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Education and Equality

With Comments by Tommie Shelby, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Michael Rebell, and Quiara Alegría Hudes

Education and Equality

With Comments by Tommie Shelby, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Michael Rebell, and Quiara Alegría Hudes
American education as we know it today—guaranteed by the state to serve every child in the country—is still less than a hundred years old. It’s no wonder we haven’t agreed yet as to exactly what role education should play in our society. In these Tanner Lectures, Danielle Allen brings us much closer, examining the ideological impasse between vocational and humanistic approaches that has plagued educational discourse, offering a compelling proposal to finally resolve the dispute. 
Allen argues that education plays a crucial role in the cultivation of political and social equality and economic fairness, but that we have lost sight of exactly what that role is and should be. Drawing on thinkers such as John Rawls and Hannah Arendt, she sketches out a humanistic baseline that re-links education to equality, showing how doing so can help us reframe policy questions. From there, she turns to civic education, showing that we must reorient education’s trajectory toward readying students for lives as democratic citizens. Deepened by commentaries from leading thinkers Tommie Shelby, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Michael Rebell, and Quiara Alegría Hudes that touch on issues ranging from globalization to law to linguistic empowerment, this book offers a critical clarification of just how important education is to democratic life, as well as a stirring defense of the humanities. 

160 pages | 1 line drawing, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Education: Education--Economics, Law, Politics, Philosophy of Education

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"Danielle Allen ... is a pragmatic visionary. ... The implicit argument is that being democratic and being happy, possessed of well-being, is in our self-interest. An explicit argument, refreshing to read, is that the humanities are essential to such happiness." 

Catharine R. Stimpson | Public Books

"[A]n ambitious and rich blend of themes. Baldly summarized, they offer a defense of the place of humanities and social sciences in the curriculum, a variant on familiar objections to governments’ current preoccupation with the “vocational” and promotion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). But her framing the argument in terms of connections between education and equality is excitingly distinctive, and her route to her conclusion engages with an unusual range of influences and modes of theorizing.... Overall it shows the value of sustained engagement with a range of academic disciplines and approaches, both theoretical and empirical.... Allen’s big ideas come through loud and clear."


“Allen boldly confronts the core question about education in a democratic society: What is its essential purpose? Only after answering that question can we move to the next question: What kind of education should we deliver? Her answers are deep yet pragmatic. Only by enabling students to develop their capacities, particularly in language, can we ready them for the work of citizens, which is the principal goal of education. Ignore all the current cant about education and read this book. It will make you think about what counts.”

Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities

Education and Equality mounts a powerful philosophical argument for putting ‘participatory readiness’ for civic and political life at the center of American education. Developing a rich, pragmatic account of the purposes of schooling, Allen shows the poverty of reductionist notions of education as preparation for work and global economic competition alone. To achieve the political equality that is indispensable for democratic governance, a humanist education for all is required. A must read for all concerned about the future of American education and American democracy.”

Leo Casey, executive director, Albert Shanker Institute

“Amid the heated national debates about equality and efficiency in education, many people have been groping for a clear sense of what education should actually accomplish. Allen’s answer in her fluently written and erudite book is persuasive and will provoke a valuable new debate.”

Peter Levine, Tufts University

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Two Concepts of Education

Chapter 2: Participatory Readiness

Comment 1: Justification, Learning, and Human Flourishing
Tommie Shelby

Comment 2: A Reunion
Marcelo Suárez-Orozco

Comment 3: “Participatory Readiness” and the Courts
Michael Rebell

Comment 4: A World of Cousins
Quiara Alegría Hudes

Response to Commentators
Danielle Allen


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