Public Philosophy Is Worth It

Logo for WLOV Tupelo.I’ve tried my hand at a few new kinds of public engagement efforts that have borne fruit. The latest example for me is in seeking TV interviews to talk about issues in public philosophy, particularly some ideas about how I think Mississippi could benefit from good democratic leadership. I’m headed to Tupelo, MS for an interview on WLOV’s This Morning show, Wednesday, November 18th. Then, on Monday, December 7th November 23rd, (updated), I’ll be heading to Biloxi, MS to give an interview on WLOX’s News at 4 show. After each I’ll be holding a book signing, though only the one in Tupelo has been scheduled at this point.

The Thinker, statue.Scholars or readers curious about higher education may wonder: why do all of this? We certainly have enough work to do teaching classes, researching and writing, applying for grants, and serving our institutions and professional associations (the work of a professor is a lot more than what folks see in the classroom). Why add on to that with “outreach” or public engagement?

In “The Search for the Great Community,” from The Public and Its Problems, John Dewey argues that democracy’s prime difficulty has to do with how a mobile, complex, and many layered community can come to define itself and its interests. He believed that the key to addressing democratic challenges was to make use of democratic means, particularly communication. Democracy can embody wise leadership, but only with widespread, maximally unhindered communication, especially emphasizing the developments of human knowledge — the sciences, broadly speaking. For that reason, it is a clear and crucial extension of his democratic theory to value the public engagement of scholars with their communities.

Scan of 'First Day of Issue' envelope honoring John Dewey in the 'Prominent Americans' series. The envelope bears Dewey's stamp, which was valued at 30 cents and issued on October 21, 1968.

When Dewey referred to public engagement, however, that did not mean only a one-way street. Communication takes listening too. So, the point isn’t only for scholars to speak to audiences, but for them also to learn from the people. When I write, I draw increasingly often from newspapers and magazines to illustrate my points about what people are saying and experiencing beyond the academy. Scholarly research is vital, but so is the world beyond the academy. Some circles have criticized me for it in peer-reviews, but so far I haven’t let that dissuade me from seeing scholars’ task as needing to draw also on sources and input from beyond the academy. In addition, talking with people around Mississippi and in other states about my work has revealed all kinds of interesting insights. Some people offer me great examples that I can use to strengthen my points. Others highlight challenges for bringing about the kinds of changes that I believe are needed.


MS Prof Sees Hope for His State in Students’ Symbolic Flag Victory

The Hechinger Report
November 3, 2015

Logo for the Hechinger ReportHere’s my first piece in the Hechinger Report. It’s again on the subject of the students’ request to take the state flag down. In this case, I’ve written to a national audience, rather than just to a Mississippi audience (Clarion Ledger). Check it out.

“Trump’s slogans not enough to win”

Interview with Javad Heiran-Nia in Tehran Times, November 1, 2015, 1 & 11.

Front page of the Tehran Times, November 1, 2015. I have again had the great opportunity to give an interview for reporter Javad Hieran-Nia of The Tehran Times, Iran’s major English-language newspaper. I feel honored to have my interview again land the first page of the paper. The image on right is of the front page, but is also a link to a printable Adobe PDF version of the piece, which I edited onto one page. You can alternatively click here or on the title of the piece below for the same linked file.

The piece is titled “Trump’s popular slogans will not be
enough to win him the primary election: Weber,” The Tehran Times, November 1, 2015, pages 1 & 11.

The interview is available on paper’s site here.

“Judge Reeves speaks at UM”

Originally published in the Oxford Eagle on October 28, 2015. Republished with permission.

Image of Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle.

Lyndy Berryhill, Oxford Eagle.

I’m grateful to Lyndy Berryhill of The Oxford Eagle, who came to our forum with Judge Reeves. She also kindly gave me permission to republish her piece on my page here. Thanks again to the Mississippi Humanities Council and to the College of Liberal Arts for their support for the event! Thanks to Berryhill for coming and letting people know about the event. There’s so much to be proud of in Mississippi. It’s crucial that we talk about that more often. Here’s her piece:

Judge Carlton Reeves, photo by Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle, 2015.

Judge Carlton Reeves, photo by Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle, 2015.

By Lyndy Berryhill

In the wake of racial discussions on campus, the University of Mississippi provided students with a speaker to talk about Mississippi history and racial violence in the state.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of Mississippi.

District Judge Carlton Reeves has presided over key race and equality cases in Mississippi

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves spoke on “Race and Moral Leadership in the U.S. Judicial System.” Tuesday afternoon in Bryant Hall.

“Mississippi has struggled with its past, but it has also struggled to move forward,” Reeves said.

Reeves famously presided over the racially charged murder of James Craig Anderson and later sentenced his murderers to prison. NPR called his speech at the trial “breathtaking” and it garnered Reeves national media attention. During the forum, Reeves talked about the case and how it was important for people to realize what a hate crime is.


Great Write-up in the Oxford Eagle about Judge Reeves’s Visit

The Oxford Eagle
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Judge Carlton Reeves at a public forum on "Race and Moral Leadership in the U.S. Judicial System."

Photo by Lyndy Berryhill of The Oxford Eagle, 2015. Posted here with permission.


Logo of the Mississippi Humanities Council.Judge Reeves’s talk and visit to my class went better than I could have hoped. Here’s a great article that the Oxford Eagle published about the open forum discussion, which was sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Thanks to all who came and thanks to the College of Liberal Arts, the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, and the Mississippi Humanities Council.

The Nonsense of Beating Sense into Kids

Eric Thomas Weber, first published September 1, 2015 in The Prindle Post.

The start of another academic year is cause to reflect on the aims of education and the fact that 19 states in the U.S. still use corporal punishment in public schools. Many have yet to learn the counterproductive and harmful effects of disciplining kids with violence. Nowhere is the mistake more troubling than in our public schools.

Image of a paddle in a traditional school classroom.

‘The board of education’ by Wesley Fryer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

I have argued elsewhere against school corporal punishment on grounds of the right to security of person and given the Platonic warning that “nothing taught by force stays in the soul.” The aims of education offer a further, crucial reason why we ought to end the use of corporal punishment in public schools.

Photo of John Dewey.What is school for? Somewhere at the heart of the answer should be the idea of educating people to be critical thinkers. John Dewey once argued that such a goal is implicit in the “supreme intellectual obligation.” That obligation calls for empowering all citizens with the scientific attitudes and intellectual habits of mind necessary to appreciate wisdom and to put it to use. Expert scientists must push the envelope of knowledge, but if intellectuals are to benefit humanity, the masses of people need to be sufficiently critical thinkers to benefit from scientific innovations.

Critical thinking involves the development of a skeptical attitude, one which expects or hopes to uncover justification or evidence. It appreciates well-founded authorities, understanding authority as a relationship of trust based on good reasons for it. For schools to cultivate critical thinking in young people, kids need to be comfortable questioning their teachers, administrators, and parents. In public schools, we need safe environments in which intellects are allowed and enabled to experiment, to be creative, and to learn whether and why some authorities are warranted, when they are.


A State Divided Against Itself, Mississippi

Mississippi offers a clear example of Plato’s worry about disunity. One of the four virtues that he clarifies in The Republic is moderation, which is important for avoiding the extremes of behavior or of belief. What is most famous about Plato is his conclusion that the good city needs philosopher-kings, that leadership most fundamentally must be guided by wisdom. While that is true, it misses what Plato’s Socrates calls the greatest good for the city, the absence of which yields the greatest evil.

The building and logo for the Clinton School for Public Service at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Plato’s Socrates asks “Is there any greater evil we can mention for the city than that which tears it apart and makes it many instead of one? Or any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one?” Yes, wisdom is the most important virtue in one sense, for Plato, but when it comes to the public good, wisdom should be most concerned about division, and most fervently and wisely striving for unity. Without the latter, a state, divided against itself, only falls apart or fails at its aims.

The logo for KUAR 89.1 NPR, University of Arkansas Little Rock's Public Radio channel.I am looking forward to visiting the Clinton School for Public Service at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on October 19th (if you’re in the area, mark your calendar). For those interested, I believe you’ll be able to watch the talk I give there via live Web stream. I should also be able to link to the video of it afterwards. And, as I’ve noted, I’ll give an interview on the Little Rock affiliate of NPR program, the “Clinton School Presents.”


Five Digital Tools I Use Every Day

On a pretty regular basis, I get asked about how I do certain techie things. Many of you tech savvy folks out there will be aware of these, or will use some variant on these tools. A number of folks I know are not aware of or experienced yet using at least one of these, so I thought it would be fun to say a few words about them.


Evernote logo1. Evernote

I know people who swear by some note-taking software. If you’ve got a great one, awesome! I have found Evernote to be fantastic and if your tools can do these things, by all means, stick with them.

When I browsing the Web, I want to keep info from a page, but I don’t want to make yet another bookmark or to make a PDF file. I just want to save it to read later. Evernote has a button/extension you can install for your brower, and it will save content you choose – the whole page or parts of it – to your Evernote. You can add a tag and categorize where it goes. Later, just text search something you remember about it, and boom. The waiting room at the dentist’s office becomes reading time space.

I often take notes in meetings, though I’m getting better about bringing a latop for them. On my laptop, I’ll usually take my notes in Evernote. You can attach files, pictures, audio, video, other files (PDFs, etc). When I take handwritten notes, however, which is still common for me, I then take a photo with my cellphone camera (which has gotten super high quality). You may need to practice a bit taking good pics of your notes, but I find it takes me almost no time at all to keep a digital copy of my handwritten notes. PLUS, Evernote processes them (I don’t know how long the delay is between posting and processing), and then you can text-search your handwriting. Yes. It’s awesome.


‘We’re Number 10!’ Reasons the U.S. Is Losing Ground

The United States for so long has been a champion of innovation, but because of powerful special interests and also because of some unwise reasons, we are losing a great deal of ground. When I was growing up, we would hear chants that “We’re Number 1!” especially around the time of the Olympics. Americans were proud. We thought, whether rightly or not, that we were or had the best of everything that counted. Travel abroad offers reason for humility. I found a striking example when I visited Germany this past August. There were solar panels everywhere.

German field of solar panels.

The U.S. is known for innovation for a number of reasons. The first is that early on the country was guided by a pioneer spirit. While Europe was strongly controlled by longstanding conventions, in the Americas, so many things were new. Much of the countryside was “wild,” a characteristic that was harmful when ascribed to the native peoples. Considering the wilderness of forests, bears, and other things that could kill you, there was much to do to survive. Innovations were necessary.

Photo of a telegraph controller. Beyond that, as de Tocqueville and later Max Weber pointed out (no relation, by the way), America had an industrious spirit and brought a Protestant work ethic to its industries. While the U.S. had its many troubling capitalist robber barons, it also has long been a land of invention and creativity. It’s remarkable how many inventions came from the United States, like the light bulb, the telegraph, and the telephone.

When you consider that the United States invented the automobile, it seems sad that Ford Motor Company failed to innovate and anticipate the changing market for fuel. With increasing gas prices, which of course fluctuate, demand naturally has risen for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. My wife and I bought a Prius. It has a 10 gallon tank of gas, or thereabouts. That might seem small. On that 10 or 11 gallon tank, we can drive 5.5 – 6 hours from Oxford, MS to Altanta, GA. True story. We get there needing to fill up soon, but we get there (I’ve got family there, so we’ve done it several times).