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Meira Levinson to Give Twenty-Second Annual Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric

The Center for Democratic Deliberation is pleased to announce the twenty-second annual Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric, featuring Meira Levinson, Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her talk, “Teaching as Moral Injury: The Ethics of Educational Injustice,” will be held Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. in Foster Auditorium in the Paterno Library, University Park Campus. The event is free and open to the public.

For additional details on Levinson and her talk, please see the following:

Lecture Abstract:
Both as agents of the state, and as models for children who learn through observing their speech and actions, public school educators and policy makers are responsible for enacting justice. However, because of historical or contextual injustices within the school system and society as a whole, they often face situations in which there are no truly just options. Under these circumstances, they are faced with deciding what "least unjust" action they might take, rather than what the truly just or ethical action would be. Examples include whether to retain an under-served student who has not met the benchmarks to be promoted but who will likely drop out if she is held back, discipline policies that disproportionately punish black boys even when applied in a prima facie neutral manner, budget-driven teacher firings in Los Angeles Unified School District, and conflicts over school closures in a number of urban school districts. In each of these situations, educators and policy makers must act—they cannot sit on the sidelines and do nothing—but in so doing, they may find themselves further perpetuating injustice. These educators hence also experience moral injury: the trauma of doing moral wrong toward others, which inflicts a moral wrong upon themselves.

In this lecture, Levinson will draw upon case studies of dilemmas of educational justice to address the questions: What options are open to teachers, principals, and policy makers in these situations? How can they best be prepared to identify, reason, and take action about these dilemmas of educational injustice? What principles define educators' and policy makers' obligations toward students? Likewise, what principles should guide society's obligations toward educators who suffer moral injury?

Levinson’s Bio:
Meira Levinson is a normative political philosopher by training, who draws upon scholarship from multiple disciplines as well as her eight years of experience teaching in the Atlanta and Boston Public Schools. Her most recent book, No Citizen Left Behind (Harvard University Press, 2012), shows how schools can help tackle a civic empowerment gap that is as shameful and anti-democratic as the academic achievement gap targeted by No Child Left Behind. In 2013, it was awarded the Michael Harrington Award from the American Political Science Association, the Exemplary Research in Social Studies Award from the National Council for the Social Studies, and a Critics Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association. Levinson’s other publications include The Demands of Liberal Education (Oxford University Press, 1999), the co-authored Democracy at Risk (Brookings Press, 2005), the co-edited Making Civics Count (Harvard Education Press, 2012), and more than 30 scholarly and popular articles and book chapters.

A national leader in civic education, Levinson serves on advisory committees or boards of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, CIRCLE/Tisch College, Generation Citizen, National Action Civics Collaborative, the Civic and Moral Education Initiative at Harvard, and Theory and Research in Education. She also was a writer for the newly-drafted, multi-state College, Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.

Levinson’s newest project on “Justice in Schools” combines philosophical analysis and school-based case studies to illuminate the complex dimensions of evaluating, achieving, and teaching justice in schools. The project is intended to give educators tools for making just decisions in their own practice, and also to push political theorists to develop theories of justice that are robust enough to address complex school-based dilemmas. This project, like her previous research, reflects Levinson’s commitment to achieving productive cross-fertilization—without loss of rigor—among scholarship, policy, and practice.

Levinson earned a DPhil in political theory from Nuffield College, Oxford, and a BA in philosophy from Yale University. She has been honored with grants and fellowships from the Spencer Foundation, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, National Academy of Education, and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), among others. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Boston.


Co-sponsors of the Twenty-Second Annual Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric include the Center for American Political Responsiveness; College of Education; Democracy Institute; Department of Communication Arts and Sciences; Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education; Department of English; Office of Multicultural Programs, College of Education; D.J. Willower Center for the Study of Leadership and Ethics; University Libraries.