Susan Jean Mayer

Theorizing the aims and character of distinctively democratic classrooom practices based upon

the philosophy of pragmatism and contemporary understandings of learning and development


In Search of Wonderful Ideas:

Critical Exploration in Teacher Education

The eleven authors of this edited volume all studied the pedagogical approach Critical Exploration in the Classroom (CEC) with its originator Eleanor Duckworth and have since drawn centrally on the approach in their own work as teacher educators. Over the years, we have come to integrate the practice of CEC in different ways: some have employed it to invite deep student engagement with particular subject matter; some have explicitly taught it as a form of pedagogical approach; and many have done both. In all cases, the distinctive dynamic of the practice—designed to inspire, explore, and advance student thinking on its own terms—has informed and transformed the work we do.  

The book begins with an introduction written by my co-editor, Mary Kay Delaney, and myself on the character and significance of the practice of CEC with respect to today's increasingly robust understandings about learning, on the one hand, and current issues and challenges within teacher education programs, on the other.

Then, in the first chapter, Eleanor Duckworth provides an intellectual history of the development of her work, which I augment, in the final chapter, with a history of the development of CEC in relation to the worlds of democratic pedagogical thought, developmental learning theory, and the history of U.S. federal efforts at educational reform in the post-war period and today.

Each of the remaining chapters draws upon classroom narratives and other forms of classroom documentation and research in order to illustrate and theorize the kinds of profound changes in understanding that have occurred for teacher candidates as a result of working with CEC.

With John Dewey, the authors of this volume view educational research as necessarily intertwined with the aims, approaches, findings, and implications of situated educational practices. Valued understandings are established through intersubjective processes among participants who have learned to see through both theoretical and practical lenses.


Teacher educators should read this edited volume and reflect upon how they are preparing teachers to meet this critical moment in history—a moment that demands that future teachers see the full possibilities of their students and understand schools as places where this awakening of self is possible. When done with a commitment to justice and equity, the awakening does not just benefit individual learners—it benefits us all. The chapters in this volume illustrate this central purpose of education.

—Gretchen Givens Generett, Duquesne University

With its clear focus on the rich possibilities of centering both the theory and practice of Critical Exploration in the Classroom (CEC) in teacher preparation programs, this volume by an all-star cast is a major addition to the literature on radical approaches to preparing the next generation of teachers. Bravo! It is a thrilling read, as good an early entry point to these ideas as it is a way for those already familiar to go deeper.

—Steve Seidel, Harvard Graduate School of Education

This text makes a strong case for imaginative, engaging, and content-rich instruction in higher education.

—Teachers College Record