My research addresses the political theory of education. By investigating the legitimate educational roles of local and state governments, teachers’ unions, parents’ associations, law courts, and school administrators, I aim to build an empirically-informed normative theory of public education appropriate for a liberal and democratic political community.

Published Papers:

Some of my work on institutions extends beyond the educational context to consider broader issues of institutional design appropriate for a democratic society.

Pluralism and the General Will: The Spartan and Roman Models in Rousseau’s Social Contract

This paper shows that Rousseau identified two mutually exclusive solutions to the problems caused by factions. The first is the more typically discussed Sparta model where an encompassing public education system eliminates pluralism through social engineering. The second is the overlooked Roman model for managing pluralism by organizing the population into multiple overlapping divisions and balancing the power of various interest groups.

Papers Under Review:

“Compassion’s More Dangerous Allies: Fear, Anxiety, and Amour-Propre

Normative political theorists have incorporated civil passions such as compassion into prominent accounts of democratic deliberation, political decision-making, and moral reasoning. Meanwhile, fear, anxiety and pride are still regarded with suspicion as enemies of compassion. Drawing on the moral and political psychology of Rousseau’s Emile, this paper argues that compassion cannot always do without these more dangerous allies, at least not in societies characterized by socio-economic inequality and other persistent forms of difference. The paper presents three potentially viable and previously unacknowledged strategies for extending compassion under non-ideal political circumstances: fear of downward social mobility, religious anxiety, and pride.

“Inadequate for Democracy: How (Not) to Distribute Primary Education”

There is widespread agreement among philosophers and legal scholars that the current distribution of educational resources in the US is unjust, but very little agreement about why. An increasingly prominent view posits an adequacy standard based on the requirements of democratic citizenship (Gutmann 1989; Liu 2006; Satz 2007, 2008; Anderson 2004, 2007). According to this view, which I refer to as democratic sufficientarianism, inequalities in educational resources or opportunities above the threshold required for democratic citizenship are morally unobjectionable if and only if all children are provided with an education sufficient to meet those demands. Previous critiques of democratic sufficientarianism have argued that adequacy is too low a standard that neglects the positional aspects of education. In response, democratic sufficientarians have insisted that the standard they propose is high. The critique presented in this paper shows some problems with making the education threshold as demanding as its advocates suggest while continuing to connect educational accomplishments to democratic citizenship. In its most popular articulations, democratic sufficientarianism is stuck between an antidemocratic rock and an antisufficientarian hard place. Either the philosopher specifies a precise and demanding threshold with antidemocratic implications or she insists upon democratic equality irrespective of educational achievements, thereby undercutting the sufficientarian search for anything but a minimal threshold. As I show in the paper, analogous problems emerge regardless of whether one interprets democratic sufficientarianism as primarily about the requirements for discharging the rights and responsibilities associated with democratic citizenship or about the equal status demanded by it.

Working Papers:

“When Justice Needs Democracy: The Case of Public Education”

“Public Teachers and Public Choice”

“The Apolitical Child: Children’s Citizenship in Locke’s Political Thought”


DissertationChildren or Citizens: Civic Education in Liberal Political Thought

My contention is that the history of liberal political thought contains two models of children’s political status. The first model, which I refer to as “the apolitical child”, emerged out of the social contract tradition, particularly the Second Treatise of John Locke. In making political obligations voluntary, this tradition justified exclusive parental authority over children’s education. The second model, which I refer to as “the child as citizen”, develops out of a later liberal tradition concerned with preserving liberal regimes against the growing threats of illiberal populism, religious fanaticism and political violence. By identifying children as already subject to political power, this tradition focused on incorporating checks and balances and separation of powers into the design of institutions for public education. I am currently working on a book manuscript based on the dissertation and subsequent research entitled “The Politics of Public Education”.



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