Education For Response-Ability: A Foundation Of Democracy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Gerald P. Grant


Responsibility, Discipline, Moral Education, Educational theory

Subject Categories

Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


This dissertation confronts the problem of identity in the modern world. I draw upon fundamental ideas regarding the human being in the Western Tradition from the ancient Greeks through the Judeo-Christian heritage in arguing that nurturing personal and civic responsibility within the experiences of young people should be the central emphasis of "good education" in a (truly) "public" school in a "democracy." I test H. Richard Niebuhr's writings on responsibility as a model for a philosophy and practice of such education in the light of empirical findings from my research for a National Institute of Education study to explore the question: "What makes a Good School?" The work examines the nature and status of covenanting as the structure of responsible action from a perspective on the interconnected, functional or transactional character of selves especially indebted to Ernest Becker, C. Wright Mills, and Hannah Arendt. It focuses on the problems involved today in educating students to undertake lives of responsible citizenship in their communities within a democratic polity. The writings of John Dewey and Alasdair MacIntyre inform my consideration of the practical moral elements implicated in Niebuhr's model which comprise what I term the "substance of a 'responsibility curriculum for democratic living.'" I thereby proffer six such virtues of democratic life which fulfill the aim of the dissertation. This is to provide educators, parents, policy-makers, and citizens with an alternative 'moral education lexicon for democratic living' through which they can identify and discuss the common moral elements in a public education for democracy in order to better assess what steps they may take together to improve the quality of academic instruction and social relationships in American public schools. The telling message of my argument is that "academic achievement" and "discipline" cannot be divorced in the lives of young human selves.


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