Dr. Glass is a philosopher of education whose work focuses on education as a practice of freedom, school reform in low-income, racially, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and the role of education in the struggle for a just, pluralistic democracy.
Dr. Glass is currently an Associate Professor in the Education Department of the University of California Santa Cruz, where he chairs the Social Context and Policy Studies Ph.D. program, and also directs the Ed.D. in Collaborative Leadership program. Before joining the UC Santa Cruz faculty, Dr. Glass had taught at Stanford University, the University of California Berkeley, and Arizona State University. He has provided consultation on program development and evaluation, educational reform, and institutional strategic planning for community organizations, schools, districts, and universities. Prior to being on university faculties, he directed the San Francisco-based Adult Education Development Project, benefiting from the collaboration of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton, the world-renowned educators for democracy.
Dr. Glass is the recipient of numerous honors, including: the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teaching Award; the Arizona State University Excellence in Diversity Award and the Dondrell Swanson Advocate for Social Justice Award; and, the City of Phoenix, AZ, Human Relations Commission Martin Luther King, Jr., Living the Dream Award.
Dr. Glass received a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education and an M.A. in Philosophy from Stanford University, a C.Phil. in Philosophy of Education from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.M. and an A.B. with honors in History and Science from Harvard University.
It is probably never easy to have a deep conversation with another person; each person’s hopes, fears, anxieties, doubts, dreams, and many other powerful feelings, conscious and unconscious, easily get in the way of honest and full expression. To have a deep conversation with a stranger, or with whole groups of strangers and even an entire community, can seem impossible.
To talk openly and honestly about our experiences of schooling is equally challenging. Some of our most significant identities get shaped in schools: we are judged to be smart or not, popular or not, attractive or not, athletic or not; we discover that our race, class, and gender are significant for how we are judged in school and for the opportunities we will have beyond school. In school most of us learn that we are an Anybody, anonymous members of a mass; some, who can exceed the norms and standards, learn they can be a Somebody; and some, who cannot or refuse to meet the norms and standards, learn that they are Nobodies.[i] Thus, the stakes in conversations about schooling are huge; far too often, students and parents feel that they are on opposite sides of an enormous divide separating them from teachers and administrators, so the conversations can barely get started.
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has written poignantly of the barriers that must be confronted in that perennial ritual, the parent-teacher conference, in order to move those conversations to essential matters and enable parents, students, and teachers to become real partners in the growth and development of the student.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ii]<!–[endif]–> Existing school structures indeed must be re-imagined and re-created to establish the deep connections required to insure that schools provide the kind of caring support needed by children and youth, especially those who are low-income, racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse (LI/RCLD) and thus face substantial additional barriers to the realization of their full potentials.
These conversations and connections are even more important in the face of pressures that have narrowed discourse about schooling to shallow talk of test scores and measures of annual yearly progress; many students who don’t ‘measure up,’ along with their parents, find such talk to be disrespectful and humiliating, even when proffered with the best of intentions. Conversations that begin from a place marking a deficit in the student, with implications about deficits in the parenting they received, are very unlikely to reach the depths of honesty and openness that are needed to identify pathways for success for the Anybodies and Nobodies in school. Many teachers in ‘failing’ schools similarly find that test score talk denies their knowledge of what their students need from school in addition to opportunities to gain academic proficiencies.
Underlying the difficulties of these conversations are elemental questions about the purposes of public education. Teachers, parents, and students need to agree on what schools are for in order for assessments to have meaning. But how can we know what we want from public education if we don’t talk with one another from within the spaces of our deep knowing and feeling? Since schooling shapes the depths of our identities, life possibilities, and even our hopes and dreams, only conversations that emanate from those depths can lead to insightful strategies for re-imagining and re-creating schools so that they truly leave no child behind and give every child the fullest opportunity to learn and grow.
I am working with a project in a LI/RCLD community that is developing precisely these sorts of deep dialogues by employing new media to create digital stories that serve as anchor points for the dialogues. The stories reveal the ways that the community contends with extreme pressures from very high rates of poverty, transience, overcrowded and sub-standard housing, poor health, unstable employment, substance abuse, and crime. They reveal that schools must address the special needs produced by these conditions, and by a high percentage of students who are English Learners and/or members of migrant families (80% of the district’s schools are in program improvement status). Through the stories, parents, youth, teachers and other community members share the experiences that shape their own hopes and dreams for the schools and community.<!–[if supportFootnotes]–>[iii]<!–[endif]–>
Recognizing that overall outcomes for LI/RCLD children and youth will not improve until the strengthening of their schools is linked to improvements in their community and the expansion of educational, social, economic, and political opportunities for their families, this project is founded on the conviction that “another school and another community are possible” when the community is brought together in deep and systematic dialogues to understand the present situation, to identify both the hindrances to progress and the strengths on which change can be built, and to plan and act toward shared goals.
We are learning that when we approach one another with a genuine desire to understand, with openness and curiosity, we create opportunities to discover common aims even as we respect our differences. When a community can engage in deep dialogues about what it wants and needs from its schools, then we can begin to re-imagine and re-create public education so that it truly meets the needs of those who teach and learn in schools, and also meets the needs of the community that relies on schools to form its members and strengthen democratic life.<!–[if !supportEndnotes]–>
[i]<!–[endif]–> For an extended analysis of Anybody, Nobody, and Somebody in school, see: Ronald David Glass. (2000). Education and the ethics of democratic citizenship. Studies in Philosophy and Education. 19(3), 275-296.
[ii]<!–[endif]–> Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. (2003). The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn about Each Other. New York: Random House.
[iii]<!–[endif]–> This project and some of the digital stories were recently featured on a Community TV program: “What’s Happening in Education” (#5): http://communitytv.org/programs/video