Dean James Ryan has announced that Danielle Allen, a political theorist who was appointed director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics last December, has joined the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a professor. Allen, who is jointly appointed to the government department in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is an innovative, cross-disciplinary scholar whose work explores the history of political thought and notions of citizenship in societies ancient and contemporary.
As head of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics — a national leader in the study of ethics in public life — Allen will continue her vibrant engagement with contemporary challenges, focusing her efforts on questions of diversity, justice, and democracy.
Her work makes new connections across time and experience to show how old ideas can illuminate modern understanding. Her books include The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of Education (2004), and Why Plato Wrote (2010).
Allen’s 2014 book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, grew out of her experience leading a group of low-income night-school students through a line-by-line reading of the Declaration — what she has called a transformative experience in her career as a teacher.
In June, Allen brought out an edited collection that helps define some of the interests she’ll explore with HGSE colleagues. The book, co-edited with MIT historian of technology Jennifer Light, is From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age, featuring essays from a wide range of notable scholars, including HGSE Professor Howard Gardner.
In a brief Q&A, we asked Allen to discuss her HGSE appointment.
How does it feel to be taking this joint appointment at Harvard Graduate School of Education?
It’s really exciting to join the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I’ve been an admirer of so many people on that faculty for so long that the chance to collaborate with them is incredibly energizing.
What are you looking forward to in the upcoming year?
I’m particularly looking forward to working with the folks at Project Zero and strengthening my own work on humanities and liberal arts assessment.
How do you see your work as a political theorist as vital in the realm of education?
As a political theorist, I’m particularly interested in connections between education and the health of democracy. The issues are both those of civic education and those of opportunity and equality.
What gets you most excited about the future of education?
What gets me excited are the efforts springing up at state levels to find alternatives to testing that can serve as appropriate instruments of accountability and assessment. I’m also excited about new efforts in civic education to tap into the energies of youth activism and civic engagement. Here I am thinking about the work of the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, of which I am a member.