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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 Eight: Reflections of a “Stunt Intellectual” : Caught In the Crosshairs of “Public” Controversy

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← 94 | 95 → CHAPTER EIGHT

Reflections of a “Stunt Intellectual”

Caught in the Crosshairs of “Public” Controversy

WILLIAM AYERS



The idea of a set of creatures called “public intellectuals” has long puzzled me, especially when that label has been affixed to me, as it has on occasion. The term always seems just a bit too lofty for me. If I’m any kind of intellectual at all, I’d think to myself, I’m a “stunt intellectual,” the guy the real intellectuals call when they have to jump off a bridge or hang upside down from the wing of an airplane.

It’s true that I write—books, articles, chapters, reviews, op-eds, blog posts—and that I speak whenever I’m asked to at conferences, on campuses, and in community gatherings all over the place. It’s true that I’m a life-long teacher and activist. It’s also true that I’m an advocate for a culture of democracy and for the creation of an expansive and generous public square where people can come together as equals, face one another without masks, and engage in dialogue: listening with the possibility of being changed and speaking with the possibility of being heard. And it’s also undeniable that my particular history and my ongoing activism have occasionally thrust me unwittingly into manufactured controversies not of my choosing. For example, in October 2008, officials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln canceled three talks I was scheduled to give in mid-November at...

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