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Hannah Arendt Center at Bard Hosts International Conference on the Crisis in Education

“Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis” to Be Held at Bard College, October 3–4

Mark Primoff

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities at Bard College will host its sixth annual international conference from Thursday, October 3 to Friday, October 4 in Olin Hall, on Bard’s Annandale-on-Hudson campus. The two-day conference, “Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis,” will examine the issues surrounding American education and what it means to educate a conscious, democratic citizenry. At a time of blistering technological and cultural change, reformers want school to prepare students for the future—but which future? We hardly know where our complex, algorithmic, and virtual reality will bring us next month, let alone in a decade. The Arendt conference brings together scholars, writers, and educators to ask, “How should we nurture educated citizens in a global and technologically enhanced world?”

In “The Crisis in Education,” Hannah Arendt writes, “education can play no part in politics, because in politics we always have to deal with those who are already educated.” Arendt worried that when politicians talk about educating voters, they are really seeking unanimity. Political education threatens the plurality of opinion at the core of politics. Against political education, Arendt saw education as “the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.” Teachers must humbly teach what is, Arendt argued; they leave to students the chance to transform it. Education, Arendt insists, must risk allowing people their unique and personal viewpoints, eschewing political education and seeking, simply, to nurture independent minds. 

Yet in the most literate and technologically savvy society of all time, our schools have produced politically uneducated citizens. With the exception of juries, few Americans engage in civic service. Voting is the only public activity demanded of citizens in our democracy. It takes little effort; and still, few vote. Rare is the citizen who has thought about balancing the need to keep taxes low and freedoms vibrant with the counter imperatives to hire excellent teachers, invest in infrastructure, and defend the nation. The old ideal of the citizen democracy is in crisis.    
“Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis” convenes a diverse group of thinkers to ask questions such as: In a democracy, should education aim to form citizens? How can it do so? How can we nurture public-spirited citizens? Is college an important prerequisite for citizenship? Is education something assessable by concrete criteria? Can online and distance learning educate engaged citizens? Is public education an essential part of American democracy? Above all, the conference seeks to ask, what is an educated citizen?

Featured speakers at the conference include Danielle Allen, UPS Foundation Professor at the School of Social Science at the Institute of Advanced Study and author of Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, Why Plato Wrote, and Why the Declaration of Independence Matters, among other books; Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Jerusalem Philharmonic, Leon Levy Professor in the Arts and Humanities, and author of Jefferson’s Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture and The History of Listening; Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, senior research fellow at the University of Virginia, and contributing editor at The New Atlantis; Sy Fliegel, president and Gilder Senior Fellow at Center for Educational Innovation–Public Education Association, a New York City nonprofit that offers alternatives to traditional schools; Harry Lewis, Gordon McKay Professor of computer science and the director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science at Harvard University, former dean of Harvard College, and author of Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?; Andrew Ng, professor of computer science at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, and cofounder of Coursera; and Richard Rodriguez, writer and author of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez and Brown: The Last Discovery of America, among other books and essays.

Arendt Center conferences are attended by nearly a thousand people and reach an international audience via live webcast. Past speakers have included maverick inventor Ray Kurzweil, irreverent journalist Christopher Hitchens, businessman Hunter Lewis, author Zadie Smith, New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, and presidential candidate and political activist Ralph Nader. Previous conferences have explored the intellectual roots of the economic crisis and the future of humanity in an age increasingly dominated by technology that’s changing how humans live.

For a full conference schedule and bios of featured speakers, please visit For more information or any questions about the conference, please call Bridget Hollenback at or 845-758-7878.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

10:00 am

Is There a Crisis of Educated Citizenship?

Michèle Dominy

Roger Berkowitz


10:30 am

Keynote address

Do We Need a Common Public Language?

Richard Rodriguez

Moderator: Marina Van Zuylen


11:45 am

Keynote Address

Has Higher Education in the United States Lost Its Way?

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann

Harry Lewis

Moderator: Karen Sullivan


1:00 pm


2:00 pm

Keynote Address

Will MOOCs Save Higher Education?

Andrew Ng

Moderator: Thomas Wild


2:45 pm

Is Education in Crisis?

Jerome Kohn

John Seery

Moderator: Jessica Restaino


4:00 pm



4:15 pm

Keynote Address

What is the Role of the Practical Arts in Educating Citizens?

Matthew Crawford

Moderator: Paul Marienthal


5:15 pm

How Can Civic Education Avoid Being Propaganda?

Elizabeth Beaumont

Erik Reece

Moderator: Rabbi David Nelson


6:30 pm

Keynote Address

Can Education Really Work?

Sy Fliegel

Moderator: Wyatt Mason

Friday, October 4, 2013


10:00 am

Keynote Address

What Does it Mean to Educate Citizens?

Leon Botstein

Wyatt Mason


11:15 am

Is College Necessary?

Dale Stephens

Moderator: Dean Hachamovitch


12:00 pm

Should Education Be Privatized?

James Tooley

Moderator: Ben Slivka


12:45 pm

Do the Arts Contribute to Citizen Engagement?

Shirley Brice Heath

Moderator: Nancy Leonard


1:30 pm



2:30 pm

Are Public Schools Necessary in a Democracy?

Will Richardson

Steven Tatum

Moderator: Claire Haskell Botstein


3:15 pm

How Can We Expand the Education of Citizens to a Wider Public?

Tabetha Ewing

Simone Brody

Andrew Watchel

Moderator: Jonathan Becker


5:00 pm

Keynote Address

Is a College Education Important for Being a Good Citizen?

Danielle Allen

Moderator: Max Kenner


7:30 pm

Nilaja Sun, performance of No Child . . .




The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College is an expansive home for thinking about and in the spirit of Hannah Arendt. The Arendt Center’s double mission is, first, to sponsor and support the highest quality scholarship on Hannah Arendt and her work; and, second, to be an intellectual incubator for engaged humanities thinking at Bard College and beyond, thinking that elevates and deepens the public argument that is the bedrock of our democracy.

As the intellectual cornerstone of Bard College’s Civic Engagement Initiative, The Arendt Center insists that liberal arts thinking is at the core of an enlightened politics. While policy questions are important, serious political engagement requires that citizens confront the intellectual foundations of the crises and challenges facing our world. The Arendt Center nurtures the foundational thinking that prepares students for active citizenship that can humanize an often inhuman world.


Spetmber 5, 2013


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This event was last updated on 09-05-2013