American education as we know it today—guaranteed by the state to serve every child in the country—is still less than a hundred years old. It’s no wonder we haven’t agreed yet as to exactly what role education should play in our society. In these Tanner Lectures, Danielle Allen brings us much closer, examining the ideological impasse between vocational and humanistic approaches that has plagued educational discourse, offering a compelling proposal to finally resolve the dispute.
Allen argues that education plays a crucial role in the cultivation of political and social equality and economic fairness, but that we have lost sight of exactly what that role is and should be. Drawing on thinkers such as John Rawls and Hannah Arendt, she sketches out a humanistic baseline that re-links education to equality, showing how doing so can help us reframe policy questions. From there, she turns to civic education, showing that we must reorient education’s trajectory toward readying students for lives as democratic citizens. Deepened by commentaries from leading thinkers Tommie Shelby, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Michael Rebell, and Quiara Alegría Hudes that touch on issues ranging from globalization to law to linguistic empowerment, this book offers a critical clarification of just how important education is to democratic life, as well as a stirring defense of the humanities.
About the Author
Danielle Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. She was a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship in 2001 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. In 2020, she won the Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, administered by the Library of Congress, that recognizes work in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prizes. She is the author or coeditor of many books, including Education and Equality, From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age, and Education, Justice, and Democracy, all published by the University of Chicago Press.
"Danielle Allen ... is a pragmatic visionary. ... The implicit argument is that being democratic and being happy, possessed of well-being, is in our self-interest. An explicit argument, refreshing to read, is that the humanities are essential to such happiness."
— Catharine R. Stimpson
"[A]n ambitious and rich blend of themes. Baldly summarized, they offer a defense of the place of humanities and social sciences in the curriculum, a variant on familiar objections to governments’ current preoccupation with the “vocational” and promotion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). But her framing the argument in terms of connections between education and equality is excitingly distinctive, and her route to her conclusion engages with an unusual range of influences and modes of theorizing.... Overall it shows the value of sustained engagement with a range of academic disciplines and approaches, both theoretical and empirical.... Allen’s big ideas come through loud and clear."