John Dewey Speaks to Brown: Research, Democratic Social Movement Strategies, and the Struggle for Education on Equal Terms

by John Rogers & Jeannie Oakes - 2005

This article explores how a revitalized public life promises to be far more effective than conventional school reform in bringing more equitable education policy. Participatory social inquiry stands in contrasts to the limited and mostly technical focus of equity reforms that began with Great Society policies in the 1960s and 1970s and that continues today. These equity reforms have largely failed to account for the deeply held and pervasive cultural norms about race, merit, and schooling that sustain inequality. The authors find an alternative model for equity reform in John Dewey's later work. Engaging citizens in Deweyan-inspired public social inquiry can yield knowledge that defines high-quality education, merit, and achievement in racially inclusive ways. By participating in social inquiry, low-income parents and parents of color have the opportunity to remake their image, becoming actors in an organizing "movement" context. Their engagement helps frame a powerful story of parents and communities who want and deserve high-quality education and who know what education can and should be. As such stories take hold in the public consciousness, cultural obstacles to equity can be challenged more successfully, thereby advancing Brown's promise of education on equal terms.

In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

Brown v. Board of Education, May 17, 1954

There is . . . nothing more radical than insistence upon democratic methods as the means by which radical social changes be effected... [D]emocratic means and the attainment of democratic ends are one and inseparable. . . . [T]he crusade can win at the best but partial victory unless it springs from a living faith in our common human nature and in the power of voluntary action based upon public collective intelligence.

John Dewey, 19371

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Brown, we turn to John Dewey to explore what we consider a centerpiece of the struggle to achieve Brown’s promise: a revitalized public life that persuades all groups to speak on ‘‘equal terms’’ and compels the powerful to account for what they hear. Dewey believed in the possibilities of public intelligence to advance progressive social change. Early in his career, he looked to professional educators to gradually infuse intelligence into the broader political culture. He viewed this strategy as an end-run around more confrontational political change. But, during the 1920s, Dewey became disillusioned with this approach as he saw how powerful interests could use mass communication to distort and subvert public understanding. His 1930s writing speaks to how more participatory publics must engage public life more directly.

In the 1930s, Dewey called for a public sphere in which experts and citizens engage together in participatory social inquiry─ in information gathering, exchange, interpretation, and debate. Structures and processes of social inquiry could cultivate a public intelligence about social problems affecting the daily lives of common people. Further, participation in inquiry could promote the organization and commitment necessary for those citizens most impacted by social inequality to push forward egalitarian reforms.

Following from Dewey, we suggest that the failure to realize Brown’s promise of education ‘‘on equal terms’’ stems not only from the lack of moral force and legal pressure for change in the 1950s and early 1960s, but also from the limited and mostly technical focus of equity reforms that began with the Great Society policies in the 1960s and 1970s and that continues today. We argue here that John Dewey’s later work can not only help us better understand the disappointing outcomes of Brown, but that it also provides hope and guidance as we continue to pursue education on equal terms in the years ahead. In other words, Dewey’s idea of social understanding created in the public sphere─ perhaps through contemporary social movement organizing─ promises to be far more effective than conventional school reform in bringing more equitable policy. Reform strategies emanating from such public engagement could generate both the knowledge and the power needed to confront the dominant cultural norms and politics of privilege that sustain structures of inequality both in and out of school.

The following section lays out this argument. The remainder of the article elaborates its essential pieces: the shortcomings of conventional reform strategies to realize Brown’s promise; Dewey’s potential contribution to a new generation of equity strategies; and social movement organizing as a means of enacting Dewey’s ideas in the contemporary context.


In 1954, as the Warren Court ruled against the constitutionality of laws segregating school children by race, it declared that education must be made available ‘‘on equal terms.’’ In addition to overturning the 1896 Plessy decision allowing separate but equal facilities, Brown’s unambiguous assertion of human rights, carrying with it the full authority and power of the Supreme Court, spoke symbolically to cultural and political equality and to the promise of education on equal terms. Most significantly, it challenged an earlier court’s view of who merits full consideration before the law. W.E.B. DuBois observed, ‘‘100 years before [Brown] another chief justice declared [in Dred Scott] that Negroes had no rights which a white man must respect.’’2 Brown rejected that judgment, and it revived the promise laid out in the 14th and 15th Amendments of full citizenship for all.

Three fundamental assumptions largely shared by progressives and traditionalists alike have dominated efforts over the past decades to realize Brown’s promise in education. The first is that equality can be achieved by working exclusively within the educational system. The second is that inequalities within the educational system are sustained by ignorance. Third, following from the first two, is that once educators are provided with knowledge and strategies for disrupting schooling inequality, salutary change will occur. These assumptions are grounded in the premises that racist practices and beliefs are at odds with basic American values, and therefore Americans will, if given the opportunity, naturally move away from past racist practices.

These assumptions have failed to move an equity agenda, in part because they divert attention from the inextricable connections between separate and unequal schooling and the larger separate and unequal social, political, and economic conditions that schooling mirrors. As such, reforms have failed to anticipate or support the fundamental cultural and political shifts within schools and across society that meaningful equality requires. For example, desegregation remedies and compensatory education programs (focusing on such specifics as student assignment plans, curriculum, professional development, supplemental academic supports, and so on) have been treated as technical matters best designed and implemented by experts and professionals. Employing traditional research, development, dissemination, and planned educational change strategies, such approaches to equity have generally not engaged citizens, as Dewey would suggest is necessary, in understanding and confronting the broader social conditions, cultural norms, and power relations that sustain structures of segregation and inequality and resist change, both in and outside schools.

Efforts over the past two decades to ‘‘detrack’’ racially diverse schools as a means for creating integration and equal educational opportunity within schools illuminates the inadequacy of the approach that has dominated the nation’s equity efforts. That work reveals that the most formidable barriers do not reside in the technical challenges of designing equitable schools. Rather, cultural norms about race, merit, and schooling challenge the very assumptions on which equity reforms are based. Additionally, the implementation of equity reforms is often cut short by political struggles for comparative advantage, as middle- and upper-class parents seek to ensure that their children have the same social and economic privileges that they enjoy. The intractability of these norms and politics cannot be understood, let alone altered, absent consideration of the larger social, economic, and political milieu in which tracking seems so sensible to those currently privileged.3

Such research helps us understand why a technical, knowledge dissemination and planned educational change strategy falls short of achieving education on equal terms. First, privilege and exclusion are not discrete problems that result from ignorance, but rather are ideologies that are endemic to the logic of much of the educational system. Second, efforts to redress policies and strategies that sustain privilege and exclusion often encounter powerful interest groups. That is, it is not a matter of the better argument prevailing when the better (more egalitarian) argument runs head-first into political force to sustain the status quo. Third, egalitarian strategies are often built out of a lowest common denominator consensus on ends. As a result, strategies that seek to redress privilege often maintain the logic of privilege.

Unlike most reforms seeking to enact Brown, Dewey’s hope for equality turns on the intellectual capacity and political participation of common citizens. Dewey’s work argues that citizens engaged in public social inquiry will better connect forms of educational inequality to their social, cultural, and political contexts and account for the ideologies of privilege that sustain those inequalities. Better, more progressive policies can result, in Dewey’s view, only from the full ‘‘flowering human capacities’’ and the power of participatory politics.4 Dewey does not dismiss expert knowledge entirely. Rather, he seeks to forge close relationships between experts and common citizens so that each can inform the other in the process of inquiry. Such inquiry, he argues, would create new and useful systems of knowledge accessible to all. And that is where the promise to complete the project of American democracy rests.

However, Dewey provides little guidance about the circumstances under which such inquiry might occur, particularly in contemporary society. His 1930s writing offers few insights on how citizens might come together to examine particular instances of inequality or how that inquiry might lead to action and real change. For that, we turn to the growing interest among community-based organizations and youth development groups in using social movement and organizing strategies to achieve more equitable schooling.

Increasingly, community-based organizations seek to build the power of low-income students, parents, and community members of color and engage them in powerful actions aimed at exposing and disrupting schooling inequalities. Unlike reforms located within educational institutions or that are considered professional activities, these groups target the cultural prejudices and asymmetrical political arrangements that sustain unequal schooling, and seek improved educational technologies. Because these community ‘‘reformers’’ are also those who experience the broad range of social, economic, and political inequality, their centrality in reform forces the connections between education and broader social issues and struggles.

Dewey’s conceptions of social inquiry and social understanding employed in the context of contemporary social movement and community-organizing strategies may provide today’s best hope for achieving the promise of Brown. Dewey’s ideas provide a useful and practical guide for respectful, productive organizing across constituencies in that they suggest how education researchers, educators, activists, and policy makers can and should participate in such engagement, inquiry, participation, and empowerment. In particular, Dewey’s emphasis on knowledge and the knowledge construction dimensions of civic participation and empowerment suggests that social movement and organizing strategies are most likely to bring equitable, higher-quality schooling for all students if democratic learning processes are integral to building power and taking action.

Dewey’s work suggests, for example, that social inquiry, conducted in the context of contemporary social movement and organizing strategies, has the potential for creating new knowledge that defines high-quality education, merit, and achievement in racially inclusive ways. That knowledge gains power as low-income parents and parents of color participating in social inquiry become powerful actors in a movement for more equitable schools. Their engagement also helps frame a powerful ‘‘story’’ of parents and communities who want and deserve high-quality education and who know what education can and should be. As such stories take hold in the public consciousness, cultural and political obstacles to equity can be challenged more successfully.

In sum, social movement strategies informed by Dewey bring power together with participatory social inquiry. Social movement strategies are important because they help marginalized groups to acquire more power and because they serve as a check on conservative forces in the system. Participatory social inquiry is important to forge new meanings and understandings about core educational ideas. Realizing the promise of Brown undoubtedly requires both. As promising as these directions may be, they too face enormous cultural and political barriers. The scholarship on social movement organizing around racial issues and the development of cross-racial movements raises cautions that education equity researchers and advocates should heed.


Over the past 50 years, the struggle to achieve equality has stumbled over a bumpy cultural landscape. Proceeding from the assumptions that equality can be achieved by focusing exclusively on the educational system and that a lack of knowledge is at the root of inequality, court-ordered remedies and other equity reforms drew increasingly on research, knowledge dissemination, and planned educational change traditions of school improvement.5

Judges finding illegal school segregation mandated both desegregation and school improvement strategies guided and monitored by an array of experts. The 10 Desegregation Assistance Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education under Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (now called the Equity Assistance Centers) were designed with knowledge dissemination and planned educational change in mind, and they retain that focus today. The centers were originally charged with providing technical assistance to local education agencies as they eliminated segregated school buildings. As second-generation problems of within-school segregation and tracked curricula emerged, the centers expanded their assistance to include program planning and curriculum development within schools. Today, the centers identify their work as disseminating information, providing technical assistance, and conducting professional development (including training in research-based curriculum models and teaching methods) that will promote equitable schooling.6

In fact, research over the past decades has brought substantial new knowledge and led to the development of new technologies for making schooling more equitable (intergroup relations training, curricular and pedagogical innovations, professional development techniques, supplemental academic program designs, comprehensive school reform strategies, and more). The nation has made huge investments in disseminating new technologies and promoting planned educational change in schools. The 1950s witnessed projects seeking to teach educators the National Training Laboratories T-Group skills for changing group behavior. The 1960s and 1970s brought the diffusion of educational innovations developed by experts through such mechanisms as workshops, training programs, and the National Diffusion Network. The 1960s and 1970s also brought organizational development strategies into schools aimed at creating healthy organizations that embraced change, and efforts to create new and better ‘‘alternative’’ schools. By the 1980s, the failure of these earlier strategies to alter educational practices significantly gave rise to a cadre of professional ‘‘change agents’’ seeking to help educators implement research-based ‘‘effective schools’’ principles in their local schools. In the 1990s, educators invested in consultants to foster ‘‘organizational learning’’ in schools, a concept popularized in Peter Senge’s book naming the strategy as what gave businesses competitive advantage.7 The 1980s and 1990s also saw considerable attention paid to large-scale systemic reform designed to align curriculum, teaching, and assessment, and to school ‘‘restructuring’’ aimed at altering everything from time schedules to governance policies.8

Yet, as we describe in more detail below, the knowledge advances, technical innovations, and planned change efforts have brought only limited progress toward education on equal terms for all American children. Efforts to end even the most egregious de jure segregation have been met with foot dragging, hostility, and reversals. Since the 1980s, the courts, federal and state policy, and education leadership have all moved away from addressing segregation in its many forms. Other structural remedies (e.g., fiscal equalization, affirmative action, detracking) for inequalities in resources, conditions, and opportunities, however well researched and designed, have been resisted and rejected almost as virulently. Research-based classroom technologies aimed at bringing culturally and linguistically democratic curriculum and instruction to American children (e.g., multicultural curriculum, culturally responsive pedagogy, bilingual education) have, for the most part, been gutted in favor of standards-based reform.

Today, African American and Latino students attend public schools that are, on average, almost as racially segregated as they were before Brown.9

The historic racial inequalities in educational opportunities persist, as evidenced by disparities in funding and access to decent school facilities, qualified teachers, college preparatory programs, and college participation. Despite the considerable research and development on more equitable schooling, the struggle to realize that goal has brought retrogressive action and inertia by elites, anger among non-elite Whites who see themselves as the losers in such reform, and disillusionment among excluded groups themselves about the possibility of racial equality and the desirability of racial integration.10 Rather than abating over time, resistance to reforms aimed at realizing the promise of Brown has persisted and perhaps has grown stronger.


The research on tracking and detracking provides specific insights into the failure of the research, knowledge dissemination, and planned educational change to address the norms and politics that sustain inequality. It illuminates the weakness of equity strategies proceeding from the assumptions that inequalities are sustained by ignorance and that once knowledge and strategies are available, Americans will move away from unequal structures and practices.

Research Has Lifted the Veil of Ignorance

By the mid-1980s, sociological research had made clear that, despite at least two decades of equity reform, common school structures─ chiefly tracking and ability grouping─ perpetuated unequal opportunities in racially mixed schools. Schools’ constructions of students’ intellectual abilities play a major role in allocating learning resources and conditions. Elementary and middle school students whom schools judge to be less able are placed in low-level groups, classes, or remedial programs; those considered bright are placed in high-ability classes. Senior high school students are placed in college preparatory courses or more general and vocational classes based in large part on their academic abilities. These decisions and placements determine the quality of the curriculum content, instructional practices, and social relations that students experience. Students in lower classes or tracks typically get fewer of the resources and conditions that promote achievement and advancement than students in higher classes or tracks do. They have fewer well-qualified teachers, less exposure to intellectually engaging curricula, and less access to technology and laboratories for investigation and problem-solving.

Moreover, clear race and class patterns prevail, both between schools and within them. African American, Latino, and low-income students are consistently overrepresented in low-ability settings and are less likely to participate in programs for ‘‘gifted’’ or college-bound students. This pattern occurs both between schools and within them. Most segregated schools serving low-income and minority students have proportionately fewer academic classes than do schools serving predominantly White, more affluent students. Most desegregated schools disproportionately assign African American and Latino students to low-track classes.11

As the evidence of the educational inequalities and racial stratification associated with tracking became known, many policy makers, educators, and advocacy groups advised that schools dismantle their tracked structures. During the 1990s, many educators took this advice and attempted to ‘‘detrack’’ their schools. Although some schools showed early success, detracking rarely got beyond small initial steps; at the same time, it brought great acrimony to the school’s community.

Knowledge and Technical Strategies Fail to Disrupt Inequality

The research on detracking efforts is sobering.12 For example, Oakes and Wells followed educators as they developed innovative structural arrangements and classroom practices for accommodating diverse groups of students. They document how reformers at each of these schools had come to see the pattern of putting students of different racial and ethnic groups into largely separate and quite unequal classes as deeply problematic─ both pedagogically and morally. Made uncomfortable by their own experiences, these educators were prompted to action by the research and by the judgment of professional and policy organizations that tracking works against expectations for all students to meet high academic standards.

These educators shared the research with their colleagues, and they used the lessons of the school change literature to support reform. They found new resources (often grants for ‘‘restructuring’’ schools), technical assistance, and professional development. They took their time, creating strategic plans for gradual implementation. Most believed that those who opposed the reforms would eventually see that tracking is at odds with core American values and quality education. They thought that their schools and communities, if given a well-crafted and successful alternative, would be eager to abandon discriminatory practices.

They were wrong. Their efforts to make their schools more equitable were fought bitterly and often crushed. Some colleagues in their schools and districts remained highly skeptical; a few were outright hostile. Even some who valued racially mixed schools worried that detracking undermined the educational chances of high achieving (usually white) students. Wealthier white parents applied enormous pressure to keep the status quo; they worried that democratizing the high-status curriculum would jeopardize their children’s chances for admission to prestigious universities. Many middle-class White parents associated their daughters’ and sons’ increasingly scarce opportunities with the ‘‘problems’’ caused by minority students in their schools, most of whom were poor.

Detracking collided with (mostly) taken-for-granted conceptions of intelligence and ability, racial differences, and deeply entrenched traditions that define a valuable curriculum and appropriate practice at the schools. Moreover, the proposed changes were redistributive─ that is, they fundamentally altered how the schools allocated their most precious resources, including time, teachers, materials, and high-achieving students. They challenged traditional ways of thinking about merit and which students ‘‘deserve’’ the best that schools have to offer.13 As these schools struggled to break free of tracking, the pull of social stratification proved too strong.

Increasingly, researchers have documented the centrality of these norms and politics to ability grouping and tracking practices, and the resulting efforts by privileged parents to maintain the status quo and ensure their children’s positions in advantaged classes.14 Nevertheless, there is little in the research on either tracking or educational change literature to help reformers when powerful parents and school officials simply do not like the changes and know that they have the power to thwart them.

Equity Reforms Challenge the Logic of American Schooling

It should not be surprising that these patterns of racial disparity are consistent with the logic of U.S. society and schooling. Despite our prized cultural legacy of the common public school as a ‘‘great equalizer,’’ schools also serve the mission of preparing students for their ‘‘rightful’’ places in an unequal labor market and society. Because social hierarchies in this country are also racial hierarchies, stratified schooling opportunities and outcomes favor those from higher status racial groups.15 Social science research by itself, even in the hands of committed and skillful ‘‘change agents’’ or backed by court orders, is too weak an instrument to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of racial inequality. At root, the cultural norms of meritocracy and the politics of White and middle-class privilege are impervious to so puny an attack.16 Schooling’s continued role in the reproduction of race and social class inequality is mediated by cultural norms and political processes that are complex, mutually constituted and, on their face, racially neutral. Measures of academic abilities, definitions of high-status academic language and knowledge, norms governing appropriate school behavior, and relations between schools and families are all expressed as racially neutral, meritocratic means for allocating opportunities and identifying achievement. Children who match these norms are presumed to deserve schooling advantages by dint of their individual merit, ability, or work ethic─ for example, when educators conflate intelligence with the skills and knowledge that educationally and economically privileged parents pass on to their children.

Rather than blaming racially skewed schooling outcomes on norms and politics and their manifestation in disparate resources and opportunities, our society often blames those who do not fit the prevailing ideologies of intelligence and merit. Conceptual and linguistic proxies for race such as ‘‘culture of poverty,’’ ‘‘at risk,’’ ‘‘nonverbal learning style,’’ ‘‘oppositional behavior,’’ and so on, justify the persistence of inequality. All contribute to the fear and loathing of the racialized other, which in turn has justified subtler forms of inequality. While it has become taboo to assert that whites are intellectually superior or to segregate students explicitly by race and social class, unequal and stratified schooling continues to make deep, unquestioned sense. Scratch the surface of many common critiques of schools serving poor students of color (e.g., that they practice social promotion at the expense of academic standards), and one finds further disadvantage heaped on children already victimized as a result of their class and race.17

The ideological justification of socially produced inequality would not have come as a surprise to Dewey. He often pointed to philosophy’s long-standing tendency to ‘‘become unconsciously an apologetic for the established order, because it . . . tried to show the rationality of this or that existent hierarchical grading of values and schemes of life.’’18 Dewey reasoned that such rationalizations result directly from unequal social arrangements.

Special privilege always induces a standpat and reactionary attitude on the part of those who have it; in the end it usually provokes a blind rage of destruction on the part of those who suffer from it. The intellectual blindness caused by privileged and monopolistic possession is made evident in ‘‘rationalization’’ of the misery and cultural degradation of others which attend its existence. These are asserted to be the fault of those who suffer; to be the consequence of their own improvidence, lack of industry, willful ignorance, etc.19

And while not addressing tracking per se, Dewey recognized similar patterns in efforts of scholars to defend stratification through the emerging science of intelligence testing.

Just as Aristotle rationalized slavery by showing how natural it was by showing how those superior by nature to constitute the ends for others who were only tools, so we, while marvelling [sic] perhaps at the callousness of the Greek philosopher, rationalize the inequities of our social order by appealing to innate and unalterable psychological strata in the population.20


The vast literature on the planned educational change process has been noticeably silent about strategies for disrupting social inequality through school reform.22 Theorists and change agents have not treated equity reforms as distinctly different from other school improvement efforts that may entail controversy but evoke far less political or self-interest backlash. To the extent that the literature addresses reforms meant to benefit students who hold less powerful positions in schools and communities, it assumes that school systems are filled with well-meaning educators who simply need some assistance or prompting to help their bottom-up efforts to achieve more equitable and efficacious structures and pedagogies.23

Consequently, reformers have used conventional knowledge diffusion strategies─ for example, marshalling research evidence about the existence of problems to convince educators and communities that structural and technical changes aimed at achieving equity are needed, and to demonstrate that the proposed reforms will work (recently known as scientifically proven methods). They have proceeded with planned educational change strategies (recently known as ‘‘organizational learning’’) borrowed mostly from the business world in order to increase educators’ technical capacity and make schools’ structures and organizational cultures more hospitable to effective practices.24

Research has taught us some sobering lessons. Expert knowledge is insufficient to bring about equitable education even when attention is paid to changing the school’s professional cultures. The entanglement of educational equity with cultural and political dynamics that extend outside the school make it impossible to see equity reforms as strictly professional matters belonging to educators alone.

Not accustomed to seeing their work in terms of cultural and political struggle, educators are often caught off guard by the quickness and virulence of the resistance of those who see reforms as a threat to their status, cultural norms, and political and economic positions.25 Our work also suggests that educators cannot do this work alone even when they understand how their own school is embedded in this wider web of culture and politics. In many school systems, we have watched low-income African American and Latino communities remain silent or be silenced while powerful White and wealthier parents and policy makers dominate the reform debate. If equity-focused educators step in and advocate for less powerful and silenced communities, they are easily brushed aside. Without political pressure for equity brought to bear by the public, educators cannot serve an appropriate professional role of balancing multiple legitimate, if conflicting, public demands. Further, when educators step in and speak and act for less powerful communities, they do nothing to build the local community power necessary to change the cultural and political asymmetries that sustain the very schooling inequalities that they seek to disrupt.


To offer something new (and we believe, promising), we journey far from the traditional research and organizational change strategies that one might learn in the educational administration or business management literatures. We begin this exploration by turning to John Dewey’s later work for insights about

the relationship between educational and political equality;

processes for educational and political change aimed at realizing equality; and

the relationship between developing knowledge and building power for progressive social change.

It is fitting to look to Dewey in the context of Brown, we believe, given that the struggle for an egalitarian democracy lies at the heart of John Dewey’s life work.


From his early forays into social theory in the late 1880s to his robust engagement with social democracy in the 1930s, Dewey offers a vision of equality that, like Brown, asserts the importance of both educational opportunity and full civil rights. ‘‘Each individual’’ requires a social environment that provides him with the ‘‘opportunity for release, expression, fulfillment, of his distinctive capacity.’’26 Decent housing, public health, and tools for learning are all critical to such an environment.27 The creation of citizens ‘‘in the fulness [sic] of their capacities’’ in turn demands that ‘‘free human beings associate with one another on terms of equality.’’28 Relating to fellow citizens on the basis of equality does not imply a ‘‘mathematical equivalence’’ in which all must participate in the same way. Rather, it means that hierarchical understandings of individuals as ‘‘greater and less, superior and inferior’’ must give way to a ‘‘metaphysical mathematics of the incommensurable in which each speaks for itself and demands consideration on its own behalf.’’29

Dewey, of course, recognizes that American society is far from this vision of equality and places the battle against inequality at the core of his philosophic and political project. He imagines participatory social inquiry─ what Hilary Putnam refers to as the ‘‘full application of intelligence to the solution of social problems’’─ as the most powerful tool for progressive change.30 Such inquiry demands that all citizens be ‘‘equipped with knowledge and competent method.’’31 It also demands that ‘‘every human being must count’’ and be ‘‘taken into account’’ to realize the cognitive advantages of diverse experiences and distinct voices.32


But how is it possible to work against inequality when the primary engine for progressive social change─ a ‘‘kind of knowledge and insight which does not exist’’─ requires a high degree of social equality?33 Early in his career, Dewey responded to this problem by adopting a progressive historical narrative that imagines the next generation developing new forms of intelligence through democratic schooling. By constructing environments for young people to apply the tools of intelligence in everyday experience, educators could provide students with practice in egalitarian social relationships and ‘‘command of the fundamental methods of inquiry and the fundamental tools of intercourse and communication.’’34

Dewey envisions this educational project promoting equality in two ways. First, it promises equal access to knowledge, thereby ‘‘restoring to the common man that which . . . has been embezzled from the common store and appropriated to sectarian and class use.’’35 Second, the citizens who ‘‘la[y] hold of ’’ this new knowledge and intelligence in their ‘‘childhood and youth,’’ will be prepared to ‘‘locate the source of our economic evils’’ as adults.36 Dewey is careful to note that such understanding may not immediately translate into radically new industrial or political conditions. ‘‘But,’’ he reasons, ‘‘it does mean that we may produce in schools a projection in type of the society we should like to realize, and by forming minds in accord with it gradually modify the larger and more recalcitrant features of adult society.’’37


In the 1920s, Dewey begins to question the strategy of evolutionary social change through education as he sees new forms of mass communication undermine public intelligence. The new science of public relations that emerges following World War I leaves the public unable to and often uninterested in discriminating between ‘‘sound and sense’’ or ‘‘lay[ing hold of the realities beneath the froth and foam.’’38 Further, Dewey recognizes that powerful interests often view the expansion of educational opportunity as a political threat that must be challenged. For example, in the late 1920s, Dewey explains the persistence of African American illiteracy as the product of a system that seeks to sustain White supremacy.

Unless there was a general Negro question, social, economic, and political, there would be no such excess of Negro illiterates as now exists. Racial prejudice, fear of racial equality, dread lest education would render the black population ‘‘upstarts’’ who would clamor for the use of the vote, and make them less tractable as cheap labor, are definite factors in maintaining a large illiteracy in our black population.39


Dewey responds to the failures of public intelligence by calling for more intelligence and a revitalized public. He points to the values inherent in scientific process─ a willingness to constantly test beliefs, an openness to alternative ideas, and a proclivity toward systematic analysis─ as general principles for guiding the work of publics. These values, he hopes, will encourage skepticism about the source and distribution of knowledge and power in society. Dewey also encourages publics to adopt the ‘‘method’’ of science in assessing social policies. He calls for groups of citizens to treat ‘‘policies and proposals . . . as working hypotheses . . . subject to constant and well-equipped observation . . . and ready and flexible revision.’’ This experimental approach─ and more important, an experimental attitude─ educates the public, providing them with the ‘‘tools . . . of observing, reporting, and organizing . . . [which] can be evolved and perfected only in operation.40 Similarly, Dewey attributes an educative role to the direct ‘‘consultation and discussion’’ that occurs within participatory social inquiry.41 Following Tocqueville, he points out that public dialogue ‘‘forces a recognition that there are common interests . . . [and it] brings about some clarification of what they are.’’42

Dewey believes that these common interests will reflect the authentic needs and concerns of working people when participatory inquiry has been freed from ‘‘vested bias and prejudice.’’43 As Deborah Morris argues, this belief is in part connected to Dewey’s faith in ‘‘science’s immense social and political utility . . . to undermine dogma and entrenched privilege.’’44 Moreover, Dewey’s publics are inherently populist in their composition.45 He foregrounds the role of common people in public inquiry and marks out a limited role for experts. Experts can support lay publics by ‘‘discovering and making known facts.’’46 Yet Dewey warns that when a ‘‘class of experts’’ is removed from common interests, it ‘‘become[s] a class with private interests and private knowledge, which in social matters is not knowledge at all.’’47

In addition to creating a new ‘‘intellectual aristocracy,’’ this elevation of experts ‘‘shut[s] off ’’ the social intercourse so crucial to the problem-solving process.48 Experts thus should imagine themselves like the skilled shoemaker who realizes that it is ‘‘[t]he man who wears the shoe [that] knows best . . . where it pinches.’’49 They must join lay publics in dialogue about both problem and method and treat these sessions as serious consultations from which they might learn.


In his theoretical writing, Dewey offers little advice about what set of actions─ political, educational, or intellectual─ will lead to the development of revitalized publics.50 But, during the Depression, Dewey articulates a model of activist, educative politics for building a new and egalitarian social order. In the words of The New York World Telegram, Dewey moves ‘‘out of the classroom’’ and into the ‘‘hurly-burly’’ of politics, playing a leadership role in the movement to create a third political party and participating in vibrant public dialogues with progressive educators and labor leaders.51 In each of these sites of activism, Dewey encourages mass education and organization of powerful publics that will restore ‘‘hope to politics’’ and provide for ‘‘equality among human beings irrespective of race, color and creed.’’52

Throughout the Depression, Dewey calls for ‘‘educational tactics’’ to provide ‘‘spiritually and mentally starved American workers’’ with sustenance that is as necessary as ‘‘food for the physically starved.’’53 ‘‘We submit,’’ he writes in a funding appeal for Brookwood Labor College, ‘‘that no activity can be more important than . . . giving workers themselves the vision of a new world and some comprehension of the means by which it may be achieved.’’54 In advocating ‘‘educational tactics,’’ Dewey does not mean ‘‘a cloistered withdrawal from the scene of action.’’ Rather, he calls for political education that ‘‘translate[s] . . . ideas and knowledge . . . into emotion, interest, and volition.’’55 For this to occur, ideas ‘‘must be linked to the practical situation’’─ the everyday ‘‘troubles and aspirations of the mass of the population.’’56

Teachers can learn something about the defects and requirements of existing types of organization by the study of economic and sociological literature and by reading such newspapers and periodicals as state the facts honestly. But the understanding thus gained is cold and at arms’ length compared with the understanding and sympathy that would spring from direct and vital contact with . . . productive workers.57

Dewey’s appeal for greater contact between teachers and workers resonates with his persistent call for greater organization among allies in the struggle for equality. He proposes that organizing liberals is harder than organizing conservatives. Whereas conservatives ‘‘hold together not so much by ideas as by habit, tradition, fear of the unknown,’’ liberals ‘‘depend upon ideas . . . and when persons begin to think upon social maters they begin to vary.’’58 To build common cause, Dewey argues, liberals must do more than agree in principle; they must act together. ‘‘Organization of standpoint and belief among liberals can be achieved only in and by unity of endeavor.’’59

The social and personal benefits that contemporary theorists commonly associate with social capital sound similar to those that Dewey believed accrue to citizens who forge alliances and take joint action. ‘‘Working shoulder to shoulder in a unified common movement’’ energizes participants and builds their commitment to one another as well as their shared cause.60 These commitments provide participants with ‘‘backbone’’ and protect them from the conservative backlash that inevitably attends struggles for equity.61 As Dewey puts it, ‘‘Divided, we may fall. United, we shall stand.’’62 Further, Dewey argues that by combining with allies, participants gain a stronger voice ‘‘to impress [their ideas] upon public opinion.’’63 Finally, Dewey recognizes that participation in joint activity is educative. Through alliance, individuals ‘‘develop the character, skill and intelligence that are necessary to make a democratic social order a fact.’’64


Dewey pushed beyond traditional understandings of knowledge and knowledge diffusion. Knowledge that provides insights on inequality─ what Dewey at times refers to as ‘‘economic literacy’’─ is necessarily practical knowledge, bound up with problems of everyday experience.65 Acquiring this literacy requires engagement with academic texts and ‘‘vital contact’’ with workers who bring special insight about their own troubles and aspirations.66 Consistent with his overlapping views of learning and democratic politics, this literacy must be honed in joint action.

Yet, for all its insights, Dewey’s educative politics is limited by Dewey’s own standpoint. In the words of Cornel West, ‘‘Dewey writes from the vantage point of and in leadership over that rising professional fraction of the working class and managerial class that is in sympathy with and has some influence among an exploited yet franchised industrial working class in the United States.’’67 Hence, much of Dewey’s activist writing is directed to teachers rather than those he refers to as ‘‘the masses.’’ Concerned with the tendency of teachers to hold themselves above and apart from workers, Dewey aims to replace their aloofness with connection.68 His worries about teachers enacting and imposing class privilege lead Dewey to say little about the role of leadership or organizing within social movements. He calls on citizens to ‘‘unite to inform themselves’’ but neglects to address the critical role of organizers in bringing people together for education and shared action. Dewey’s standpoint also makes him wary of both agitational methods that move beyond dialogue and political engagement that transcends electoral politics.69 He offers no strategies or tactics that place an angry public face on the problems of inequality. Without petitions, protests, and other strategic actions, it is unclear how an educative politics can mobilize mass support or generate sufficient pressure to change institutional practice and social policies.

In sum, Dewey asks researchers and reformers to create a space for joint public work─ a space that is both for the work and defined by it. This ‘‘public sphere’’ has membership but no ownership. Participation is the price of admission. American freedoms, ephemeral at best outside the sphere, are rediscovered, regenerated, and become concrete within it. Here is where the civic participation of experts and citizens can shape policy through information gathering, exchange, interpretation, and debate─ the hallmarks of Dewey’s vision of participatory social inquiry. Further, the problems created by inequitable social policy are the correct content of this inquiry.


Dewey’s greatest contribution is helping us understand the need for public engagement and social inquiry. Dewey argues that equality rests with the intellectual engagement of those who bear the burden of inequality most rather than on isolated technical expertise and top-down structural change. His work envisions citizens engaged in public social inquiry more effectively connecting forms of educational inequality to their social, cultural, and political contexts and more effectively accounting for the ideologies of privilege that sustain those inequalities. Such participation, he argues, would create new and useful systems of knowledge not only accessible to all, but also serving as the basis of action.

In this final section, we seek to bring Dewey’s ideas about engagement and learning into conversation with recent scholarship on social movement organizing. Our view is that such organizing provides the most promising contemporary site for Deweyan social inquiry. In an organizing context in which multiple forms of inequality simultaneously impact grassroots groups, educational inequality is unlikely to be isolated from the larger social and economic conditions that shape the status quo of schooling and affect elites responses to equity reforms. Moreover, the central focus of organizing is building the power necessary to confront the nontechnical (meaning social, political and cultural) dimensions of change that must occur within schools and across society before the promise of Brown can be fulfilled.

The challenge today is to find strategies or tactics that can mobilize mass support or generate sufficient pressure for equitable institutional practice and social policy. For such strategies, we turn to the structures and practices associated with democratic social movement organizing. Social movement organizing, with its rich tradition of engaging poor and working-class communities in plural forms of social agitation, pushes on the limits of Dewey’s educative politics, traditional research, and proper roles for organizers and elites who would contribute and not control. Scholars generally have looked to organizing efforts as strategies for building institutional and political power. Yet, more recent scholarship also examines how organizing promotes learning as community members come together to act on their common interests. This is the point of intersection between contemporary social movements and Dewey’s conception of social inquiry.

For example, sociologist Francesca Polletta elaborates the centrality of knowledge creation and learning in democratic social movement organizing─ what she calls the innovatory and developmental elements of democratic participation.70 Polletta argues that members of grassroots groups constantly develop new strategies and skills in the course of political action as they share leadership, exchange ideas, and negotiate consensus. Marshall Ganz draws upon his work as a civil rights and farm worker organizer to identify three components of organizing that simultaneously build power and educate participants: developing relationships, creating common understandings, and taking action. For Ganz, the goals of organizing are to create networks that can sustain activist communities, frame stories about the network’s identity and purpose, and develop a program of action that mobilizes and expends resources to advance the community’s interests.71

Relationship building, creating common understandings, and action taking are not ‘‘stages’’ of organizing, but rather concurrent processes. They unfold as groups begin to coalesce in inquiry around a shared problem. Certainly they require the sort of experimentalism and broad participation described by Dewey. But they also demand a political way of being in the world─ a sensitivity to inequality, a commitment to support the interests of the group, and a belief in the power of joint action to alter existing circumstances. Social movements gain force through an emerging identity of the group that has common interests and acts to achieve them.


Organizers develop relationships by linking community members to one another in networks. Such networks build power─ often described as social capital─ that can be used as a resource for social action. These social ties create norms of solidarity and reciprocity among community members. Members can count on one another to keep commitments and work on one another’s behalf.72 As networks develop, organizers let go of the leadership, with the goal of locating responsibility and power in the group.


Organizers and community members engage one another in dialogue about their situations and generate more hopeful alternatives. Such dialogue reframes problems; it also fosters a sense of collective identity among the group as people discover shared interests around which they might act jointly. The dialogic pedagogy developed by Paulo Freire in his work with Brazilian peasants is probably the best example of such generative dialogue.73 In Ganz’s formulation, this dialogue allows groups to construct a story of who they are, what they do, and why they do it. That ‘‘story’’ motivates the group to strategize about ways to realize the more hopeful possibilities they’ve framed.


The creation of an activist community begins as such groups target a particular objective─ often small at first─ perhaps providing services to the group or making claims on its behalf to powerful others. They strategize about how to mobilize and deploy resources at the most advantageous moment to achieve the objective. Such focused campaigns do more than advance the cause that the community has identified; they also develop the community itself. Local actions contribute to broad cultural change, and broader movements nourish local learning and action.


Creating the political will to disrupt unequal schooling requires powerful actions by those who stand to benefit most: low-income students, parents, and community members of color. Building power is necessary if activists hope to increase the overall level of resources available to the public education system in ways that can reduce the fierce competition for scarce resources and advantage that prevails today. More resources can provide decent options for those who seek an equitable system and good schools for their own communities. Building power can also help buffer equity-minded educators who, in the absence of community activism, are vulnerable to resistance from powerful parents seeking to maintain the status quo. These strategies can help offset the political opposition that can destroy equity reform.

However, these organizing and social movement strategies must be as much about democracy and learning as they are about building power. Balancing power as a strategy for generating public will is not promising unless social inquiry and social understanding are infused into the public realm. Dewey is instructive in describing and advocating social inquiry conducted in the context of meaningful sustained relationships between researchers, teachers, students, parents, and activists. This inquiry, in theory and in our own findings, yields knowledge that defines high-quality education, merit, and achievement in racially inclusive ways. By participating in social inquiry, low-income parents and parents of color have the opportunity to remake their image, becoming actors in an organizing ‘‘movement’’ context. Their engagement helps frame a powerful story of parents and communities who want and deserve high-quality education and who know what education can and should be. As such stories take hold in the public consciousness, cultural obstacles to equity can be challenged more successfully.

It would be naı¨ve, however, to overlook the considerable challenges to such an approach. We cite just a few here. Placing the onus on poor people to initiate ‘‘participatory social inquiry’’ calls on them to surmount the material and political asymmetries that underlie their current disadvantages─ not the least of which is the lack of financial resources and social capital, major factors in building power and mounting successful social and political campaigns. Moreover, although cross-race coalitions are essential for equity reforms, many well-meaning whites are oblivious to the privilege and racism that they bring with them to these initiatives and how these inevitably undermine the movements’ goals and outcomes.74 Additionally, the growing income inequality in the United States no doubt lessens the likelihood that the ‘‘haves’’ will support meaningful change.

Certainly, these are radical ideas about educational reform, ideas that face considerable challenges. However, we believe that Dewey would have researchers and equity reformers aim for no less. To give him the last word,

There is, moreover, nothing more radical than insistence upon democratic methods as the means by which radical social changes be effected. It is not a merely verbal statement to say that reliance upon superior physical force is the reactionary position. For it is the method that the world has depended upon in the past and that the world is now arming in order to perpetuate. It is easy to understand why those who are in close contact with the inequities and tragedies of life that mark the present system, and who are aware that we now have the resources for initiating a social system of security and opportunity for all, should be impatient and long for the overthrow of the existing system by any means whatever. But democratic means and the attainment of democratic ends are one and inseparable. The revival of democratic faith as a buoyant, crusading and militant faith is a consummation to be devoutly wished for. But the crusade can win at the best but partial victory unless it springs from a living faith in our common human nature and in the power of voluntary action based upon public collective intelligence.75


1 J. Dewey, ‘‘Democracy Is Radical’’ in The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925–1953, ed. J. A. Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981), 11: 299. All references in this article to Dewey’s writing are from John Dewey’s collected works published by Southern Illinois University Press under the editorship of J. A. Boydston. Dewey’s writing is collected in three series: The Early Works 1882–1898, 5 vols.; The Middle Works, 1899–1924, 15 vols.; and The Later Works, 1925–1953, 15 vols. We refer to these series in later notes as Early Works (EW), Middle Works (MW), and Later Works (LW) and list the volume number, the original year of publication, and the page number referenced.

2 Quoted in D. Cecelski, Along Freedom Road: Hyde County, North Carolina, and the Fate of Black Schools in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), xiii.

3 See J. Oakes, A. S. Wells, Beyond the Technicalities of School Reform: Policy Lessons from Detracking Schools (Los Angeles, 1996).

4 J. Dewey, ‘‘Liberalism and Social Action,’’ LW 11 (1935): 64.

5 See, for example, E. D. Guba and D. L. Clark, ‘‘Levels of R & D Productivity in Schools of Education,’’ Educational Researcher 7, no. 5 (1978): 3–9; see also A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan, and D. Hopkins. The International Handbook of Educational Change (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 2000) for comprehensive reviews.

6 See, for example, the list of services provided on the Equity Assistance Network Web site, For a brief history of the purpose and role of the Centers, see, B. Scott. ‘‘From ‘DAC’ to ‘EAC’: The Expanding Role of the Equity Assistance Center,’’ Intercultural Development Research Association Newsletter (February 1999), http://

7 P. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Age and Practice of the Learning Organization (London: Century Business, 1990).

8 For a comprehensive review of this history of planned educational change, see M. B. Miles, ‘‘Finding Keys to School Change: A 40-Year Odyssey,’’ in The International Handbook of Educational Change, ed. A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan, and D. Hopkins (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 2000), 37–69.

9 G. Orfield, Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation (Cambridge, MA: Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, 2001).

10 See, for example, D. Bell, ‘‘Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma,’’ Harvard Law Review 93 (1980): 518; J. M. Balkin, ed., What ‘‘Brown V. Board Of Education’’ Should Have Said: The Nation’s Top Legal Experts Rewrite America’s Landmark Civil Rights Decision (New York: New York University Press, 2001); J. M. Balkin, ‘‘Would African-Americans Have Been Better Off without Brown v. Board of Education?’’ The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 35 (2002):102–06. Note: Jack Balkin is Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School.

11 For a review of this literature, see J. Oakes, A. Gamoran, and R. Page, ‘‘Curriculum Differentiation,’’ in Handbook of Research on Curriculum, ed. Philip York (New York: Macmillan, 1992). See also J. Oakes and G. Guiton, ‘‘Matchmaking: The Dynamics of High School Tracking Decisions,’’ American Educational Research Journal 32 (1995): 1, 3–33; H. Varenne and R. McDermott, Successful School Failure: The School America Builds (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998).

12 See, for example, J. Oakes, A. S. Wells, A. Datnow, and M. Jones, ‘‘Detracking: The Social Construction of Ability, Cultural Politics and Resistance to Reform,’’ Teachers College Record 98 (1997): 482–511; A. S. Wells and J. Oakes, ‘‘Potential Pitfalls of Systemic Reform: Early Lessons from Research on Detracking,’’ Sociology of Education, Extra Issue (1996); see also J. Oakes, K. Quartz, S. Ryan, and M. Lipton, Becoming Good American Schools: The Struggle for Civic Virtue in Education Reform (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000); K. Welner, Legal Rights, Local Wrongs; When Community Control Collides with Educational Equity (New York: SUNY Press, 2001).

13 For a compelling elaboration of this argument regarding merit and competition, see N. Lemann, ‘‘Rewarding the Best, Forgetting the Rest,’’ New York Times, April 26, 1998.

14 See, for example, E. Brantlinger, Dividing Classes: How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003); E. M. Horvat, A. Lareau, and E. B. Weininger, ‘‘From Social Ties to Social Capital: Class Differences between Schools and Parent Networks,’’ paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Educational Research Association, New Orleans, April 2002; P. Lipman, Race, Class, and Power in School Restructuring (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998); M. Sapon-Shevin, Playing Favorites: Gifted Education and the Disruption of Community (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994); A. Staiger, ‘‘Whiteness as Giftedness: Racial Formation at an Urban High School,’’ Social Problems 51 (2004): 161–82; E. L. Useem, ‘‘Middle Schools and Math Groups: Parents’ Involvement in Children’s Placement,’’ Sociology of Education 65 (1992): 263–79.

15 For further elaboration of this argument, see J. Oakes and A. S. Wells, ‘‘The Comprehensive High School, Detracking, and the Persistence of Social Stratification,’’ in A Future for the Comprehensive High School? ed. F. M. Hammack (New York: Teachers College Press, 2004).

16 The prevailing narrative of Brown has focused on political resistance to legal change. Far less attention has been paid to political resistance to educational change. Yet, that is the dominant story of the last 35 years. After legal resistance to integration broke down in the late 1960s, cultural and political barriers to equitable education have persisted and in some ways strengthened the hold of unequal educational practices. See, for example, Welner, 2001.

17 For more elaborated discussions of this point, see E. Brantlinger, Dividing Classes: How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003); J. Oakes, A. S. Wells, A. Datnow, and M. Jones, ‘‘Detracking: The Social Construction of Ability, Cultural Politics and Resistance to Reform,’’ Teachers College Record 98 (1997): 482–511; A. Staiger, ‘‘Whiteness as Giftedness: Racial formation at an Urban High School,’’ Social Problems 51 (2004): 161–82.

18 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy,’’ MW 10 (1917): 51.

19 J. Dewey, ‘‘Ethics,’’ LW 7 (1932): 348.

20 J. Dewey, ‘‘Mediocrity and Individuality,’’ MW 11 (1922): 289.

21 J. Oakes, K. Welner, S. Yonezawa, and R. Allen, ‘‘Norms and Politics of Equity Minded Change: Researching the ‘Zone of Mediation,’’’ in International Handbook on Educational Change, ed. M. Fullan, A. Hargreaves, and A. Lieberman (London: Kluwer, 1998).

22 Often mainstream reforms actively worsen conditions for students who hold less powerful positions in schools and communities (e.g., new tracking systems, high-stakes testing programs, and so on), and sometimes students are disadvantaged by what is left out of reforms (e.g., repairing inadequate facilities, guaranteeing well-trained teachers). These are matters about which the research on reform has been almost silent.

23 These approaches to planned educational change are consistent with the prevailing industrial/technical model of schooling that focuses almost exclusively on schooling’s instrumental role in producing academic achievement or workforce preparation. Even as the school change research and practices have come to understand the importance of cultural norms in facilitating or inhibiting reform, the focus has been on achieving a shared vision, developing norms of collegiality, or teachers’ sense of efficacy─ all thought to be part of the instrumental mix for improving schooling outcomes. So too is the case with considerations of the political dimensions of change. Even the most sophisticated analysts have focused most exclusively on the mircopolitics of change─ that is, the battles over resources, authority, and status within schools that often accompany efforts to change educational practice─ and attended little, if at all, to the larger political dynamics of equity-focused change.

24 As we noted at the outset, conventional strategies are based on knowledge diffusion and planned educational change theory mostly borrowed from the business world. They typically separate the substance of the reform (teaching methods, school reorganization, and so on) from the processes by which educators learn about the reform and believe in it (‘‘buy-in’’ or ‘‘organizational learning’’). They often take ongoing financial and policy support for granted. They promise a payoff in increased achievement, with little further analysis broached about the long-term sustainability of such achievement, the value of the achievement, the opportunity costs of pursuing one achievement vis-a`-vis other positive outcomes with the available time and resources, and possible differential benefits with the greatest value going to traditionally well-served students. When experts deliver or disseminate knowledge, when they train or ‘‘in-service’’ school personnel, or when they design packaged programs for schools or other experts to follow, there is little incentive to ask or listen to troublesome critiques such as these. There is nothing inherently offending about being an expert and having expertise, and the knowledge of experts exists for others to use. Our pejorative use of ‘‘expert’’ here refers to particular reform relationships that are based on power and authority and exist outside a public sphere where civic participation, information gathering, exchange, interpretation, and debate can take place.

25 Welner, 2001.

26 J. Dewey, ‘‘Ethics,’’ LW 7 (1932): 350.

27 Dewey notes that the lack of such material conditions is a prime contributor to illiteracy. See, ‘‘The Sources of a Science of Education,’’ LW 5 (1929): 314.

28 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Sources of a Science of Education,’’ LW 5 (1929): 297; ‘‘The Economic Basis of a New Society,’’ LW 13 (1938): 320.

29 J. Dewey, ‘‘Philosophy and Democracy,’’ MW 11(1918): 53.

30 H. Putnam, Renewing Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 180; H. Putnam, ‘‘A Reconsideration of Deweyan Democracy,’’ Southern California Law Review 63 (1992): 1683.

31 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Sources of a Science of Education,’’ LW 5 (1929): 297.

32 J. Dewey, ‘‘Philosophy and Democracy,’’ MW 11 (1918): 53.

33 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 339.

34 J. Dewey, ‘‘Ethical Principles Underlying Education,’’ EW 5 (1897): 59.

35 J. Dewey, ‘‘Emerson─ The Philosopher of Democracy,’’ MW 3 (1903): 190. Dewey wrote this quote in his essay on Emerson, but, as Cornel West argues, it speaks broadly to Dewey’s central concern with democratizing knowledge. See C. West, The American Evasion of Philosophy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 75.

36 J. Dewey, ‘‘Democracy and Education,’’ MW 9 (1916): 16.

37 J. Dewey, ‘‘Democracy and Education,’’ MW 9 (1916): 326.

38 J. Dewey, ‘‘Education as Politics,’’ MW 13 (1922): 331.

39 J. Dewey, ‘‘Sources of a Science of Education,’’ LW 5 (1929): 313.

40 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 340.

41 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 364, 367.

42 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 364.

43 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 344.

44 D. Morris, ‘‘‘How Shall We Read What We Call Reality?’: John Dewey’s New Science of Democracy,’’ American Journal of Political Science 43 (1999): 619.

45 In the inimitable words of Cornel West, ‘‘Critical intelligence is available to all peoples; it is neither the birthright of the highbrow nor the property of the professional’’ (97).

46 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 365.

47 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 364. This warning and the subsequent discussion on the role of experts served as a direct rebuttal to Walter Lippmann’s democratic realism. In language that evokes Lippmann’s text, Dewey spoke of how, in recent years, society had come to be dominated by a new class that claimed to rule ‘‘not in virtue of birth and hereditary status, but in virtue of ability in management and of the burden of social responsibilities which it carries, in virtue of the position which superior abilities have conferred upon it’’ (LW 2, 362).

48 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 362, 363.

49 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Public and Its Problems,’’ LW 2 (1927): 364.

50 In his conclusion to The Public and Its Problems, Dewey argues that ‘‘It is outside the scope of our discussion to look into the prospects of the reconstruction’’ of publics (368). Similarly, he closes his other major work in political philosophy, Liberalism and Social Action, by noting, ‘‘It is no part of my task to outline in detail a program for renascent liberalism’’ (64).

51 J. Dewey, ‘‘Setting New Goals at 70,’’ LW 6 (1931): 407; ‘‘Is There Hope for Politics,’’ LW 6 (1931): 188.

52 J. Dewey, ‘‘Is There Hope for Politics,’’ LW 6 (1931): 230; ‘‘Address to the NAACP,’’ LW 6 (1932): 182.

53 J. Dewey, ‘‘Is There Hope for Politics,’’ LW 6 (1931): 188; ‘‘Help for Brookwood,’’ LW 6 (1932): 328.

54 Ibid. Such political education, he argues, offers more hope than efforts of ‘‘social agencies’’ in ‘‘‘character-building’ or ‘faith-restoring.’’’

55 Ibid.

56 J. Dewey, ‘‘United, We Shall Stand,’’ LW 11 (1935): 350.

57 Ibid.

58 J. Dewey, ‘‘Social Change and Its Human Direction,’’ LW 5 (1930): 364.

59 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Meaning of Liberalism,’’ LW 11 (1935): 364.

60 J. Dewey, ‘‘Social Change and Its Human Direction,’’ LW 5 (1930): 346.

61 J. Dewey, ‘‘Freedom and Workers’ Education,’’ LW 5 (1928): 331.

62 J. Dewey, ‘‘United, We Shall Stand,’’ LW 11 (1935): 352.

63 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Economic Situation: A Challenge to Education,’’ LW 6 (1932): 130.

64 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Teacher and the Public,’’ LW 11 (1935): 162.

65 J. Dewey, ‘‘United, We Shall Stand,’’ LW 11 (1935): 350.

66 Ibid.

67 Cornel West contrasts Dewey’s standpoint with Marx, who ‘‘theorizes from the vantage point of and in solidarity with the industrial working class of nineteenth-century Europe─ an exploited, unfranchised, and downtrodden people’’ (70).

68 J. Dewey, ‘‘The Teacher and the Public,’’ LW 11 (1935): 158.

69 Our argument here follows Cornel West’s sympathetic, but critical reading of Dewey in The American Evasion of Philosophy.

70 F. Polleta, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

71 Ganz, 2001; see also K. Bobo, J. Kendall, and S. Max, Organizing for Social Change: A Manual for Activists in the 1990s (Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks Press, 1991); R. Fisher, Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America (New York: Macmillan, 1994).

72 See, for example, J. Coleman, Foundations of Social Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990); R. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

73 P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1970).

74 J. Anner, Beyond Identity Politics: Emerging Social Justice Movements in Communities of Color (Boston: South End Press, 1996).

75 J. Dewey, ‘‘Democracy Is Radical,’’ LW 11: 299.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 9, 2005, p. 2178-2203 ID Number: 12157, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 2:10:54 AM

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