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Dewey 2016: Speakers


Keynote Speakers:

Barbara Stengel 

Barbara Stengel


Barbara Stengel is a Professor of the Practice of Education at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University and Associate Chair for Teacher Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning.  She is a former President of the Philosophy of Education Society and also served as the Society's Executive Director and as the Editor of the PES Yearbook.   Stengel is the co-author (with Alan Tom) of Moral Matters, a treatment of the moral dimensions of teaching and learning and has published numerous journal articles and book chapters with this focus.   Her current work is centered on the function of affect, especially fear, in the framing of educational systems, practices and practitioners. Areas of expertise include pragmatist philosophy, especially Dewey studies, and the reconceptualization of teacher education as learning through (moral) practice.


We can make mistakes ... And we can fix them': Countering Cruel Optimism to Promote Public Education

There are multiple challenges intrinsic to the work of teaching, an endeavor called “an impossible profession” and fraught with “predicaments.” These challenges require trading in uncertainty and practicing humility. Good teachers are piqued and attracted by challenges of this kind.  But contemporary sociopolitical and socioeconomic reality constrains teachers in ways that flatten these intrinsically interesting challenges and replace them with a less interesting but more immediate challenge to pedagogical integrity: how to teach in ways that are actually educative while also nodding in the direction of “student achievement” captured in high(er) test scores.  I explore this challenge with Dewey’s help and argue that the richest responses to such a challenge take shape when careful attention is paid to the conditions enabling shared teacher responsibility for and collaboration around student development and instructional planning.  In particular, teachers’ capacity (and space) for error and correction is a critical element in this dynamic.

Alison Peacock

Alison Peacock


Professor Dame Alison Peacock DL, DLitt, MEd, BA, is author of 'Assessment for Learning without Limits' (2016) and co-author of 'Creating Learning without Limits' (2012). Research into Learning without Limits explores an alternative improvement agenda; identifying key dispositions for school leadership where every child and adult is valued and where no one is labelled by so-called 'ability'. Alison has worked in partnership with educational researchers to document her innovative work as a teacher and creative school leader. Throughout her career, Alison has sought to teach and lead in a manner that encourages the voice of the child, building a trusting environment for dialogue that enriches understanding and builds communities of lifelong learning.


Learning without Limits

Professor Dame Alison Peacock will talk about her belief in the importance of a principled alternative to traditional school improvement. She will illustrate her Learning without Limits philosophy through description of the journey of her primary school, where she set about establishing a 'listening school'. Throughout her career, Alison has sought to teach and lead in a manner that encourages the voice of the child, building a trusting environment for dialogue that enriches understanding and builds communities of lifelong learning.

Rosa Bruno-Jofre

Rosa Bruno Jofre


Rosa Bruno-Jofré, PhD, is a Professor at and former dean (2000-2010) of the Faculty of Education, cross-appointed to the Department of History, Faculty of Art and Sciences, at Queen’s University, Canada. Her areas of expertise are history of women religious, history of education, and educational theory from a historical perspective. Her current research on the history of the Religieuses de Notre Dame des Missions (a French congregation) in Canada is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. In the last few years she has worked together with Jon Igelmo Zaldívar (also with funding) on Ivan Illich.

Her authored and co-authored articles have appeared in Educational Theory, Hispania Sacra, Paedagogica Historica, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (Cambridge; forthcoming), American Catholic Review, Historical Studies, Bordón, Revista Española de Pedagogía, and Bildungsgeschichte, among others. Her authored /co-authored and edited /co-edited books have been published by McGill-Queen’s Press, University of Toronto Press, Routledge, and Wilfrid Laurier University Press.


Localizing Dewey’s notions of democracy and education: a longue durée journey across historical configurations in Latin America

Historian Rosa Bruno-Jofré explores the reception of Dewey’s ideas on democracy and education in Latin America from the beginning of the twentieth century through the “long 1960s” (1958-1974). She situates her subject within the framework of a dynamic interplay between the local, the regional, and the supranational. These interplays generated configurations containing shared spaces that, when examined, could clarify why different groups of religious leaders, intellectuals, politicians, union leaders, and educators found in Dewey’s educational theory (often mutilated from pragmatism) a way to organize their thinking and actions in their encounters with modernity. In an attempt to bring empirical specificity while pluralizing Dewey’s “translations”, Bruno-Jofré discusses selected configurational spaces: Chile in the 1920s; post-revolutionary Mexico; the discourse of the Protestant Committee on Cooperation in Latin America in the 1920s; and the Catholic reading of Dewey by Chilean Jesuit Alberto Hurtado in the 1930s and 1940s. Dewey’s ideas lingered in various settings and configurations while also becoming associated with developmentalist projects inspired by the Alliance for Progress. The long 1960s signaled a shift. From lived experiences in Latin America, as well as its revolutionary discourses and practices, new conceptions of education and social transformation, and challenging ways of thinking about pedagogy and democracy emerged. But Dewey was not embraced in this process. Education as a tool for change became an epistemic and political project within the context of a critique of the rhetoric of development and modernization and new visions of social transformation. Bruno-Jofré places different actors like Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich in this context.

Gert Biesta

Gert Biesta


Gert Biesta ( is Professor of Education and Director of Research at the Department of Education at Brunel University London. In addition he is (part-time) NIVOZ Professor for Education at the University for Humanistic Studies in the Netherlands, and Visiting Professor at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, the Netherlands, and NLA University College, Bergen, Norway. Since 2015 he is a member of the Education Council of the Netherlands, the advisory body of the Dutch government and parliament. His work focuses on the theory and philosophy of education and theory and philosophy of educational and social research. His PhD (Leiden University 1992) focused on the work of Dewey. In 2003 he published Pragmatism and Educational Research, co-authored with Nicholas Burbules (Rowman & Littlefield). His latest monograph, The Rediscovery of Teaching, will be published by Routledge in 2017.


The most influential theory of the century? Dewey, democracy and democratic education reconsidered

In her influential book Democratic Education (1987), Amy Gutmann refers to Dewey’s work as the “most influential theory” of democratic education of the 20th century. While there can be no doubt that Dewey put the theme of democracy firmly on the educational agenda – and in this regard the title of Democracy and Education continues to do important rhetorical work around the globe – the question remains what the substance of Dewey’s views on education and democracy actually are. In my presentation I provide a critical reconstruction of Dewey’s ideas, tracing them from their roots in Dewey’s early writings up to the way in which Dewey reformulated them in later work, including in Democracy and Education. The critical question I raise is whether, in seeking to make a connection between education and democracy, Dewey was actually concerned about the political project of democracy and its educational demands, or whether he remained caught in European conceptions of education-as-formation (Bildung) that tend to ‘flatten’ both the educational and political dimensions of what democratic education ought to be about.

Panel Session Speakers

Topic: "John Dewey – too toxic for policy?"
Panellists: Melissa Benn, Richard Pring and Linda Stone

Melissa Benn

Summary of Remarks

Over the past few years, there has been a tremendous backlash against, and often malicious misinterpretation of, many of the progressive ideas associated with the movement for comprehensive education, many of which drew direct inspiration from Dewey’s work. A new generation of politicians, school leaders and teachers have shown a disdainful disregard for this tradition, and propounded a ‘back to basics’ approach to education, leading to the introduction of a high-stakes system that is already leaving a generation of children behind.

But all is not lost. Pockets of resistance and places of innovation are growing among teachers and parents fed up at the rigidity and lack of autonomy of the current system. A few brave schools are defying the current toxic orthodoxy, building their practice on inquiry-based learning, stressing the importance of relationships and enjoyment of learning in the ‘now’ as much as the acquisition of qualifications. I will be talking about this and how Dewey’s work is relevant, albeit in fresh ways, to the battles of this generation.

Lynda Stone, Samuel M. Holton Distinguished Professor, and Professor, Philosophy of Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

Subverting Dewey for Dewey to Succeed
Summary of Remarks

In the USA, a problematic exists today for Deweyan schooling. Traditional organization and curriculum and a mania for testing have mitigated against a presence of progressive practices. At the level of much education reform rhetoric, there exists also an emphasis on critical social justice that plays into tradition in the name of minority student achievement only. Dewey’s philosophy of democratic education is falling on multiple deaf ears, policy as well as school people.

In this climate students actually recognize and utilize all sorts of new relationships and knowledges that they and even their teachers undertake. These arise out of a sense of ‘new’ ethics and ‘new’ epistemology for which they do not now possess an underlying social-political language. Such a language can come from origins in Dewey and be realized as reform through a process of subtle subversion. One such venue in the US is existing professional learning communities.

Richard Pring

Summary of Remarks

The 1967 Plowden Report ‘defined’ the nature of primary education. Its central themes concerned the importance of the child’s experience, activity, exploration and discovery as the bases of educational development. A key influence was seen to be John Dewey, advocate of child-centred learning.

This provoked responses from the defenders of ‘traditional learning’, reflected in Professor O’Hear’s (adviser to Margaret Thatcher) attack:

It is highly plausible to see the egalitarianism which stems from the writings of John Dewey as the proximate cause of our educational decline.

Rather, in defence of ‘traditional education’:

Education … is irretrievably authoritarian and paternalistic … imparting to a pupil something which he has yet to acquire …The transmission inevitably between unequals.

That ‘dualism’ (‘child-centred’ versus ‘traditional’) remained entrenched in political discourse for decades. Keith Joseph said I had caused all the problems in our schools because I had introduced teachers to John Dewey – repeated by David Willetts in 2010.

Similarly in the US. Though hailed by many as 'saviour of American education' because of his criticism of 'traditional learning', Dewey was called ‘worse than Hitler’ by others for advocacy of 'child-centred learning', introducing ‘socialisation in place of true education’ .

Toxic indeed!