Harvard Educational Review
  1. Education, Justice, & Democracy

    Edited by Danielle Allen & Rob Reich

    Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013. 357 pp. $30.00 (paper).

    Education, Justice, & Democracy is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary collection of twelve essays generated from an eighteen-month seminar at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. Collectively, the volume argues for the need to clarify three foundational ideals of American school policy—not surprisingly, education, justice, and democracy. In the introduction, editors Danielle Allen and Rob Reich make the claim that Americans often take these three ideals for granted. Schools should educate. Schools should be just. Schools should be democratic. What is meant by these normative statements, however, can be terribly unclear or vastly different from person to person. The authors in this collection of essays approach these principles with this lack of clarity in mind, questioning what it means for schools to educate, to be just, or to be democratic. Such an analysis is relatively standard, and necessary, work for political theorists. Yet, the way in which these scholars approach the process of clarification makes this collection a breath of fresh air and, furthermore, an important read for any scholar of education.

    Education, Justice, & Democracy is designed to be a “paradigm-shifting conversation” (p. 6) between disciplines and traditional academic divides. Allen and Reich skillfully bring together a broad range of representatives from the social sciences—spanning political science, public policy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics—into dialogue with philosophers, ethicists, and literary critics from the humanities. In doing so, these essays reconnect two sides of an all-too-common—and potentially limiting—division of labor in academia between normative philosophical work and the empirical social sciences. Within this framework, questions about guiding principles and foundational ideals are charged to philosophers, while questions about how to enact or identify the effects of guiding principles and ideals are assigned to social scientists. Traditionally in this framework, normative scholarship has positioned itself as a guide for research. Allen and Reich accept this relationship, but push further by suggesting that research can help normative scholarship identify feasible sets of possibilities for enacting ideals in practice. The problem is that the two sides rarely purposefully converse with each other to make either of these relationships a possibility. This collection takes important strides toward changing the silent status quo. The essays exemplify a meaningful “coordinated multidisciplinary conversation” (p. 7) designed to illuminate both the role of empirical research in normative work on education and the normative stakes of educational reform.

    The organization of Education, Justice, & Democracy clearly reflects the collection’s methodological concerns. It is divided into three sections, “Ideals,” “Constraints,” and “Strategies,” each with four chapters. Appropriately, the order of the sections mimics the collection’s method of thinking about school policy through a normative-empirical partnership. The first section explores the core ideals of educational policy. Helen Ladd and Susanna Loeb examine the “complexity of defining and measuring education quality in a way that can help public decision making” and frame the resulting proxies for quality education against “normative standards of equal quality schooling, equal educational opportunity, and adequacy” (p. 21). Operating from a historical perspective, Rob Reich then delves deeply into two principles of distributive justice—adequacy and equality—teasing apart substantive differences between them and the consequences for policy. This chapter is a particularly compelling example of how empirical research can inform a normative argument. In his chapter, “Learning to be Equal: Just Schools as Schools of Justice,” Anthony Laden draws a powerful contrast to Reich, arguing that relational justice, not distributive justice, should be the guiding principle when considering the place of education in democracy. Dovetailing nicely with Laden’s chapter, Sigal Ben-Porath develops a view of citizenship as shared fate and adumbrates the implications of such a starting point for education policy. This section provides guidelines—sometimes expected, sometimes surprising—for how to conceive education, justice, and democracy as foundational principles of American school policy.

    In the second section, “Constraints,” empirical essays map out the limitations school policies face in instituting the values of education, justice, and democracy. The first chapter in this section, by Angel Harris, challenges contemporary research that marginalized students’ disinvest from schooling. Next, Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco target the “architecture of current immigration policy” (p. 133) as a way in which American social policies confer disadvantage on immigrant families. Following these two exceptional chapters, Gregory Walton explains how intelligence is “socially situated,” (p. 156) as it is dependent on interactions between individuals within particular contexts. Such an understanding, he explains, entails a number of difficulties with using intelligence to determine differential treatment. In the final chapter of this section, Richard Rothstein demonstrates how pervasive de jure segregation remains in American society, thereby inhibiting true justice. The normative-empirical partnership resonates throughout this section as the authors explore the normative implications of their findings, highlighted by sections like “Engendering Inequity through Family Involvement Policies” in the Suárez-Orozcos’ chapter.

    The third section, “Strategies,” demonstrates, again, the utility of the multidisciplinary framework. Here, the authors examine actual policies or suggest frameworks and proposals that purposefully combine the normative ideals of education, justice, and democracy with the implications of the real-world constraints—some identified by the empirical research in the “Constraints” section of the collection. In the first chapter of this section, Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift suggest that parents have only a limited right to choose schools for their children and follow this normative argument to practical conclusions by exploring how to reform school systems “to promote a properly weighted balance of family values and other desirable goals” (p. 201). Patrick McGuinn then examines the evolution of federal educational policies in the United States, noting the ways in which educational reform policy can fracture within a political party as well as between political parties. Continuing the focus on federal policies, Anna Marie Smith argues for an interpretation of Thurgood Marshall’s jurisprudence that expands the role of the federal government in education in order to equally protect the educational opportunities of all of the nation’s youth. In the final chapter, Seth Moglen situates the university as a starting point for addressing educational justice in a democracy. In their own unique ways, these chapters demonstrate how thinking about practical school policy can benefit from the insights of both empirical and normative scholarship.

    Education, Justice, & Democracy
    ends without a final word from the editors, leaving the readers to digest this whirlwind tour through the American educational and political landscapes on their own. This is not a simple task. Most of the chapters in Education, Justice, & Democracy could easily stand alone as articles in disciplinary journals. As the editors note in the introduction, each chapter models, in a slightly different manner, the overarching aim of bridging the normative empirical divide. While this is certainly a testament to the quality of the scholarship in this book—and the strength of the eighteen-month seminar that generated this book—it perhaps works against the intentions of the editors. The most unique aspect of this collection is the multidisciplinary conversation generated by the twelve essays together, and it is clear that these essays are together a whole greater than its parts. However, the many targets and strands of research and philosophizing that make up each section and, indeed, the entire book often make it difficult to find a narrative to follow throughout that highlights the juxtaposition and connection between normative and empirical scholarship at the center of this collection. Nonetheless, this is a provocative read that without a doubt demonstrates the possibilities of “coordinated multidisciplinary conversation.” It presents a novel and necessary approach to scholarship on school policy—one that should not be ignored by political theorists, policy makers, or empirical researchers.
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    Book Notes

    Education, Justice, & Democracy
    Edited by Danielle Allen & Rob Reich

    Creating Innovators
    Tony Wagner (supplementary video material produced by Robert A. Compton)

    Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice
    Larry Cuban

    Youth Held at the Border
    Lisa (Leigh) Patel