Funded Projects

Title: Debating Religious Schooling
Project Investigators: Victor M. Muniz-Fraticelli and Daniel M. Weinstock
Institution: McGill University
Abstract: This proposal examines whether denominational religious schooling is morally and politically permissible within secular liberal democracy. It discusses this question through a debate within the liberal tradition, between two principal investigators (PIs) who are both committed to liberal, democratic, and pluralist principles, but who nonetheless differ on the extent to which these principles permit or encourage denominational religious schooling in primary, secondary, and post-secondary education. The PIs anticipate that the debate over the place of denominational religious schooling in liberal democracy will follow three principal lines of argument: (1) the right of the child to an “open future”, to develop critical capacities to make autonomous moral and religious choices throughout their life, and the countervailing right of parents to direct the child’s religious formation in a certain direction; (2) the claims of religious communities to sustain and reproduce themselves, and the countervailing claims of the general society, represented by the state, to foster social solidarity and educate children to be good citizens; (3) the effect that a system of (presumably private) denominational religious schooling, offered alongside a system of public education, might have on fair equality of opportunity, both for economically disadvantages students and for members of marginalized minorities. The goal of the project is to produce a co-authored book manuscript for publication in a series such as "Debating Ethics" (Oxford University Press) or "For and Against" (Cambridge University Press).

 Funded, January 2017


Title: The Good University: Excellence and Ethics in the Pursuit of Inquiry
Project Investigator: Rebecca Taylor
Institution: Emory University
Abstract: As access to higher education expands, tuitions rise, and student activism gains visibility and media attention, public concern over the aims of colleges and universities is also increasing. Institutions are being called to advance what often appear to be conflicting goals: to provide safe spaces for all students and to protect freedom of expression; to build more inclusive communities of students, faculty, and staff and to prioritize the pursuit of inquiry above all else. Demands for inclusion have been particularly contentious, with critics arguing that inclusivity threatens the quality of inquiry. This project takes a social virtue epistemological approach to exploring the aims of higher education institutions and to justifying inclusion. I begin with the assumption that one central aim of higher education institutions is to engage in inquiry in order to advance knowledge and understanding. I, then, ask: How is the aim of pursuing inquiry understood both philosophically and practically by four-year colleges and universities? Given the intellectual aims of the university, as well as the social embeddedness of the pursuit of these aims, are particular virtues vital both for epistemic success and epistemic justice? How should institutions embody these virtues in their structures, policies, and practices? I aim to defend a robust conception of epistemic inclusion (and associated virtues) that has implications not only for who has access to the epistemic goods produced by colleges and universities, but also for policies and programs that impact campus climate and institutional structures that support epistemic justice.

Funded, January 2017


Title: Transformative Experiences in Public Education
Project Investigator: Rosa Terlazzo
Institution: Kansas State University
Abstract: In the proposed project, I will investigate the repercussions of childhood transformative experience for public education. In short, if alternative transformative experiences affect a person’s prudential good in differential ways, and if in childhood one must choose between significant and irrevocable transformations, then adults have an obligation to vulnerable children to choose the transformations they undergo with an eye to their prudential good. In this project I will develop an action-guiding theory that can direct those judgments in the context of public education. Action guidance for public education will be an important complement to action guidance for parents, given both the extensive amount of time that children spend in public schools and the opportunity that public schools provide to reach children whose parents may not fulfill their own relevant obligations. I propose using an informed desire account of well-being, for four reasons. First, informed-desire accounts are better suited than plausible contenders for use in public education, insofar as the action guidance they give both coheres with political liberal commitments and avoids counterintuitive results. Second, informed-desire accounts are well-suited to providing a route for approximating the post-transformation preferences of children. Third, they justify the development of concrete skills of critical reflection, since they are necessary to ensure children’s ability to approximate post-transformation preferences. And fourth, they justify childhood exposure to a diverse range of life options since this is necessary to ensure that children do not become irrevocably transformed before they have the skills to approximate their own informed post-transformation preferences.

Funded, January 2017


Title: Hope in Democracy and Education
Project Investigator: Sarah Stitzlein
Institution: University of Cincinnati
Abstract: What ought I hope for? This ethical question guides our pursuit of the good life and its answer is often shaped by our educational experiences. I will examine how addressing this ethical question in the social and political context of both democracy and education suggests not only particular content of what we ought to hope for, but also an enriched understanding of how we hope together. I will argue that such shared work is more fruitful and just than mere independent wishes, optimism, or—increasingly popular in education circles—grit. I begin with a pragmatist account of hope as a set of habits that support a disposition toward possibility and change for the betterment of oneself and others. I extent that account of hope into explicitly ethical and political realms by considering the role hope plays in democratic life and how hope might be taught in ways similar to a democratic virtue. This includes considering the ways in which cultivating hope in schools might provide us a shared identity with our fellow citizens. I intend to examine the particular shared hopes related to justice and liberty that may be at the heart of vibrant democracy. Underlying this exploration is a larger question concerning whether or not we need shared hopes in order for democracy to flourish. In sum, this project will move from how we hope together to what we hope together and examine how those shared hopes and hoping shape our identity and our work together in democracy.

Funded, January 2017


Title: Meeting our Standards for Educational Justice: Making the Most of the Evidence
Principal Investigators: Nancy Cartwright, University of California San Diego/Durham University
Abstract: Recent work on educational justice observes that the U.S. has shifted from conceiving equal educational opportunities as equal resources, or inputs, for all students to calling for adequacy standards, a threshold level of outcomes that the state must ensure all students reach. Though many view Common Core as an improved set of outcomes to aim for, they will only lead to greater educational justice if those outcomes are actually achieved. Unfortunately, many schools nation-wide consistently fail to meet standards, including Common Core. Educational justice requires more than a new set of standards. It requires support for educators so they are able to assist students in meeting them. To this end, there has been a significant push to incorporate scientific evidence into deliberation about educational practices. This should lead to improvements and a more just distribution of outcomes. Unfortunately, evidence-based policy in education has not resulted in the improvements hoped for. We aim to provide tools that educators can use to make the most of evidence about what works in education. Evidence from RCTs and other studies about what has worked elsewhere is only a starting point for estimating whether a policy/practice will work here, for this class. Our goal is to investigate kinds of evidence that may help in making reliable predictions about what will work in particular local contexts. We aim for a catalog of evidence types that is both well-grounded and readily intelligible to educators deliberating about what to do in their setting.

Funded, April 2016


Title: Big Data and Education: Ethical and Moral Challenges
Principal Investigators: Tammy Harel Ben-Shahar (University of Haifa) and Sigal Ben-Porath (University of Pennsylvania)
Abstract: Developments in technology have brought an “explosion of data” into education. As a side effect of the use of educational technologies in schools, a vast amount of information about students is being generated and logged. Mining these databases and analyzing them offers an opportunity to gain new understandings about learning and to guide educational decision making on every level: individualized tasks for students; courses and school placement; and policy decisions. These dramatic changes hold encouraging promises, however significant moral challenges also follow. We propose to organize a workshop that will bring together a group of philosophers who are interested in the moral and ethical aspects of the Big Data revolution in education, as well as scholars and experts in information and communication technologies and their application for education. Authors of about 10 papers, written especially for the meeting will be invited to the workshop, planned to take place in the spring of 2017 in Haifa, Israel, a hub of innovation and research in this emergent field. Each paper will be paired with a commentator. Possible topics include: Students’ privacy and data protection; commercialization of student data; epistemic aspects of algorithmic decision-making and discrimination and distributive justice. As these pressing issues have yet to be addressed systematically by education philosophers, we think it would be suitable to jointly publish the papers presented at the workshop in a special issue of a prominent journal.

Funded, April 2016


Title: Deliberating the ethics of “college affordability” in 21st Century America
Principal Investigators: Nancy Kendall and Matthew Wolfgram, UW-Madison
Abstract: This project will bring philosophers of education into conversation with empirical data that reveals the real-world consequences of current higher education policies and practices. Based on this engagement, the project will then produce a new book that includes innovative learning materials and activities to support deliberation by education and policy professionals and by the general public on the ethics of higher education. More specifically, the project consists of three broad phases. First, based on an 18-month study of four public universities in one Midwestern state, the co-PIs will create ethnographic case studies that illuminate key ethical conundrums related to higher education access, institutional practices and students’ educational experiences, and educational outcomes and accountability. Second, participating philosophers of education will come together to engage with and deliberate about these case studies, employing the philosophical tools and approaches that they feel can best help illuminate the foundational questions posed by these real-world problems. Finally, the philosophers will write responses to the case studies, which we will collect together into an edited volume, providing new lenses through which readers can understand and deliberate over the ethical implications of current higher education practices. The book and associated materials will be widely disseminated, with particular materials targeting higher education scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and students.

Funded, April 2016


Title: Refusing Public Education: Understanding Rights and Values in the Opt-Out Movement
Principal Investigators: Terri Wilson and Michele Moses at University of Colorado Boulder
Abstract: Through widespread “opt-out” efforts this past year, parent activists have pressured school districts, states, and the federal government to reconsider the extent and limits of state-mandated assessments. Other critics—including prominent civil rights groups—argue opt-out efforts undermine the broader public value of collecting high quality assessment data for all students. In these ways, this new opt-out movement raises longstanding philosophical questions about the proper scope of state and family authority over the provision of education. To what extent should parents be able to refuse educational approaches that challenge their values, beliefs, or ethical convictions? How should these rights be balanced against public aims for education, including concerns of equal opportunity? Recent efforts to opt-out of testing represent a unique front in these longstanding debates. Our project explores this new context through three philosophical lines of inquiry: (1) what values and claims do parents employ in opting their children out of standardized assessments? (2) In what ways, if at all, do parents’ efforts to opt their children out of school assessments differ from refusing other dimensions of public education (e.g., curricula, activities, or school itself)? (3) In what ways do the rights of parents to refuse state assessments conflict with public goals for education? Our project explores potential conflicts and distinctions between these claims, with the goal of posing justifiable limitations on refusing different dimensions of public education. We also anticipate on developing different public engagement materials to productively frame community conversations and decision-making around “opting-out” of public education.

Funded, January 2016


Title: The Moral Challenge of the Educational Arms Race
Principal Investigator: Daniel Halliday, University of Melbourne
Abstract: K-12 education needs to achieve a balance between two broad objectives. Schools need to sort students by academic ability, acting as ‘gatekeepers’ for places in higher education and coveted jobs. Just as important, schooling needs to prepare children to flourish as adults, through civic education, exposure to a diverse peer group, and other forms of basically non-competitive forms of education. It would be morally questionable to allow the pursuit of either goal to become suppressed by the other. However, this balance has become undermined by a rise in educational competition that continues to escalate. This can be traced to a mixture of government policies favouring increased measurement of academic performance, and markets in supplementary education affordable to middle-income parents. This has given rise to an educational arms race, now entrenched in recently industrialized nations, such as South Korea, and spreading to other developed countries. There are multiple philosophical questions associated with understanding and responding to the educational arms race. Any descriptive account needs to examine the way in which competition in education represents a collective action problem and the way in which education is a complex positional good. Further progress towards a solution requires an appropriately moralized account of what makes the educational arms race ‘excessive’ both in terms of child and family wellbeing, the exploitative nature of markets in positional goods, and its distorting effects on education itself. Building on existing work by the principal researcher, this study will make further progress in grappling with these questions.

Funded, January 2016

Grant Awards


Up to $40,000

Next Deadline


Monday, March 7, 2016 (4:00 p.m. CT)

Research Grants Info