It was Pittsburgh this year where the Philosophy of Education Society held its annual meeting; a beautiful city. I started to come in 1994 or 95, and missed maybe one or two. The Society was founded in 1942, and John Dewey used to be a member. This is where I get to be someone else entirely. Of course, my philosopher friends know I went to the Dark Side, and joke about it. But it is all the same to them – it is the merits of your argument that count, not seniority, or how many people on the program committee are your friends (in fact, it is harder). The Society is notorious for taking peer review very seriously. One of the former presidents complained that his papers were rarely accepted before and after he served as the President: “What kind of scholarly society routinely snubs its presidents?” I had a dry spell of perhaps 9 years where I sent something in every year without any luck. It is not enough to have a good idea, but one needs to develop the craft to develop a good argument. And once you get the craft down, you tend to run out of ideas. It is not easy to have both, and the truth is – whenever you sit down to write, you can never be sure that something worthy will come out. And this is how it should be. Of course, now we can “publish” anything at all – even the haphazard writing like in this blog. And because of that, we need places like my PES even more than before. Someone has to apply impassionate scrutiny to our thinking. We need a friend who understands but who is tough. Otherwise, the intellectual enterprise called scholarship disintegrates in the relentless play of ambition, vanity, and opinion.
Higher education is changing. Every week we hear about one or another potentially disruptive innovation. Teacher education that used to support philosophy of education is under pressure, and cannot support the field anymore. And it is understandable – we are asking the public to pay for us to think deeply about education, and yet no one outside the group can understand what the conversation is about. It is a great degree of trust we are asking for, providing that unlike biologists or engineers we cannot really demonstrate any tangible benefit to the society. Change is inevitable and may be profound. I just hope there will always be a PES conference, even if none of us get to be full time philosophers. Who cares, right? Socrates did not get a pay check from the Athenian state at all; he did get a free cup of hemlock to drink. A Russian geneticist organized a secret graduate school at a Moscow pharmacy when Stalin outlawed genetics. We can’t complain of being persecuted.