Bullough, R. V., & Rosenberg, J. R. (2018). Schooling, democracy, and the quest for wisdom: Partnerships and the moral dimensions of teaching. Rutgers University Press. $27.95
Reviewed by Kaitlyn O. Holshouser and Drew Polly, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Schooling, Democracy, and the Quest for Wisdom: Partnerships and the Moral Dimensions of Teaching by Robert Bullough and John Rosenberg provides a relevant perspective given the current social and political climate within the United States. At a time when our nation seems divided, this text serves as a great reminder of what John Goodlad explicates as the “moral dimensions of teaching” and the role that schools play in preserving the democratic principles upon which our country was founded. Bullough and Rosenberg attribute the lack of democratic manners to the paucity of public spaces available to engage in productive, democratic discourse. This has incited a preference for sameness and a disdain for anything that constitutes “the other”. The authors cite educational institutions as foundational to bringing the principles of democracy back into focus. They contend that we must broaden our current vision and purpose of education. Bullough and Rosenberg aim to provide readers with “a framework for considering fundamentals – principles, aspirations, and practices of partnering–an approach to understanding the relationship of the educative whole to its parts, or more precisely, to its partners” (p. 7). The authors emphasize that we must first work to restore democracy in our educational institutions through the work of partnering.
One central theme running through the text is the idea of relationships and their place in partnerships. In Chapter 2, Rosenberg gives a rather vulnerable account of his own journey from isolation to partnerships. Starting as the Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Rosenberg details how he felt removed from students and faculty involved in Spanish education within his department. Rosenberg discusses how these students, and secondary education students generally, are often ostracized and marginalized within their larger subject-focused departments. To correct this problem, Rosenberg bravely entered the educational domain, and began attending several workshops conducted by John Goodlad. Although Rosenberg felt like a fish out of water on various occasions, he began to learn the ropes of education, which resulted in a beautiful partnership with the school of education and educational leaders in his area. The positioning of this chapter at the outset establishes Rosenberg’s credibility as an author as he shares his own venture in stepping outside of his comfort zone to build relationships and engage in the type of partnership work that this book promotes.
Establishing partnerships is not enough; relationships within those partnerships must be sustained. Bullough and Rosenberg make clear that “institutional partnerships endure only as well as the individual relationships that constitute them” (p. 31). In its rich description of the integral components of partnership and relationship building, the authors use an architectural metaphor in which the partnership is related to a house. As with maintaining the different parts of the house, or the partnership, the authors attend to the complexity of sustaining partnerships, which is in the details of the interaction among various partners. The authors describe the “threshold” or “boundary” that has the potential to both include or exclude. They describe the thresholds as a “set [of] boundaries between what is familiar and what is unknown, what is safe and what is threatening, what is self and what is other” (p. 49). Although the authors contend that inclusivity is imperative in partnerships, there needs to be a clear understanding of where the partnership stops and starts because it would be impossible to include everyone. Further, the “commons” refers to the specific place in which interaction among partners occurs so as to build relationships. The authors discuss the necessity for all partners to equally distribute the tasks, be hospitable, and engage in the work of the partnership. These concepts are central to their partnership and should be foundational for all partnership work.
Contribution to the Field and PDS
The themes of hospitality and partnership, frequently referred to by the authors, include connections to many of the NAPDS Revised Nine Essentials (NAPDS, 2021) such as Essential 1, as that Essential focuses on partnerships that have comprehensive missions that go beyond the individual goals of the school or the university. The focus on democratic principles and using democracy as a springboard for partnerships serves as a comprehensive mission. Another pertinent Essential is 4, which focuses on innovation, reflective practice, and generative knowledge. The authors include case studies and examples of how partnerships can and should be grounded in analyzing the current condition of democratic concepts within their partnership and how those concepts can be enhanced through innovation and change.
The authors’ focus of centering democracy in educational partnerships resounds within this text. This central concept is well substantiated with examples, research, and/or theory that illustrate ways that this can be accomplished. In Chapter 5 the authors connect democracy to the first moral dimension of preparing the young for participation in a social and political democracy. To bridge the gap between conversation and dialogue from Chapter 4 to the active participation in democracy discussed in Chapter 5, the authors argue that democracy and democratic processes require a robust commitment to listening to and engaging with others, as well as being part of a caring and willing public. The book concludes by connecting the ideas of educational stewardship together, indicating that as educational stewards we need to be cognizant of the role that our actions play in the larger educational system and that our teaching and work is bigger than ourselves. The authors offer the idea that what happens in a third grade class influences not only students but the actions of their future teachers in later grades. The authors repeatedly strengthen their argument that education and schools should be more than just preparing for jobs alone, and hold that education’s role in developing individuals to participate in a democracy is the key building block of their supposition.
Readers of this book will understand the engagement of all stakeholders and participants in school-university partnerships which may include, but are not limited to college and university administrators, teacher education faculty, faculty who are primarily housed in PK-12 schools, school and/or school district administrators. Further, graduate students may read this book in teacher education masters or doctoral level programs. This book may be used as a text for a common read or a book study between participants in a school-university partnership.
The book holds true to its title and focus of the first moral dimension: to prepare children to function in and contribute to a democracy. Its insistence that this occurs within partnerships reflects our work in PDS. This book provides a broad look at a democratic lens on education, provides insight towards moral dimensions and effective practices related to partnerships, and provides examples of these topics. The authors are to be commended for their multiple stories and references to culture, society, and impactful educational research studies.
National Association for Professional Development Schools. (2021). What It Means to be a Professional Development School: The Nine Essentials (2nd ed.) [Policy statement]. Author.