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Uncovering Implicit Learning Theories in the Humanities: A Study of Grantmaking at Illinois Humanities

by Christopher G. Pupik Dean, Maggie Schein, Sheena Kang, David Kidd, Mel Webb, Annie Walton Doyle & Danielle Allen - 2020

Background/Context: In recent years, the humanities have frequently been described as “under attack” or “in crisis” in both popular media and academic writing. In this climate, it is particularly critical to develop a stronger understanding of the value of the humanities. While there are many theoretical arguments about their value, the base of empirical research that is focused on understanding how the humanities make a contribution to human development is not as robust as the theoretical arguments. Developing the base of empirical research requires the development of assessment tools that are grounded in humanistic practice and the implicit learning theories employed by humanists.

Objective: This study seeks to uncover and describe the implicit learning theories employed by a sample of humanist practitioners who applied for and received funding from the public humanities organization Illinois Humanities (IH) between 1981 and 2012.

Research Design: This project used qualitative analysis to study 89 grant proposals that were submitted to and funded by IH between 1981 and 2012. This archive was analyzed in a three-stage process. Through qualitative thematic analysis, we identified and coded elements of the archive that provided data about humanistic craft practice. We used the results of this analysis to conduct a secondary analysis of the elements of craft logic and to identify implicit learning theories.

Findings/Results: Our findings revealed that the humanists who received grants from IH engaged the craft logic of the humanities in ways that could be grouped into themes and tended to apply one of seven implicit learning theories to their work. Three implicit learning theories were shared by ten or more grants across the sample: cultivating understanding through analysis, cultivating understanding through imaginative engagement, and cultivating appreciation.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We propose that the analytic approach we describe here helps make the logic underlying humanistic practice explicit and thereby lays the foundation for the development of systematic assessment strategies authentic to programs that deploy common humanistic methods and goals. This can provide humanists and humanities organizations with a better and more explicit understanding of how their own practices work as drivers of human development and to construct an analytic framework for empirically assessing the impact of the humanities on participants and students in humanities programs.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 8, 2020, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23348, Date Accessed: 1/19/2021 1:07:32 AM

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About the Author
  • Christopher Pupik Dean
    Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER G. PUPIK DEAN is a senior fellow in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education where he also received his Ph.D. He is the co-director of the Independent School Teaching Residency program and studies ethics, citizenship, project-based learning, and teacher education. His most recent publications can be found in the Phi Delta Kappan and Teaching and Teacher Education.
  • Maggie Schein
    The Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Lab, Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    MAGGIE SCHEIN received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought. She teaches and works in the humanities, with focuses on moral psychology, virtue ethics, literature, cruelty, animal welfare, and assessment. She is the research director for the Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Lab (HULA) at Harvard University and the coordinating principal investigator for the National Ethics Project. She is an author of fiction and nonfiction and is currently working on a book on cruelty, geared for a general audience, and a book on philosophy and management.
  • Sheena Kang
    The Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Lab, Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    SHEENA KANG is a political theorist interested in questions of politics and temporality, history, and political discourse. She works as a qualitative data analyst at the Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Lab (HULA) at Harvard University. Sheena is a Fulbright scholar and is currently working on several projects dealing with questions of historic injustice and humanistic education.
  • David Kidd
    Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    DAVID KIDD, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he uses psychological methods to investigate the contributions of the humanities to human development and civic education.
  • Mel Webb
    University of Texas at San Antonio
    E-mail Author
    MEL WEBB, Ph.D., is a theological social ethicist whose work is broadly concerned with political, theological, and philosophical constructs of flourishing societies. Their most recent article, published in Religions, explored what religious frameworks and institutions have to contribute to higher education programs in prisons. At the University of Texas at San Antonio, Mel founded and directs the Philosophy and Literature Circle at Dominguez State Jail, which invites incarcerated participants and UTSA undergrads into dialogue around humanistic texts. In addition, Mel holds lectureships in the department of Philosophy and Classics, the Honors College, and the Center for Civic Engagement. They hold a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.
  • Annie Walton Doyle
    Manchester, United Kingdom
    E-mail Author
    ANNIE WALTON DOYLE is a freelance writer living in Manchester, U.K. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Sunday Telegraph, and Professional Photography.
  • Danielle Allen
    Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    DANIELLE ALLEN, Ph.D., is James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, with appointments in the Departments of Government and Philosophy, the Graduate School of Education, and Project Zero. She is the author or editor of eight books, including Education and Equality and Education, Justice, and Democracy. She is also the principal investigator for the Democratic Knowledge Project, a civic education research and action initiative, which houses the Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Initiative (HULA).
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