Meet the New Graduate School Dean

Scott Fletcher, previously chair of the Department of Education at the University of New Hampshire, joined Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling in August.

Scott Fletcher, previously chair of the Department of Education at the University of New Hampshire, joined Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling in August. A noted teacher and scholar, he has won accolades for his research in the philosophy of education and the role of schools in democratic society.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Believe it or not, I pretty much went directly from baseball catcher to philosophy professor, after a brief flirtation with marine biology. I still love science. What was in that water?

What’s the focus of your research?
I work primarily in the field of philosophy of education. My special focus concerns the way schools function as institutions in a complex social context, where issues of power, status, and privilege shape experience.

Within that broad arena, I also study curriculum theory, which takes these philosophical concerns and aims them at the point where the rubber meets the road: what students actually study and how they interact with each other and their teachers in the classroom.

What are the strengths of the graduate school?
First and foremost it’s the quality of the faculty and staff. When I came here to interview, I found an incredible amount of passion and devotion to students, along with a lot of scholarly integrity around issues of equity, social justice, and diversity. Second, faculty hold high standards for students and their work. And it’s not just high standards for the sake of high standards; these demands reflect a deep commitment to the youth and adults whom our graduates serve in their communities.

What are the graduate school’s challenges?
I’d have to say our work is better defined by the projects we’re taking on than the challenges we face. This year, for example, we’re working through a revisioning process in our Center for Continuing Studies, which offers a wide range of educational opportunities for professionals in the field. The unit’s new name will be the Center for Community Engagement and Professional Studies. We want to be clear that community engagement is at the heart of what we do.

We’re also working on our doctoral program in educational leadership. It’s a small program with a lot of talent. We’re working to keep the program design innovative and focused on leadership for institutional change. We’ll be looking at it in a dedicated way this year.

Why is the graduate school focusing on community engagement?
We’re especially committed to community engagement around issues of social justice, democracy, equity, and diversity. These elements really map onto the quality of life for the youth and adults who are served by our graduates. As a result, we have a direct impact on the quality of life in many communities around the city of Portland, the state of Oregon, and beyond.

How do alumni fit in?
Alumni relations is a real priority for me right now. We need to strengthen our connections with alumni and give them significant, substantial opportunities to participate in the life of the graduate school. We’re proud of our graduates, and I’ll be working hard on developing those relationships over the next year.

Barack Obama will soon be president of the United States. What should be at the top of his agenda?
Hmm… yes, it’s a new day, all right. Let’s start with public education. No Child Left Behind, while possessing the small virtue of making certain kinds of performance data more available, has, in my view, been an unmitigated disaster for schools. It has, as an intended or unintended consequence, dramatically shaped the curriculum in ways that diminish the autonomy of teachers, constrain their creativity, and drastically reduce the availability of authentic learning experiences. So I see President Obama taking on the most pernicious aspects of No Child Left Behind through the reauthorization process. In my view, we need to radically change the way we judge the success of our schools.

With respect to mental health counseling and therapy, I think one can begin by saying that we fall dramatically short as a society in providing the necessary resources for this kind of care, especially for those who can’t afford to pay for it or who don’t have access to insurance. The fact that there are people who can’t get the care or counseling they need to lead their lives to the fullest is both tragic and a fundamental social injustice. We need to change our vision of healthy communities and the responsibility we bear as a society to provide for the needs of our citizens.

What sorts of interest or activities do you pursue outside of work?
Music, cooking, hiking, and birding (watching them, not shooting them–as my students often ask me to clarify when I say that).

What might people find surprising about you?
I possess very modest skills as a blacksmith. Not shoeing horses–more like making sketchy fireplace tools and utilitarian pieces. And I’m looking forward to learning how to weave this year.