linked the prospects of democracy with the quality and extent of educational opportunity. Two fundamental and contradictory questions, however, have shaped nearly every controversy: (1) Should education be a competitive system to establish and legitimate a hierarchy of merit? or (2) Should schools focus on the fullest development of each student so as to enable her or him to participate equally in a democratic society by contributing from her or his individual gifts and differences? Finally, another key and virtually silent assumption has shaped these debates: that schools are the primary generators of equality or inequality. One might argue that this assumption has functioned to help Americans evade greater and more substantial sources of inequality such as the corporate order, housing, access to medical care, and many others. The course will not seek to resolve these questions, but to explore how the different assumptions involved structure what can be taught and learned and by whom. The texts for the course will range across a number of disciplines: philosophy, cognitive psychology, literature, sociology, and political science and theory. John Dewey’s Democracy and Education will be the framing text. Two class meetings per week. Requisite: English 02 or an equivalent course. Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor O'Connell.