Philosophers sought to think about education

by Harry on June 5, 2008

The Spencer Foundation has just announced a small grants program, specifically to encourage philosophers to work on issues in education. The grants are up to $40k and the application process is relatively easy. This is part of a larger long-term Intitiative to help build Philosophy in Educational Policy and Practice. (Full disclosure: I’ve been working with the Spencer Foundation over the past couple of years to develop this intitiative, and am, with Mike McPherson, its co-director). One of the things I have noticed during my career is how many people who work in ethics or political philosophy start doing some medical ethics or bioethics, usually after being enticed, or invited, by medical schools to comment on various issues. Although there are numerous fascinating and difficult issues in the institutional world of education, it seems to me that far fewer normative philosophers get pulled into that arena, and the Initiative is an attempt to start to correct that. We’re especially hopeful that good philosophers who are nearing (and reasonably confident of getting), or have just gotten, tenure will explore this opportunity, even if they haven’t previously worked in this area.

One other comment. I kind of fell into working on educational issues, and did so before getting tenure. I probably would have done it anyway, but the strong encouragement of a couple of senior colleagues was a big help in assuring me that by taking up a neglected field I was not doing something that would be disapproved of. I suspect that some younger scholars worry, and usually wrongly, that philosophy of education and applied ethics generally might be frowned upon, so if you are a senior philosopher and have a junior colleague whom you think should take this up, it would be a good idea to tell them about it, approvingly, and directly.



Ingrid Robeyns 06.06.08 at 10:51 am

Harry, is this an internatonal grant scheme, or only for USA-based scholars? I couldn’t find an answer to this question on the pages that you linked to, but perhaps I didn’t read it careful enough…

As for your comment: I agree with your observations, fwiw. This makes me think (again!) about the ideal-nonideal debate that we need to have here one day – and that day will be sometime in July or August.


harry b 06.06.08 at 1:20 pm

Ingrid — yes, we should have that discussion/debate. I’ll get some more thoughts prepared.

I need to check, but I am pretty certain that national boundaries are not relevant for this — ie, that scholars from any country are eligible to apply for funds.


Aaron Swartz 06.06.08 at 4:07 pm

Don’t take this the wrong way, but what do philosophy grants typically pay for? The costs of hiring a lecturer to take over your teaching duities? Research assistants? Books?


anonymous philosopher 06.06.08 at 4:53 pm

I had the same question as Aaron. Can one get salary out of such things?

Not, ah, that I wouldn’t be doing it out of pure love of philosophy & education, of course….


Steve LaBonne 06.06.08 at 5:08 pm

Don’t take this the wrong way, but what do philosophy grants typically pay for?

Cue hoary paper/pencils/wastebasket joke in 3,2,1…


harry b 06.06.08 at 7:31 pm

I’ve used grants for two purposes — buying out teaching time, and supporting a research assistant. Most philosophers, I guess, prefer the former, as I used to, but now I prefer the latter, having figured out how to make good use of a research assistant (which is harder to do in philosophy than in many disciplines, I suspect, and impossible, probably, for some philosophers given the way they work).

Having time free from teaching is really valuable pre-tenure if one has not yet learned how to juggle teaching a research efficiently, and because one’s prospects for tenure depend enormously on producing publications. Post tenure, producing publications is a much less high stakes matter and, one would hope, one has mastered the relationship between teaching and research (which, for philosophers, can be a much more symbiotic relationship than it can for many other scholars — a great deal of my research “output”, for example, including some of the best of it, originated in my undergraduate teaching).


Aaron 06.08.08 at 2:44 pm

Is this limited to philosophers in philosophy departments, or are scholars focused on philosophy in Education departments also eligible?


harry b 06.09.08 at 1:38 pm

Scholars in education departments (and, for that matter, political science, sociology, economics departments, or any other department where someone is doing philosophy) are certainly eligible. Getting more philosophers to work in the area is one aim of the project, but not the only one.

Comments on this entry are closed.