Lecture series abstracts

Where Do You Stand in Times of Trouble?

Moderator: Dale Brown, graduate student, Department of Philosophy


  • Andy Marquis, WMU Prison Education Program

  • Demetrias Wolverton, Mission Impact Manager, Kalamazoo YWCA
  • Linwood Cousins, Professor, WMU School of Social Work and Director of African American and African Studies

In times of trouble, this panel will argue that we should stand, if not next to, then at least in the vicinity of Marx. Interpreting the world is necessary, but mere interpretation is insufficient to troubled times—and perhaps times, period.  “[T]he point,” wrote Marx, “is to change [the world],” and that project demands sustained activity on the part of the interpreters. For this panel, the aim is to elevate activity over theory by calling attention to efforts within Southwest Michigan communities to alleviate systemic harms and reform unjust systems. Through discussion, resonances across the panelists’ work is expected to come to the fore.

This panel is part of Western Michigan University's 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy.

The Humanities in the Age of Demagoguery

 David Denby, staff writer and former film critic for The New Yorker

The results of the presidential election of 2016 and the months after the Presidential inauguration suggest that the habits of mind ideally inculcated by both the humanities (an appreciation of human complexity, a respect for observed and imaginative truth, moral intelligence) and the sciences (respect for observable evidence and experimental trial) have not really taken hold in a large part of the country. Public discourse has been poisoned by the politically opportunistic abandonment of observable truth and moral reasoning. How has this situation come about? Are the humanities, including serious reading at all levels of education and later life, capable of exerting some check on these tendencies? Or are we lost in an age of ideology in which any truth claims are absurd?

Denby was born in New York in 1943, and went to Columbia, the Columbia Journalism School, and Stanford's Communication program. He was a movie critic for 45 years, at The Atlantic, The Boston Phoenix, New York Magazine (1978-98), and The New Yorker (1998-2014). He has published two books on reading and teaching, "Great Books" (1996), a study of Columbia's core curriculum program, and "Lit Up" (2016), an account of tenth-grade English at three public schools in America. His other books are the autobiographical "American Sucker" (2004), devoted to greed and loss during the tech-bubble era; "Snark" (2008), an analysis of low sarcasm in journalism and politics; and "Do the Movies Have a Future?" (2012), a collection of his best movie writing from The New Yorker.

This talk is part of the University Center for the Humanities' "Promise of Education" speaker series.

Legal Ethics in the Media

Panelists: Norman Hawker, Professor, Department of Finance and Commercial Law, Haworth College of Business; Tonya Krause-Phelan, auxiliary dean, WMU Cooley Law School; and Victoria Vuletich, professor, WMU Cooley Law School

Abstract coming soon!

Co-sponsored by the Haworth College of Business and WMU Cooley Law School.

Education Reform and the Promise of Public Education

Diane Ravitch, research professor of education, New York University

Ravitch provides solutions. In her books, Ravitch provides a clear plan for how to preserve and improve our public schools. Her New York Times bestseller, "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools" begins where her previous book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" left off. Ravitch continues to show that the crisis in American education is not the result of a crisis of academic achievement, but a result of the destruction of public schools. In a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, Ravitch teaches what is working in U.S. education and how policy makers are failing to address the root cause of educational failure. Finally, Ravitch shows readers how it can, in fact, be fixed.

Ravitch is the champion for public schools across the country. Drawing on more than 40 years of research and experience, she is the nation’s leading advocate for public education. Her years of experience working in the government shaped her approach to education, and give her a unique and powerful perspective which she brings into all aspects of her work. A prolific writer and a renowned research professor of education at New York University, Ravitch has published more than 500 articles and reviews for scholarly and popular publications. Her blog is one of the primary destinations for American educators, which has received more than 20 million page views since 2012.

This talk is part of the University Center for the Humanities' "Promise of Education" speaker series.

Educational Equity: From the "Kalamazoo Case" to the "Kalamazoo Promise" and Beyond

Co-moderators: Kathy Purnell, instructor, Department of Political Science, and Ashley Atkins, assistant professor, Department of Philosophy

Panelists: Jim Robb, general counsel and associate dean of alumni and public relations, WMU Cooley Law School; Cyekeia Lee, director of outreach and partnerships, Kalamazoo Promise; Michael Evans, executive director, Kalamazoo Literacy Council; and Sandra Standish, executive director, KC Ready 4s

Abstract coming soon!

Inequality, Citizenship, and the Promise of Education

Danielle Allen, professor of government, Harvard University

When we think about education and equality, we tend to think first about distributive questions—for example, how to design a system that will offer the real possibility of equal educational attainment, if not achievement, to all students. The vocational approach imagines that this equal attainment will translate into a wider distribution of skills, which will reduce income inequality. The civic conception of education suggests a very different way to understand the link between education and equality. This understanding begins with the recognition that fair economic outcomes are aided by a robust democratic process and, therefore, by genuine political equality. Thus an education focused not merely on technical skills, but also on what I call participatory readiness, provides a distinct and better way to promote equality through schooling.

Allen is professor of government and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. She is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. Allen is the author of five books: "The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens" (2000), "Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education" (2004), "Why Plato Wrote" (2010), "Our Declaration" (2014), and "Education and Equality" (2016). "Our Declaration" was awarded the 2015 Francis Parkman Prize and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award for nonfiction, and she is also a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

This talk is part of the University Center for the Humanities' "Promise of Education" speaker series.