A Conversation with Douglas J. Simpson
University of New Mexico
Douglas J. Simpson
Texas Tech University
This is the first of series of interviews with past presidents
of the Society of Professors of Education. I talked with Professor
Simpson (DJS) by phone on June 1, 2005. The text of the interview
was captured from notes taken during the course of our conversation.
In the interest of clarity and accuracy, DJS reviewed and made
minor editorial changes to the transcript. For an autobiographical
account of Simpson's education and miseducation in Carteret,
North Carolina in the 1940s and 1950s, see "The Miseducation
JKA: Doug Simpson is the Helen DeVitt Jones Chair in Teacher
Education and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas
Tech University. Prior to his present
appointment, he was the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development
(1999- 2002) at the University of Louisville; Dean of the School of Education
at Texas Christian University (1988-1999); and Dean of the College of Education
at Tennessee State University (1984-1988). In addition to serving as President
of the Society of Professors of Education (1997-1999), he has served as President
of the American Educational Studies Association (1998-1999), the Council of
Learned Societies in Education (1994-1997), and the Texas Association
for Colleges of
Teacher Education (1993-1994). He serves on the Board of Examiners for the
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
He began his college
education at the Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, Tennessee, subsequently
earning an M. Ed. at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro and a
Ph. D. at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests
focus on John Dewey,
curriculum theory, Paulo Freire, teacher preparation, and education and ethics.
Doug is the editor of the Journal of Thought, author of numerous articles,
and author or co-author of John Dewey: Primer (2006), John
Dewey and the Art of Teaching:
Toward Reflective and Imaginative Practice (with Michael J.B. Jackson and Judy
C. Aycock, 2005); Recreating Schools: Places Where Everyone Learns and
Likes It (with Charles B. Myers, 1998); Educational Reform: A Deweyan
M. Jackson, 1997); The Pedagodfathers: The Lords of Education (1994); and The
Teacher as Philosopher (with M. Jackson,1984).
Douglas J. Simpson
JKA: How did you first become involved with the
Society of Professors of Education?
DJS: I've been an SPE member for about 15 or 20
years. I'm not sure how I first became involved.
I was probably invited to attend an SPE meeting
by Joe DeVitis or Harvey Neufeldt.
JKA: What do you remember about your work with
DJS: Sadly, very little But meeting, talking,
and working with people was the most enjoyable
part. I valued the opportunity to work with the
Executive Board, committees, and contacting people
to give addresses for the Raywid Awards and DeGarmo
Lectures. I was particularly involved with offering
invitations and awards to Gloria Ladson-Billings
(Mary Ann Raywid Award in 1997), Michael Apple
(DeGarmo lecture, 1997), Larry Cuban (Mary Ann
Raywid Award, 1998), Nel Noddings (DeGarmo lecture,
1998), William Hare (Mary Ann Raywid Award, 1999),
and Yvonna Lincoln (DeGarmo lecture, 1999). Of
course, committee members played crucial roles
in each of these affairs.
SPE is still the SIG I'm most likely to be involved
with when I attend AERA, although I am involved
with several other groups, including the John Dewey
JKA: What else can you tell me about working with
the Executive Board and other SPE committees?
DJS: I remember we were very concerned
with raising the Society's profile at AERA, recruiting
new members, and finding our niche among the many
professional groups that exist. In part, we tried
to do this with the DeGarmo Lecture and the Mary
Ann Raywid Awards sessions. Plus there was an interest
in acknowledging innovative and reflective teacher
education programs. This led to creation of the
Richard Wisniewski Award in 1999. We also discussed
sponsoring a new journal, Professing Education. I
think Bob Morris initiated the project, and we
started working on it. It was delayed for a year
or two but eventually emerged to serve SPE well.
We also did some brainstorming and developed a
call for submissions for the first issue, which
was to be edited by John Novak and Jonathan Neufeld
of Brock University. The theme of the first issue
was to be "Education and the New Millennium." I
don't want to take credit for the publication.
Bob and others deserve the credit. I just happened
to be president at the time.
We also had to deal with some difficult financial
issues. AERA changed its way of working with special
interest groups. The Association began collecting
dues for SIGs as well as for Divisions. At a business
meeting, Bob Morris delineated a number of options
on how we could deal with the financial challenges.
We selected the existing arrangement and the Society
moved forward successfully.
JKA: What should others know about the context
in which you were working during your term as
President of SPE?
DJS: I think the context was similar to what recent
Presidents have faced. There has been a continual
marginalization of people with interests in social
and cultural foundations and curriculum studies.
It's not that there is no interest in these areas,
but more interest is now placed on the cultures
of students, multicultural education, and diversity.
All of these studies are needed, but the interests
are somewhat to significantly different from
being engaged in sociology, anthropology, history,
philosophy, ethics, and theory of education.
The two groups have rather different goals although
they are complementary. The former appears more
immediately and practically oriented. The latter
can be very practical, but it is does so by seeing
practice through the lenses of the disciplines,
multiple disciplines, and theory. Reflective
practice emerges by understanding both—and
other—strands of thought and research.
I've unfortunately oversimplified matters. Fortunately,
SPE members are intelligent enough to know such!
Whatever the relationship of these two general
fields to educator preparation, marginalization
has continued in most places.
JKA: Why do you think this marginalization has
DJS: There are more influences than I have time
to discuss. So, I'll mention just a couple of
related ideas. The university and teacher preparation
curricula are packed full of different and competing
kinds of coursework—and there is a limit
on how much coursework can be required for degrees
and education majors. But if educational foundations
were highly valued by most education professors
and policymakers, the programs we offer would
be different. This lack of valuing seems clear
when we realize that few if any people would
eliminate particular courses (e.g., literacy,
child development, so forth) from the teacher
education curriculum. On the other hand, very
few professors and policymakers seem to think
very long—if the courses are required in
a program of study—about eliminating a
course in educational theory, philosophy of education,
or curriculum theory.
JKA: What do you think accounts for this?
DJS: There are multiple reasons. Some reasons are
meritorious; others aren't. Recently, many faculty
may unconsciously feel that whatever there is
of value in the foundations can be taught by
them in other courses, e.g., multicultural education
courses replace social foundations ones; critical
or feminist theory courses may replace philosophy
of education offerings.
But there is something very important to learn
from these overlapping realms of inquiry. They
are perceived as important, relevant, and practical.
We, as a field, haven't created the same image
of ourselves and haven't made ourselves valuable in many teacher education programs. Often, our
teacher education colleagues don't think of us
as relevant to contemporary questions. Maybe some
of us aren't - or, at least, our courses aren't.
We may have been seen as twiddling our theoretical,
abstract, and evidentiary thumbs while educational
Rome burns. Whether we appreciate such or not,
teacher education and school cultures are frequently
focused on ideas and skills that are immediately
and instrumentally useful. Ignoring this is, as
we have seen, suicidal.
I also hypothesize that the expansion of adolescence
may make it more difficult to teach foundations
in intellectually stimulating, rigorous, and satisfying
ways. If so, the developmental level of present-day
students may affect their appreciation of our courses.
We too often view age as a static concept. If you
are 18, then you are 18. Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps
an 18 year old today is in many respects like a
14 year old fifty years ago. This may mean that
in universities we are teaching students who would
have been viewed as mature high school students
twenty or thirty years ago. This is a change — if
the hypothesis is warranted or is even partially
accurate—that has not been studied, as far
as I know, for its implications for preparing future
teachers in foundations and elsewhere. On the other
hand, this idea may represent just another Simpsonian
JKA: If you could talk with any past SPE president,
who would you most like to talk with, and about
DJS: John Dewey. I think it would be interesting
to hear him comment on what I will label the disagreements
and controversies between modernists and postmodernists.
I'd like to hear what he would say about people
who see him as a post-modernist and those who argue
that he is more of a modernist. Would he still
criticize dichotomous thinking?
What implicit dogmas of thought would he scrutinize
today? How would he reconstruct himself in the
21st century and approach issues? How would he
critique capitalism, privilege, and democracy today?
JKA: I have been thinking lately about the relative
merits of brief academic writing projects—for
example, research reports, book reviews, columns
and articles in professional newsletters and
essays. What are your thoughts about "writing
small" in academe?
DJS: You are familiar with the old saying that
academics—and, perhaps, education professors
in particular—never say in a sentence what
we can say in a paragraph and never say in a
paragraph what can be stated in a chapter and
so on ad infinitum. It is true that some professors
count pages when they review files for promotion
and tenure. On the other hand, short articles
are often written for a different kind of audience.
The last three places I've worked have had tenure
and promotion guidelines that have stated that
we ought to recognize manuscripts published for
practitioners and not just those who write for
the scholars in their fields. I like the idea
but wouldn't want to universalize or prescribe
such for all institutions.
I also think many of us just don't have time to
read extensive works. So, if a person can't say
what she or he needs to say in 200 or so pages,
they may not be heard. I am a very slow reader,
slower than probably most slow readers. When I
read a lengthy work, it is because someone has
highly recommended it. Oddly, perhaps, I decided
to focus much of my work on Dewey. On the other
hand, he is a good illustration of someone who
wrote short books that have been widely read and
influential —The School and Society,
The Child and Curriculum, Experience and Education,
and How We Think are examples. But there are also
Democracy and Education and Art as Experience.
Thus, there appears to be market for longer and
shorter works in spite of my limited literacy skills.
1.Simpson (2001). The Miseducation of Bubba: An anecdotal and
historical interpretation of selected aspects of Carteret county
education in the 1940s and 1950s. Educational Studies, 32 (1),