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Reimagining the Public Intellectual in Education

Making Scholarship Matter

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Edited By Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin and Cynthia Reyes

While the term «public intellectual» has been used to describe scholars who seek to share their re-search with the public, little work has been done to examine the role of a public intellectual in the field of education. This book builds upon the notion of the public intellectual in a way that makes the term more accessible, using it to refer to education scholars who seek to share their research outside of academia. Media coverage of educational issues is rife with self-appointed experts on education who have claimed space in public discussions to define educational problems and dominate public dialogues on education. But where are the education researchers in these academic dialogues? This book addresses their absence, sharing the stories of scholars who are seeking to enter public dialogues and reclaim space for reasoned dialogue on education. The stories of public scholars highlighted here acknowledge that the policymaking arena is teeming with value conflicts that can lead to dismissing or ignoring research if it does not fit with political agendas.
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Chapter Seven: The Public Intellectual: The Changing Context; Implications for Attributes and Practices

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← 80 | 81 → CHAPTER SEVEN

The Public Intellectual

The Changing Context; Implications for Attributes and Practices

WILLIAM J. MATHIS



INTRODUCTION

The sledgehammer rose slowly before crashing into the windshield of the faded red SUV. Political opponents had bought Cheryl Rivers’s old car, parked it in front of the statehouse, and proceeded to pound it to pieces. It made for dramatic television. Where other politicians had gone to ground, State Senator Rivers publicly defended Act 60, Vermont’s new education funding law, and faced the critics of the legislation and the ensuing media firestorm head-on. As her frequent co-presenter, I learned that public forums jam-packed with people with their blood up do not have much in common with the cordial intellectual dialogue that (sometimes) occurs in academic circles.

I was luckier. I escaped with only one punctured tire in a dark, cold, snow-covered parking lot. I had had other brushes with public anger: my mailbox disappeared one night, and in another incident, the Ku Klux Klan burned down our camp gate and left us a little note. Anyone taking stands on public issues is subject to criticism, public scorn, and worse. It’s exciting and scary, yet morally compelling. A good deal has been written about public intellectuals. The common thread is they bring a body of academic or scientific knowledge to bear on public policy issues and present this information to lay audiences in straightforward colloquial terms.

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