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Theory is a distillation that makes the inevitable trial and error of teaching and learning count for lessons to be passed on. We learned this from working on engaged humanities projects, and also from reading Frederich Schiller, John Dewey, and others who share a fascination with doing as a trigger for feeling and thinking. The sometimes humble practice of service learning generates lessons that add up to the broad intellectual ambition of public humanities: to explore and expand the civic dimensions of art and interpretation, and to demonstrate through practise the centrality of the humanities to democratic processes and social justice. Theory not only informs engaged humanities practices: theory is transformed by these practices, as are those who participate in them. At a time when the value of the humanities is continually in question, it is all the more essential to engage the humanities in the dialogical process of refashioning education, community, theory, and the humanities themselves.