Comment Home / Interview

A Different Way

SIX QUESTIONS . . . In a sense, all my research and writing has aimed to understand how some societies came to see an irreconcilable conflict between social justice and the rights of conscience, a conflict played out especially in popular education.

Charles L. Glenn is professor of Educational Leadership and Development and former Dean of the School of Education at Boston University, where he teaches courses in education history and comparative policy. From 1970 to 1991 he was director of urban education and equity for the Massachusetts Department of Education.

In your work, what are you creating, and what are you cultivating? (In Andy Crouch's vernacular, what new culture are you making, and what good culture are you conserving and nurturing?)

Charles Glenn: In a sense, all my research and writing for a quarter of a century has been to understand how North American and Western European societies came to see an irreconcilable conflict between social justice and the rights of conscience, a conflict played out especially in popular education. I ask what remedies are possible and how they can be put in place, taking into account the distinctive accommodations in fifty different countries I have studied and written about.

Obviously, this is a not a mechanical matter but one of persuasion and indeed of encouraging a different way of understanding what true human flourishing requires and why that has come to be misunderstood. Working for policies that support faith-based and charter schools that serve the poor and promote such flourishing in thoughtful ways keeps me going.

Each book that I finish writing raises new questions for me and sends me into a period of intense thought and research (both historical and comparative) for the next book. Like the aging W.B. Yeats, I can truly say that

Never had I more
Excited, passionate, fantastical
Imagination, nor an ear and eye
That more expected the impossible . . .

Who is the "public" for your work—who is it for, and how does it affect the lives of those who engage with it?

Unlike most professors, my audience is not primarily other professors but policy-makers, leaders in civil society, and thoughtful citizens, especially in the evangelical and Catholic communities. And of course my undergraduate and graduate students, who challenge me constantly to make my thought more clear and persuasive.

Why do you do what you do?

I would like to think that it is for the glory of God, though I know that all sorts of other motivations are at work as well, some unworthy. There is also a desire to do something toward healing Western culture and society through education worthy of the name.

What skills, proficiencies, and virtues does this work develop in you?

I suppose the ability to sniff out the significance of historical documents and of educational policies and practices in many countries. I wish I were a profound thinker, like several of my friends; I suspect that my calling is to gather and publish the materials for their reflections.

What do you do for fun?

Spend time with my wife, seven children, and five grandchildren; drink wine and talk with friends in Europe; kayak on our lake in New Hampshire; read history; listen to Baroque music; bicycle to work; play with our dogs.

Editor's note: By "six questions," today, we meant "five questions."

Help us spread the word:
Charles Glenn Charles Glenn
Charles L. Glenn is professor of Educational Leadership and Development and former Dean of the School of Education at Boston University. ... read more »

Posted in Education, Justice, Vocation.

Subscribe to the Comment Weekly Newsletter
Comment's online articles serve as bridges between print issues. Get an email in your inbox every Friday, so you don't miss out.
  • Stay up-to-date and informed
  • Only one concise digest email per week
  • We will never share your email address. No Spam!
We will never sell or rent your email address. Your privacy is important to us

Related Articles

We'd love to hear your comments. Tell us what you think of this article! We'll use the best comments in Comment's print edition, and top commenters each month will receive a free, signed copy of our editor's recent book: Discipleship in the Present Tense.

Copyright © 1974-2014 Cardus. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Public Health and the Common Good

    October 16, 2014 | Matthew Loftus

    While the Church speaks out against abortion and euthanasia, it lags in creating a culture that supports the most vulnerable unwed mothers or fosters good end-of-life decision-m...


  1. Zero to What, Zero to Where?

    October 30, 2014 | Peter Boumgarden

    The number of students interested in entrepreneurship is shooting up drastically. So what kinds of startups are they pursuing? And which should we invest in?
  2. Beyond "Engagement": The Next Conversation We Need About Politics

    May 1, 2014 | James K.A. Smith

    Looking elsewhere for the robust embrace of politics that will speak today—to our time and place and audience.

Cardus Blog

  1. The Imagination: Free, but Everywhere in Chains

    October 30, 2014 | Doug Sikkema

    How might we imagine something new? How might we even begin? This question has been on my mind since I read Jonathan Kay’s extraordinary piece on Jang Jin-Sung, a def...
  2. Canada: Back to Normal

    October 27, 2014 | Peter Stockland

    Normalcy seemed to make a quick Canadian comeback last week when CBC Radio convened a media panel to discuss how well the media covered the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament Hill. T...

Print Issue

  1. September 2014: Cracks in the Secular
    Comment Magazine - Cracks in the Secular An injection of hope: the fall issue of Comment will seriously challenge and confront the attempt of some to reconfigure North American public life in a way that diminishes and ...
Comment on iPad