Learning in the Plural

Learning in the Plural: Essays on the Humanities and Public Life

David D. Cooper
Foreword by Julie Ellison
Scott J. Peters
Timothy K. Eatman
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 194
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.14321/j.ctt7zt7cb
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  • Book Info
    Learning in the Plural
    Book Description:

    Can civic engagement rescue the humanities from a prolonged identity crisis? How can the practices and methods, the conventions and innovations of humanities teaching and scholarship yield knowledge that contributes to the public good? These are just two of the vexing questions David D. Cooper tackles in his essays on the humanities, literacy, and public life. As insightful as they are provocative, these essays address important issues head-on and raise questions about the relevance and roles of humanities teaching and scholarship, the moral footings and public purposes of the humanities, engaged teaching practices, institutional and disciplinary reform, academic professionalism, and public scholarship in a democracy. Destined to stir discussion about the purposes of the humanities and the problems we face during an era of declining institutional support, public alienation and misunderstanding, student ambivalence, and diminishing resources, the questions Cooper raises in this book are uncomfortable and, in his view, necessary for reflection, renewal, and reform. With frank, deft assessments, Cooper reports on active learning initiatives that reenergized his own teaching life while reshaping the teaching mission of the humanities, including service learning, collaborative learning, the learning community movement, and student-centered and deliberative pedagogy.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-402-6
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. TRANSFORMATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: SCHOLARSHIP OF ENGAGEMENT
    (pp. v-viii)
    Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Burton Bargerstock and Laurie Van Egeren
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. FOREWORD: ON THE BUS
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    JULIE ELLISON

    The true beginning ofLearning in the Pluralcomes in the middle of the book, in the 2002 essay, “Bus Rides and Forks in the Road: The Making of a Public Scholar.” As a chronically nonsequential reader, I am only half joking when I propose that the reader of this book start here—especially if that reader cares about college teachers. You will accompany David Cooper as he recalls his three-stop bus route through Providence, Rhode Island, in the early 1970s: “Facing unemployment lines jammed with fellow baby boomer academics and without the slightest prospect for a full-time tenure track...

  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xix-xxii)

    The ten essays inLearning in the Pluralare selected from dozens of articles, chapters, reviews, and commentaries I have published during the past two decades on the humanities, literacy, and public life. They address important issues head on and raise often-provocative questions about the relevance and roles of humanities teaching and scholarship, the moral footings and public purposes of the humanities, engaged teaching practices, institutional and disciplinary reform, academic professionalism, and public scholarship in a democracy. Those questions boil down to core queries that have sustained, prodded, and vexed my career: Can civic engagement rescue the humanities from a...

  6. BELIEVING IN DIFFERENCE: THE ETHICS OF CIVIC LITERACY (1993)
    (pp. 1-16)

    I can think of no more urgent moment than now for undergraduate educators to be asking ethical questions about the content and context of a liberal arts education. How can the interdisciplinary work of liberal studies, for example, bring harmony out of the dissonances of a curriculum, on the one hand, increasingly energized by the dynamic differences between races, classes, and genders, and a society, on the other, increasingly threatened by divisiveness, disengagement, and disenfranchisement? Can liberal studies help heal the wounds of our fractured national life? Or is the spirit of integration that has traditionally nourished myths of unity...

  7. MORAL LITERACY (1994)
    (pp. 17-32)

    One of my principal concerns as a writing teacher is my students’ moral literacy and, in particular, the critical nexus formed in the writing classroom by language, moral sensibility, cultural values, identity development, and ethical behavior. I am well aware of how slippery and risky the term “moral literacy” can be. I do not mean necessarily to imply an individual’s talent or acumen for judging right from wrong merged with the language arts. Nor would I endorse William Kilpatrick’s problematic flip side of the term used in his recent study of the public school’s “moral weightlessness,” subtitledMoral Illiteracy and...

  8. READING, WRITING, AND REFLECTION (1998)
    (pp. 33-48)

    “What really irked me about Betty’s decision,” Rudy writes in his journal, “was that it should have been an editorial decision based on layout, design balance, etc. Instead, it was based on a phony rationale. The incident had an adverse effect on my outlook towards service at the Center.” Rudy explains:

    When Betty and I discussed the final edits for the newsletter, she also explained to me that there was to be a change in the layout. [U.S.] Senator [Spencer] Abraham would not have his picture included in his story [about renaissance zones in Michigan]. Another individual, Flint Mayor Woodrow...

  9. THE CHANGING SEASONS OF LIBERAL LEARNING (1998)
    (pp. 49-68)

    In the spring of 1990, several student groups at my campus erected shanties on a newly reclaimed “People’s Park.” Growing out of a protest symbolism spurred by the antiapartheid and endowment divestiture movements that briefly flourished on college campuses nationwide during the mid-1980s, the People’s Park shanties were aimed initially at heightening awareness of various social justice issues after a long winter of Big Ten basketball and political hibernation.

    The first five shanties were united into a community “Shantytown” by a common protest discourse and shared political alignments. The groups included HURT (Helping to Understand Racism Today). The Democratic Socialists...

  10. ACADEMIC PROFESSIONALISM AND THE BETRAYAL OF THE LAND-GRANT TRADITION (1999)
    (pp. 69-82)

    Before passage of federal legislation inaugurating the land-grant movement in the 1860s, elite private colleges enjoyed an educational monopoly that exclusively served America’s professional classes. These were colleges that Justin Morrill, father of the land-grant acts, subtly denigrated as “literary institutions” (Parker 1924, 262), by which he implied effete seats of privilege. The land-grant college was supposed to offer an alternative that embodied a passionate feeling for democracy, access, and educational pragmatism: the open road of American higher learning, egalitarian, energetic, and free.

    I wish to argue, however, that this conceptual framework situating egalitarianism and class privilege as the organizing...

  11. BUS RIDES AND FORKS IN THE ROAD: THE MAKING OF A PUBLIC SCHOLAR (2002)
    (pp. 83-98)

    One consolation of finishing graduate work during the job market freeze-out in the late 1970s was the opportunity I had to experience, during a single semester, what obliquely struck me at the time as the full institutional spectrum of American postsecondary education. Facing unemployment lines jammed with fellow baby boomer academics and without the slightest prospect for a full-time tenure track position, I managed nonetheless to cobble together three part-time teaching jobs. After covering a couple sections of freshman English at Rhode Island College, I walked a few blocks through a working-class neighborhood in North Providence and caught the in-bound...

  12. EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRACY: A CONVERSATION IN TWO KEYS (2004)
    (pp. 99-114)

    By the time my students readThe New Student Politicsthey weren’t in much of a mood, it seemed to me, to parse and sort through its arguments. Earlier in the semester, they had already been actively involved in public work. They had felt something of the promise of political engagement through public interest research and public literacy projects that brought them into direct contact with senators and representatives at the state capitol. A centerpiece of the course was, in effect, a classic lobbying campaign. Students designed, refined, and carried out strategies to distribute among key state legislators a booklet...

  13. IS CIVIC DISCOURSE STILL ALIVE? (2007)
    (pp. 115-122)

    Before stepping into the tricky question of civic discourse’s current vital signs, it may be useful to consider a definition and a distinction.

    First, whatiscivic discourse? “The whole purpose of democracy,” Woodrow Wilson reminds us, “is that we may hold counsel with one another.” Simply put, civic discourse is that mode of collective democratic counsel. It is the way citizens think about, form, and articulate their relations with public issues. Civic discourse happens through speech acts that span all sorts of rhetorical forms and practices, from diatribe and polemic to argument, debate, deliberation, and, not the least as...

  14. FOUR SEASONS OF DELIBERATIVE LEARNING (2008)
    (pp. 123-150)

    From 2002 to 2005, I set out on a systematic journey to incorporate deliberative democracy and deliberative learning practices into a sequence of three new courses I developed in an interdisciplinary department of rhetoric and American Studies. The courses covered a full gamut of undergraduate teaching assignments, from a general-education requirement to a senior capstone project. This essay is partly a description of some of the techniques I tried out along the way, partly a lab report on the outcomes of the experiments I conducted, and partly a travelogue about the highs and lows of the journey—the exhilarating discoveries...

  15. CAN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT RESCUE THE HUMANITIES? (2013)
    (pp. 151-166)

    The relationship between the civic engagement movement and the contemporary humanities reminds me of a Nora Ephron movie likeSleepless in SeattleorYou’ve Got Mail. Typically, the movie begins with two single, upwardly mobile middle-age characters who face a growing void in their otherwise successful lives. Serendipity steers them to each other. Circumstance or plain dumb luck often intrudes and keeps them apart. The plot becomes a study of their romantic, often heroic, and sometimes comic journey to find each other. Just before the movie fades to the credits, they finally meet and either walk away together hand in...

  16. AFTERWORD: SPEAKING AND WORKING IN CRITICALLY HOPEFUL TERMS
    (pp. 167-178)
    SCOTT J. PETERS and TIMOTHY K. EATMAN

    In the final essay in this book, David Cooper tells a tragic story about scholars in the humanities who have detached and “marooned” themselves from the public sphere. Many readers will likely take issue with the role he assigns in this story to poststructuralist (and other) theories in the contemporary humanities. But most will share his central concern. There are forces at work within and beyond the academy that serve to separate academic life and work from civic life and work—not only in the humanities, but in every discipline and field.

    Importantly, Cooper’s tragic narrative of a marooning detachment...

  17. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 179-182)