Deani Van Pelt is Associate Professor of Education at Redeemer University College where she serves as Director of Teacher Education. A former teacher in math and business departments of public and private secondary schools, she now instructs courses in social and legal foundations of education.
Deani was appointed a Cardus Senior Fellow last month.
In your work, what are you creating, and what are you cultivating? (In Andy Crouch’s vernacular, what new culture are you making, and what good culture are you conserving and nurturing?)
Deani Van Pelt: In the corner of the field that I am cultivating, the dirt turns over nicely every decade or two. Perhaps it’s more of a pendulum swing as we move back and forth from trend to trend in educational theory and practice. In my work I am committed over a longer term to thinking deeply, and to encouraging others to think deeply, about what educational outcomes we desire, about why those outcomes are important, and about how we can best achieve those outcomes. Asked another way, what are the educational excellences and desired dispositions we aim for in our students or in the graduates of our systems of education? What reasons—theological, ontological, epistemological, psychological, sociological, cultural, and so on—do we have for those aims and purposes? And through what educational practices, means, strategies, methods, structures, designs, liturgies, and approaches will we achieve those desired outcomes? There are many ways to have such conversations and to encourage one another to study, through various means and approaches, aspects of these questions. It is this cultural good that I am nurturing.
Who is the “public” for your work—who is it for, and how does it affect the lives of those who engage with it?
I work for the child whose deep gaze tells us that something is amiss. I work for parents who desire something more for their children’s education. I work for my students who are studying to become teachers. I work with a community of passionate, dedicated colleagues both within and beyond the institution that employs me and find it deeply satisfying to correspond and collaborate with scholars and practitioners from almost every continent through teaching and research. Still, it is rather difficult to gauge effects.
Why do you do what you do?
As I child and young learner, I loved the windows to new ways of looking at the world that were opened through the process of my schooling. I recall being hungry and ready for whatever was offered and eagerly engaging in most of my classes and courses. I began wondering what went on behind the scenes, especially wondering why teachers, principals, and schools chose to do what they did. Sometimes I was outraged by the choices that were imposed on me but that only further fuelled my desire to know more about the motivations and reasons behind processes and methods of schooling. The last two decades of my work as a high school teacher, home-educating parent, graduate student, and professor of education continue to be propelled by similar quests and a commitment to pointing to the good when I see it in educational theory and practice and to participating in conversations and proposals for improvements in educational design and delivery.
What skills, proficiencies, and virtues does this work develop in you?
Probably foremost are the research knowledge and skills that continue to grow through involvement in various national and international projects and studies. For example, skills and knowledge developed in building a digital collection of a small British museum has been a delightful indulgence that continues to find reception in the loveliest corners of the world (see Redeemer University College’s Charlotte Mason Digital Collection). The call to participate in the design and delivery of an effective and unique teacher education program develops a variety of professional proficiencies. The challenge of creating and delivering engaging and effective two hour classes for students of education law also continues to inspire me. In addition, my awareness of the tremendous importance of education policy and regulation is developing and I look forward to becoming more practiced in designing, proposing, and advocating for better educational alternatives. Ultimately I am richly shaped by the variety of relationships in which I can participate and I’ve come to more deeply respect the skills and knowledge of others who function and contribute in a wide diversity of roles and responsibilities.
What five books would you recommend to someone interested in understanding or pursuing the sort of work you do?
I would recommend books that rattle and lure readers into thinking about schooling differently, books that touch emotionally, and guide into a different way of imagining schooling and the education of our children. Several books that have touched me, or are currently influencing me, include:
Schaeffer Macaulay, S. (1984). For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Mason, C.M. (1925). An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education: A Liberal Education for All. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd.
Berquist, L.M. (1994). Designing your own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Glenn, C. (1988). The Myth of the Common School. Amherst, Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press.
Smith, C. (2011). What is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
What do you do for fun?
I am completely happy chopping vegetables and stirring bubbling stuff on our gas stove, especially if all will be shared in conversation with loved ones at our fireside. Sand, sun, and warm water invigorate me far too much and are part of my life far too infrequently but even thoughts of their promise bring me joy. Finding ways to sweat a little each day, especially if gardening is involved, keeps me feeling young and hopeful. Chopping, stirring, talking, thinking, sweating—I’m not entirely certain any qualify as fun by the usual standards but as I age perhaps I am more easily entertained.