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Learning in the Plural

Essays on the Humanities and Public Life

David D. Cooper

Publication Year: 2014

Can civic engagement rescue the humanities from a prolonged identity crisis? How can the practices and methods, the conventions and innovations of humanities teaching and scholarship yield knowledge that contributes to the public good? These are just two of the vexing questions David D. Cooper tackles in his essays on the humanities, literacy, and public life. As insightful as they are provocative, these essays address important issues head-on and raise questions about the relevance and roles of humanities teaching and scholarship, the moral footings and public purposes of the humanities, engaged teaching practices, institutional and disciplinary reform, academic professionalism, and public scholarship in a democracy. Destined to stir discussion about the purposes of the humanities and the problems we face during an era of declining institutional support, public alienation and misunderstanding, student ambivalence, and diminishing resources, the questions Cooper raises in this book are uncomfortable and, in his view, necessary for reflection, renewal, and reform. With frank, deft assessments, Cooper reports on active learning initiatives that reenergized his own teaching life while reshaping the teaching mission of the humanities, including service learning, collaborative learning, the learning community movement, and student-centered and deliberative pedagogy.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Series: Transformations in Higher Education


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Foreword: On the Bus, by Julie Ellison

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pp. xi-xviii

The true beginning of Learning in the Plural comes in the middle of the book, in the 2002 essay, “Bus Rides and Forks in the Road: The Making of a Public Scholar.” As a chronically nonsequential reader, I am only half joking when I propose that the reader of this book start here—...

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pp. xix-xxii

The ten essays in Learning in the Plural are selected from dozens of articles, chapters, reviews, and commentaries I have published during the past two decades on the humanities, literacy, and public life. They address important issues head on and raise often- provocative questions about...

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Believing in Difference: The Ethics of Civic Literacy (1993)

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pp. 1-16

I can think of no more urgent moment than now for undergraduate educators to be asking ethical questions about the content and context of a liberal arts education. How can the interdisciplinary work of liberal studies, for example, bring harmony out of the dissonances of a curriculum...

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Moral Literacy (1994)

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pp. 17-32

One of my principal concerns as a writing teacher is my students’ moral literacy and, in particular, the critical nexus formed in the writing classroom by language, moral sensibility, cultural values, identity development, and ethical behavior. I am well aware of how slippery and...

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Reading, Writing, and Reflection (1998)

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pp. 33-48

“What really irked me about Betty’s decision,” Rudy writes in his journal, “was that it should have been an editorial decision based on layout, design balance, etc. Instead, it was based on a phony rationale. The incident had an adverse effect on my outlook towards service at the Center.”...

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The Changing Seasons of Liberal Learning (1998)

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pp. 49-68

In the spring of 1990, several student groups at my campus erected shanties on a newly reclaimed “People’s Park.” Growing out of a protest symbolism spurred by the antiapartheid and endowment divestiture movements that briefly flourished on college campuses nationwide during...

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Academic Professionalism and the Betrayal of the Land-Grant Tradition (1999)

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pp. 69-82

Before passage of federal legislation inaugurating the land-grant movement in the 1860s, elite private colleges enjoyed an educational monopoly that exclusively served America’s professional classes. These were colleges that Justin Morrill, father of the land- grant acts, subtly denigrated...

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Bus Rides and Forks in the Road: The Making of a Public Scholar (2002)

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pp. 83-98

One consolation of finishing graduate work during the job market freeze- out in the late 1970s was the opportunity I had to experience, during a single semester, what obliquely struck me at the time as the full institutional spectrum of American postsecondary education. Facing unemployment...

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Education for Democracy: A Conversation in Two Keys (2004)

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pp. 99-114

A Note to Readers In March 2001, a diverse group of thirty- three juniors and seniors representing twenty- seven colleges and universities gathered at the Johnson Foundation in Racine, Wisconsin, for the Wingspread Summit on Student Civic Engagement, sponsored by Campus Compact. Nominated by faculty..

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Is Civic Discourse Still Alive? (2007)

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pp. 114-122

Before stepping into the tricky question of civic discourse’s current vital signs, it may be useful to consider a definition and a distinction. First, what is civic discourse? “The whole purpose of democracy,” Woodrow Wilson reminds us, “is that we may hold counsel with one another.”...

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Four Seasons of Deliberative Learning (2008)

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pp. 123-150

From 2002 to 2005, I set out on a systematic journey to incorporate deliberative democracy and deliberative learning practices into a sequence of three new courses I developed in an interdisciplinary department of rhetoric and American Studies. The courses covered a full gamut of...

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Can Civic Engagement Rescue the Humanities? (2013)

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pp. 151-166

The relationship between the civic engagement movement and the contemporary humanities reminds me of a Nora Ephron movie like Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail. Typically, the movie begins with two single, upwardly mobile middle- age characters who face a growing void...

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Afterword: Speaking and Working in Critically Hopeful Terms, by Scott J. Peters and Timothy K. Eatman

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pp. 167-178

In the final essay in this book, David Cooper tells a tragic story about scholars in the humanities who have detached and “marooned” themselves from the public sphere. Many readers will likely take issue with the role he assigns in this story to poststructuralist (and other) theories in the...


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pp. 179-182

E-ISBN-13: 9781609174026
E-ISBN-10: 160917402X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611861129
Print-ISBN-10: 1611861128

Page Count: 194
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1st
Series Title: Transformations in Higher Education