If our arguments were rapidly finding their way into the published page, our excitement encountered breath-halting skepticism in the ATLAS Seminar—a serious exercise in envisioning a millennial school reform, co-led by Howard, Ted Sizer, and Jim Comer around 1993. I soon came to think of ATLAS as the place where ideas met in fierce battle to return enriched and nuanced as a result.
Throughout the Seminar, Ted Sizer (whom we all miss enormously) sustained his distrust of disciplinary understanding as a central purpose for schooling, on grounds of lack of relevance to the lives of children in public schools. In his mind, meaningful relationships and open-ended inquiry stood as optimal incubators of desirable and long-lasting habits of mind. As Howard and I saw it at the time, questioning the significance of disciplinary theories, concepts, and methods amounted to putting into question the very Enlightenment project that had given us deliberative and representative democracies, extended life expectancy especially for the poor, and the possibility of a critical analysis of the world in which we lived.
Month after month Howard and I sharpened pencils and arguments to propose an increasingly precise case. While multiple forces shape one’s mind, it is fair to say that ATLAS awakened our sensitivities—Ted’s included—to a more nuanced conception of the disciplines and a moderated view of their role as a central purpose of education. There was more to being a person than our cognitive human
potential, even if construed in its full multiplicity. There was also more to disciplines as human enterprises than concepts, methods, and excellence. Envisioning the purpose of education in the fast-approaching 21st century would require going back to a—now more informed— drawing board.