Is it possible to for individuals, and by implication, for society as a whole to flourish in our modern world? Common ground seems unstable at best—yet lacking a shared vision, how can we address issues or economic injustice, alienated labor, environmental destruction, political dysfunction, inadequate health care, violence, and intolerance?
My research contributes to a tradition of democratic education, which seeks ways for human flourishing to occur. It asks “How can we guide the educational enterprise by an ethical vision, not simply a technocratic one of transmitting isolated facts and skills?” That vision should include helping every individual develop as a fully-formed person, while situating that development in the context of helping the society thrive as well. Education here is seen as occurring in formal sites such as schools and universities, but also in libraries, museums, workplaces, online, and in our daily interactions in the social and natural world.
Drawing upon the work of pragmatist philosophy and progressive education, democratic education implies fostering productive methods of thinking and problem-solving, appreciation of music, art, and literature, healthy social attitudes and sensitivity to others, and a consistent philosophy of life. It further implies the development of a critical, socially-engaged intelligence, in which individual learning is embedded in active participation in community life.
In this effort, I’ve created learning environments in which learners collaborate on both the ends and means of their learning. This research includes the study of technology-enhanced learning, inquiry-based learning, teacher learning, and collaborative community-based projects. It includes the development of computer systems to support collaboration and community action, such as Quill (software for literacy), the Inquiry Page, Community Inquiry Labs, Discoveries, and Statistics Workshop.
The work has led me to collaborate on extended projects in China, Australia, Haiti, Turkey, Romania, Ireland, and many other places. Last fall, I helped set up the Progressive Educators Network of Nepal, which brings together teachers, engineers, development workers, and others who see learning as part of full participation in society and the natural world, rather than as individualized learning removed from the daily life.
This work is discussed in recent books, including
- International handbook of progressive education (2015),
- Youth community inquiry: New media for community and personal growth (2014),
- Libr@ries: Changing information space and practice (2006),
- Literacy in the information age: Inquiries into meaning making with new technologies (2003),