My research primarily 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.
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”
How should institutions be designed so that the votes of the people reflect the general will and not the corporate will of the politically powerful? 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.
“Compassion’s More Dangerous Allies: Fear, Anxiety, and Amour-Propre“
What kind of moral and sentimental education should we pursue under non-ideal circumstances? In states characterized by high inequality and imperfect political institutions, scholars have increasingly turned their attention to the ethics of care (Tronto 2013; Held 2005; Kittay 1999) and the politics of compassion (Nussbaum 1996; 2001; 2013; 2014; Whitebrook 2002; 2014; Porter 2006). In response, critics have been concerned that compassion is too weak to serve politically salutary goals. Drawing on the moral and political psychology of Emile, this paper shows that Rousseau relied on fear, anxiety, and amour-propre to extend compassion across class lines. Rousseau’s account suggests that the proper development of compassion cannot do without these more “dangerous” allies, at least not in societies characterized by socio-economic inequality. In addition to its contribution to Rousseau scholarship, the paper adds to the contemporary literature on moral sentiments by highlighting three psychologically plausible and previously unacknowledged strategies for extending compassion: fear of downward social mobility, religious anxiety and pride.
Papers Under Review:
“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.
Section in progress.
Dissertation: Children 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”.