October 27, 2009
Re: The PhD program in History and Philosophy of Education
Dear Dean Gaskell:
I would like to offer my own indication of concern about the proposal to eliminate the PhD program in the History and Philosophy of Education at OISE. In writing about the matter, I think I can also speak for my wife, Julie Mathien, who received an MA from OISE in the field and who currently does policy and administrative work in the field of early childhood education for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. When I was a graduate student I took one of my outside minor courses in the predecessor department, from Albrecht Wellmer. My most recent involvement with the department came in the Fall of 2008, when I audited a course taught by Megan Boler and Etienne Turpin on the work of Gilles Deleuze. I have done consulting work for trustees of the old Toronto Board of Education, worked as a research assistant for Rivi Ullmann on the teaching of FSL, and teach Philosophy of Education on a regular basis at UTM. Frank Cunningham, one of the movers behind philosophy in Ontario secondary schools, was my dissertation supervisor, and Andre Gombay, another of the founders, has been an associate for years. I currently teach and do administrative work at the Transitional Year Program, and I helped to organize and currently coordinate the HSBC Steps to University Program, which offers university courses to high school students in schools with low post-secondary participation rates.
I run through all this detail to underline my own concerns with education. I am not an investigator in most of the areas covered by the program under consideration, but I am no casual commentator.
Once upon a time, in Canada, the United States (for example the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell), and Europe as far afield as Croatia, faculties of education were integrated into schools of philosophy. Until well into the Twentieth Century, many important innovations in education and education theory were made by philosophers: Dewey, Whitehead, Sidney Hook and Israel Scheffler come to mind as American examples. To teach well, and to make policy well, it is important to be able to reflect on one’s work from a critical distance, in a disciplined way. It has been my own experience that good policy in many fields benefits from such perspectives, and I cite as examples A.K. Sen in development economics (and education); G.A. Cohen, Jon Elster, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Michael Walzer and Sir Isaiah Berlin (teacher of Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff) in political theory and Will Kymlicka, Amy Gutmann, Jane Roland Martin, Cornel West and Martha Nussbaum in social theory in general and education in particular as examples. All of these individuals have had an important influence on education policy making in the English-speaking world, and especially in Canada. All have contributed on the basis of their philosophic training. So have thinkers active in other language communities: Habermas and Wellmer in Germany, Freire in Brazil (and many other places), Foucault and numerous others in France (and beyond). A serious program in Theory and Policy Studies in Education ought to incorporate investigations into the Philosophy of Education at the highest level if only to help policy makers recognize the framing assumptions with which they operate. It ought also to include high level investigations in the history of education. Historical studies provide a critical perspective on the matters about which policymakers worry. They reveal the effects of, and the forces behind educational changes of the past, and indicate how educational institutions fit into broader social complexes. They can liberate the imagination: if things have been otherwise, in a range of interesting ways, they might be otherwise again. When questions of moral education (and these do concern policy makers on all levels) arise, the tools of the economist and the sociologist, need the help of the moral philosopher and the social historian. I cannot think that Education Theory and Policy could prosper without these studies. I am a bit shocked that so few North American programs now include them. Someone has to do the basic work on which decision makers in the field can draw. I think that it would be scandalous for OISE to withdraw from high level work in the field.
I understand that external reviewers have suggested that history and philosophy of education at the University of Toronto are threatened by a lack of resources. They suggest that one way to cope with the shortages is simply to withdraw. I also understand that there is still substantial student interest in the fields. As you no doubt have, I have seen a response to the review that indicates that reviewer pessimism about resources is overstated. Even if the intramural resources in Theory and Policy Studies at OISE are strained at the moment, there are other investigators in these areas elsewhere at OISE, elsewhere in the University and at other postsecondary institutions in the GTA. My own feeling is that OISE should continue to enroll PHD students in the fields, drawing on its own resources across its departments. If those prove to be inadequate, or if an augmentation makes good sense, then OISE should consider building a collaborative program for its PhD students in the field, just as there are currently collaborative programs in Women’s Studies and in Ancient and Mediaeval Philosophy. In any case it would be an unacceptable loss to allow the program to fold.
Associate Director, Transitional Year Programme, U. of Toronto
“Brian Corman, Edith Hillan, Vanessa Laufer, Karen Sihra