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


Practicing Pragmatism through Progressive Pedagogies:

A Philosophical Lens for Grounding Classroom Teaching and Research

This book contributes to the contemporary revival of pragmatism as a practical and ultimately, as I argue, necessary philosophical stance within democratic schools. Given that pragmatism addresses the question of how people can move forward in the absence of transcendent Truth, I show how pragmatism also—and not incidentally— provides grounds for pluralistic democratic societies to move forward in the absence of shared belief systems.

I weave together philosophical analysis and classroom discourse research in order to explore the relationships among pragmatism, progressive educational theory, and democratic knowledge construction processes and to develop their implications for classroom practice. Original, research-based heuristics that can serve in the work of orchestrating distinctively democratic knowledge construction processes are offered and the essential role of such processes in nurturing democratic relations is emphasized. For in learning to observe and to reflect on one’s own terms, attend closely to the observations and interpretations of one’s peers, and reason collaboratively in a transparent and principled manner, young people are enculturated into defining democratic values, commitments, and practices.

This book is written for a general scholarly audience and is intended for all those concerned with strengthening the democratic character of schools and societies. It is likely to appeal to scholars, researchers, and practitioners with interests in philosophy, classroom discourse, and curriculum studies as well as philosophers of education and of the social sciences more broadly.


Susan Mayer has written that rare book that combines first rate scholarship with practical classroom application. She updates pragmatism and progressive pedagogy for the twenty-first century. Written with a light touch for the general educational audience, the book nonetheless provides original and valuable insights for philosophical specialists.

—Jim Garrison, Virginia Tech.

Mayer animates philosophical issues by centering her FDE framework: a conceptual and analytical lens into progressive pedagogy. In highlighting the roles that teachers and students assume in the framing of investigative questions and the developing and evaluating of responsive ideas, Mayer also informs questions at the heart of teaching and learning.

––Catherine O’Connor, Boston University