Making Scholarship Matter
Edited By Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin and Cynthia Reyes
Chapter Eleven: An Inevitable Dichotomy…Really? Harmonizing Public Intellectual Work With Academic Work
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An Inevitable Dichotomy… Really?
Harmonizing Public Intellectual Work with Academic Work
STEVEN JAY GROSS
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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