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Joel  Westheimer

Joel Westheimer

University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa & Education Columnist for CBC Radio

Joel Westheimer

University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa & Education Columnist for CBC Radio


Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and education columnist for CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning and Ontario Today shows. He began his education career as a summer camp director and then middle school teacher in the New York City Public School system before obtaining a Ph.D. from Stanford University. His books include the critically acclaimed What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good; Pledging Allegiance: The Politics of Patriotism in America's Schools (foreword by Howard Zinn); and Among Schoolteachers: Community, Autonomy and Ideology in Teachers’ Work. Westheimer lectures widely and has delivered more than 200 keynote speeches. In addition to researching the role of schools in democratic societies, Westheimer also studies, writes, and speaks on global school reform, the standards and accountability onslaught, and the politics of education and education research. He is the author of more than 75 academic and professional journal articles, book chapters, and books and addresses radio and television audiences nationally and internationally. He currently directs (with John Rogers, UCLA) The Inequality Project, investigating what schools in North America are teaching about economic inequality.

Westheimer is recipient of the Canadian Education Association’s Whitworth Award and Knight Fellow for Civic Engagement in Higher Education. He was recently inducted as one of sixty living Laureates of Kappa Delta Pi, the education honor society (established in 1911; past laureates include Margaret Mead, Albert Einstein, and Jean Piaget). He grew up in New York City and has also lived in San Francisco, Princeton, NJ, Buenos Aires, and Israel. Before moving to Ottawa, he taught at Stanford University and at New York University. He enjoys performing in community theatre and plays guitar with a group of professors in a band called The Pedagogues. Westheimer has two children and a dog named Farley. His wife is also a professor – in the English department at Carleton University in Ottawa. In Winter, both he and his wife ice-skate to and from work. Farley stays home.

Speaker Videos

Citizenship Conversation

How Standardized Testing Causes Huge Problems | David Pakman Show

Critical Pedagogy

On Standardized Testing

Speech Topics

Can Education Transform the World?

Belief in the fundamental power of education has been long-standing. But if we can agree that schools have an essential role to play in preparing students to improve their own lives and the lives of others, we cannot seem to agree on what that means. The very same efforts that are applauded by some are viewed as misguided by others. The result for schoolchildren has been a mostly watered-down notion of teaching and learning that emphasizes obedience and routine over critical thinking and engaging with multiple perspectives. At the same time, the very foundation of civil society in many Western democracies is under attack. The number of young people worldwide now willing to entertain nondemocratic forms of government is on the rise. For example, nearly a quarter of U.S. youth aged 16 to 24 believe that democracy is a “bad” or “very bad” way of governing. About 70% of millennials do not think it is essential to live in a country governed by democratic rule of law. In this presentation, Joel Westheimer draws on research and practice to explore the promises and pitfalls of education in a time of rising populist support for anti-democratic forms of governance.

What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good

Ask people anywhere if they think children should learn how to be good citizens and most will say "of course." Ask them if teaching children to get involved – locally, nationally, and globally – is a good idea, and, again, most will assure you that it is. But beyond the clichés, when teachers and curriculum experts with the nitty-gritty details of what will actually be taught and what students will actually do, the consensus starts to fray. That’s where the real work of education and citizenship begins. In this presentation, Joel Westheimer shares the “Three Kinds of Citizen” framework he developed that is being used in 27 countries and tens of thousands of classrooms and schools, and in a state assembly visitor center. Whether teaching students to volunteer, follow the news, vote, or help authorities hunt down terrorists, hear how different schools throughout North America and the world imagine their future citizens. With humor, stories, and evidence from research, he engages the audience in a conversation about the purpose and promise of education in the 21st Century.

Let Teachers Teach: The Power of Education and the Profession of Teaching

Our cultural obsession with standards and accountability have had dramatic effects on what is and isn't taught in school. As teachers’ hands are tied to test preparation, students' opportunities to develop the skills of critical thinking that are so vital for any democratic society are severely constrained. In this presentation, Joel Westheimer shows how educators, parents and anyone interested in improving schools can restore both sanity to the classroom and dignity and professionalism to teaching.

Education That Matters

In this presentation, Joel Westheimer draws on his research in thriving schools to talk about opportunities and obstacles for a Big Ideas curriculum. With breathtaking examples from around the country, Westheimer shows what a school curriculum devoted to creativity and thinking can look like and how such a curriculum is not only beneficial but vital for any democratic society.

Seven Surprising Myths About School

Do national standards ensure quality education? Should students be medicated? Does a school need to be run democratically in order to teach democratic habits? Should students study controversial issues? Using the latest research, compelling anecdotes, and humor, Joel Westheimer takes audiences on a journey through the popular myths, distortions, and contradictions of school reform and the ways all of us can work to make schools vital.

Pledging Allegiance: The Politics of Patriotism in American Schools

Did you recite the pledge each morning in school? Do your children? Is it useful? After 9/11, dozens of states enacted new laws mandating that students recite the pledge, sing patriotic songs, and study the “greatest hits” of American history. What role, if any, does patriotism have in the school curriculum? Why and what for?