Democracies Always in the Making: Historical and Current Philosophical Issues for Education

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9781610489287: Democracies Always in the Making: Historical and Current Philosophical Issues for Education
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Democracies Always in the Making develops Barbara Thayer-Bacon’s relational and pluralistic democratic theory, as well as translates that socio-political philosophical theory into educational theory and recommendations for school reform in American public schools. John Dewey warned us long ago that a nation cannot hope to be a democracy someday without paying attention to how it educates its young future citizens. Democracy is a goal, an ideal which we must continually strive for that can guide us in our decision-making, as we continue to live in a world that is unpredictable, flawed, and limited in terms of its resources.

There are key political philosophers of education who we can turn to for help. They offer us important ideas that will help us re-check our assumptions and critique our daily practice. Existing school models also offer us important examples of how to structure schools as well as various methodologies and curriculum that we can elect to use to help us move closer to the ideal of a democracy.

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About the Author:

Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon is professor of philosophy of education in the Cultural Studies of Education masters program and the Learning Environments and Educational Studies doctoral program at the University of Tennessee. Her primary research areas as a philosopher of education are pragmatism, feminist theory and pedagogy, and cultural studies in education.

Review:

In this provocative new book, Thayer-Bacon (Univ. of Tennessee) aims to dislodge democratic theory from its reliance on the extreme individualism of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and in its place construct a transactional view of democracy that emphasizes epistemological and cultural pluralism and a relational view of selfhood. Drawing from a variety of feminist and postmodern perspectives, she makes a convincing case for a view of democracy that is always incomplete and unfinished, yet nevertheless provides the best orientation for educational (and other social) institutions. Thayer-Bacon accomplishes this by linking critical investigation of key theorists (Jacques Rancière, John Dewey, Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and others) to descriptive analysis of actual school projects, some of which are based on firsthand experience. Her treatment of Myles Horton and Maxine Greene are especially noteworthy. In her effort to canonize some theorists while demonizing others, however, she makes the occasional heavy-handed caricature. The historical record makes it very difficult to see Maria Montessori, for instance, as someone animated by a purely egalitarian spirit. Moreover, Thayer-Bacon's sharp, nearly ad hominem critique of Peter McLaren's work will likely raise eyebrows. Still, it is this contentiousness that will generate good discussion in graduate seminars. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates, all levels, and above. (CHOICE)

One of the great mistakes of our time is thinking we know the fixed and final form of democracy for all people, epochs, and places. Another mistake is thinking we have all the democracy we require. Barbara Thayer-Bacon draws on her background as a philosopher of education and her work as a cultural studies scholar to challenge narrow liberal democratic notions of rigid rationalism, atomistic individualism, and static universalism with her own contextual and transactional description of selves-in-relation-with-others. She shows that democracies and democrats are always-in-the-making. (Jim Garrison, Ph.D., professor, School of Education, Virginia Tech University)

Following her career-long commitment to examining the relationship between school, education and democracy, Thayer-Bacon once again brings her feminist insight into a contemporary critique of democratic classical liberalism. Drawing upon philosophers from Socrates to Rousseau to Dewey to Noddings, hooks and Greene, Thayer-Bacon argues that democracies, as ever incomplete, must turn from Rationalism, Universalism, and Individualism to Shared Responsibility, Authority, and Identity, as the guiding factors in our creation of a more humane and public democracy. (Jaylynne N. Hutchinson, Associate Professor Critical Studies in Educational Foundations Ohio University)

Thayer-Bacon offers a careful critique of the educational ill-effects of rationalism, universalism, and individualism. Informed by a wide range of progressive educational thinkers, Democracy Always in the Making offers many useful examples of engaged, relational education. (Charles Bingham, Associate Professor in Curriculum Theory at Simon Fraser University)

Barbara Thayer-Bacon provides strong arguments for revising classical liberal conceptions of democracy and coming to view humans—not as isolated individuals—but as beings-in-relation to others. Moreover, she combines philosophical argumentation with lessons learned from specific schools that recenter an ethics of sharing and interdependence. The combination of philosophical and pedagogical discourses make this book especially helpful. (Frank Margonis, professor in educational philosophy, University of Utah)

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