Spring 2018

Democracy and Education

Listed in: English, as ENGL-356

Formerly listed as: ENGL-68


Barry O'Connell (Section 01)


Many Americans believe that a free public educational system is crucial in a democratic society.  What concretely does this mean?  The question has shaped a persistent and unresolved debate throughout American history to the present, as it will our work together.  Two fundamental and contradictory questions have centered nearly every controversy:  (1) Should education be a competitive system to establish and legitimate a hierarchy of merit?  (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 contributing her or his individual gifts and differences?  Another assumption also moves through these debates:  that schools are the primary generators of equality or inequality.

The course will not seek to resolve these questions and issues, but to explore how the different assumptions 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.  Considerable attention will go to the educational reforms of the last thirty years including the role of institutions such as Teach for America, charter schools, etc.

Recommended requisite:  ENGL 120 or an equivalent course or experience in public education.  Limited to 45 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Emeritus O’Connell.

If Overenrolled: Priority given to seniors and juniors.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2018