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Reimagining the Public Intellectual in Education

Making Scholarship Matter


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 Eleven: An Inevitable Dichotomy…Really? Harmonizing Public Intellectual Work With Academic Work


← 126 | 127 → CHAPTER ELEVEN

An Inevitable Dichotomy… Really?

Harmonizing Public Intellectual Work with Academic Work


In 1993 I taught a senior seminar at Trinity College of Vermont and assigned Postmodern Education by Aronowitz and Giroux (1991). That’s where I first came across the term “public intellectual.” Inspired by that concept, I immediately challenged my students to think of themselves as educators writ large with civic responsibilities beyond the classroom. I felt that at Trinity this idea had a serious chance, since our college was dedicated to social justice. To say the least, it was a hard sell. Paralleling the dilemma facing many academics, my students felt that public intellectual work would take them away from their primary duties as newly minted classroom teachers, perhaps causing unnecessary problems with their school’s administration. My point that public intellectual work and academic work were mutually supporting simply didn’t make sense to them.

I was puzzled. The term “public intellectual” may have been new to me, but the behavior had been part of my professional life since the mid-1970s. I was then a social studies teacher at the Philadelphia YMCA’s Penn Center Academy, but I also served as the education coordinator for a Chinatown community organization. I believed my time teaching English language and citizenship classes was just as important as my high school teaching job. Both involved working with people needing to move on in their lives, and...

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