Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform: Civic Society, Public Schools, and Democratic Citizenship

By Saltmarsh, John | Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform: Civic Society, Public Schools, and Democratic Citizenship


Saltmarsh, John, Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning


Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform: Civic Society, Public Schools, and

Democratic Citizenship

Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, and John Puckett

Philadelphia: Temple University Pres, 2007

In 1916, the same year that John Dewey wrote his seminal book on the philosophy of education, Democracy and Education, he also wrote that democracy would have to be reborn each generation with education serving as the midwife, assuring a vital and healthy civic life (1916b). Perhaps the same is true for the movement for civic engagement in higher education. There are indications that it is time for a rebirth of the movement. Participants at a 2004 Wingspread conference on the future of engagement in higher education (Brukardt, Holland, Percy, & Zimpher) concluded that while the movement has created some change, it also has plateaued and requires a more comprehensive effort to ensure lasting institutional commitment and capacity. Thus, it is particularly timely that this book has come on the scene with the explicit goals of agenda-setting and movement-building for civic engagement in higher education.

Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform--Civil Society, Public Schools, and Democratic Citizenship is co-authored by Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, and John Puckett. Each brings valuable intellectual expertise to interrogating John Dewey's writings, even though it is Harkavy who is best known nationally and internationally for his leadership in the higher education civic engagement movement. Benson is professor emeritus of history at the University of Pennsylvania and is recognized as the grandfather of service-learning at Penn. He is a historian of the University and his influence is particularly felt in providing the context for the evolution of community-based education at Penn and its mission-oriented outreach into the neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Puckett teaches in the Graduate College of Education at Penn and has been actively involved in building University partnerships with West Philadelphia schools. He brings to the book a special knowledge of community-based schools, and most recently co-authored Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School: Education As If Citizenship Mattered (2007). Covello was the founder of a community-centered school in East Harlem whose work is a model of creating citizen-centered community schools. Finally, there is the contribution of Ira Harkavy, who for many in the world of community-engaged higher education, is a statesmanlike figure nationally and internationally as well as the intellectual architect of the community engagement work at UPenn where he is Associate Vice President and Director of Penn's Center for Community Partnerships.

Because of Harkavy's influence, many of us have heard the arguments put forth in Dewey's Dream in one form or another. But never has the basis for Penn's engagement been so cogently explained. Dewey's Dream will be--and should be--widely read in part because it carries the weight of Harkavy's leadership in reclaiming the civic responsibility of higher education and in formulating and implementing democratic education. I am reminded of what Henry Commager wrote about Dewey in The American Mind, that "so faithfully did Dewey live up to his own philosophical creed that he became the guide, the mentor, and the conscience of the American people; it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that for a generation no issue was clarified until Dewey had spoken" (p. 100). In the world of higher education and its democratic engagement with local communities, much the same can be said of Harkavy. For many of us tilling the fields of higher education civic engagement, it is because of his role as guide, mentor, and conscience of the movement that this book will be taken seriously.

There are four explicit purposes of this book. One is to remind us of those aspects of Dewey's educational philosophy that are fundamentally central to civic engagement. …

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