Knowledge for Social Change

Bacon, Dewey, and the Revolutionary Transformation of Research Universities in the Twenty-First Century

Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, John Puckett, Matthew Hartley, Rita A. Hodges, Francis E. Johnston, and Joann Weeks
Book Cover

PB: $14.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1519-6
Publication: Jul 17

HC: $74.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1518-9
Publication: Jul 17

Ebook: $14.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1520-2
Publication: Jul 17

210 pages
6 x 9
1 figure

Argues for and proposes concrete means to radically transform research universities to function as democratic, civic, and community-engaged institutions

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Employing history, social theory, and a detailed contemporary case study , Knowledge for Social Change argues for fundamentally reshaping research universities to function as democratic, civic, and community-engaged institutions dedicated to advancing learning and knowledge for social change. The authors focus on significant contributions to learning made by Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Seth Low, Jane Addams, William Rainey Harper, and John Dewey—as well as their own work at Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships—to help create and sustain democratically engaged colleges and universities for the public good.

Knowledge for Social Change highlights university-assisted community schools to effect a thoroughgoing change of research universities that will contribute to more democratic schools, communities, and societies. The authors also call on democratic-minded academics to create and sustain a global movement dedicated to advancing learning for the “relief of man’s estate”—an iconic phrase by Francis Bacon that emphasized the continuous betterment of the human condition—and to realize Dewey’s vision of an organic “Great Community” composed of participatory, democratic, collaborative, and interdependent societies.


"This book contributes valuable ideas to today’s politically, economically, and socially complex world. For one, the premise of the book itself is inspiring. (T)his book reminds its readers that higher education institutions can and must utilize their research, teaching, and service components to directly make positive social change both nationally and globally."— Review of Higher Education

"Grounded in historical analyses about the theories and practices of civic participation in democratic societies, Knowledge for Social Change provides wonderful examples of and provocative perspectives on the critical role that higher education institutions—especially research universities—play in advancing social change in contemporary society. This book should be required reading for students in every college and university across the land."
Albert M. Camarillo, Professor of History, Haas Centennial Professor of Public Service, and Leon Sloss Jr. Memorial Professor Emeritus, Stanford University

"Knowledge for Social Change is an important book that should be read by all who are interested in strengthening research universities by calling them back to their civic mission."
Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Levy Institute Research Professor, Bard College, and Distinguished Fellow, Bard Prison Initiative

"This book is a must-read for those of us responsible for educating students who will become our future world leaders. Knowledge for Social Change proposes that research universities become radically transformed to function as democratic, civic, and community-engaged institutions, and I could not agree with the idea more."
Eduardo J. Padrón, President, Miami Dade College

"Individually and collectively, the (authors) have made important contributions to the literature on higher education prior to this collaboration. And they have done a remarkable job of producing a collective work of clarity and coherence that comes across as a single voice and avoids repetition. It is a book that should be widely read by engaged scholars, practitioners, administrative leaders, and students of engagement."
Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

"Knowledge for Social Change offers a bold vision for democratically minded academics concerned about our nation's future.... The authors, who are among the stalwarts of the modern community engagement movement, make no secret that the book's intellectual and political projects are meant to be provocative. Some readers may greet their provocations as utopian wishful thinking, but the authors make clear that their vision is serious and practical. Their earnestness and commitment to the transformation of research universities should prompt even the most skeptical reader to consider the radical project they propose.... The book represents a seminal scholarly contribution to the modern-day community engagement movement as the most comprehensive account to date of the philosophical ideas that ground it."
Journal of Higher Education and Outreach

"(The authors) successfully advocate for a transformative system of higher education that implicates the community and public schools in the process of learning, knowledge production, and civic-engagement.... (They) provide compelling, optimistic solutions—and paths forward—to remedy the growing corporatization of the research university and service-learning.... (O)verall, and perhaps most significantly, Benson and his team provide a meaningful, tangible adaptation to Dewey’s ideas regarding education and reveal that partnerships between universities and communities can create a more democratically engaged citizenry that works collectively for the good of all."
Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement

"The authors catalogue in rich detail the pioneering efforts of educators and administrators at the University of Pennsylvania to put into practice the ideals of their forebears in progressive education, John Dewey first and foremost among them. Until the Netter Center, these ideals had fallen largely on deaf ears or been transformed beyond recognition. It is this faithfulness to the inseparability of past, present, and future that makes the book a standout in the literature of education and societal change, putting the public back in public education and recalling universities to their special responsibilities here."
— Teachers College Record

"Benson and colleagues’ (argue) that education, not the economic system, is the foundation stone of human society.... The authors of Knowledge for Social Change have an impressive academic pedigree for mounting their argument.... From their collective societal and educational vantage point, they place responsibility for social change squarely on the shoulders of research universities – citing William Rainey Harper’s conviction that democracy relies on educated citizens and that universities are the driver of education, as they produce both the teachers, and the teachers of the teachers. Thus, the crux of the argument is that the kind of education individuals receive determines human capacity for progress and social change. Supporting that vision, the authors draw from an array of theorists and activists whose research and educational vision was deeply occupational."
—Journal of Occupational Science

"(T)he book is fundamental reading for those interested in this subject matter and should be considered complementary to analogous efforts by engaged scholars operating in other geographic and cultural contexts.... Overall, the book is an honest and in-depth account of the real possibility for a prestigious research university to achieve excellence in research and teaching through an engaged agenda, and it offers a number of intellectual stimuli and practical hints in this direction."
— Planning Theory and Practice

Table of Contents


Introduction: University-Assisted Community Schools and the Expanding Global Movement of Democratic, Civically Engaged, Modern Research Universities

1. Francis Bacon and the Advancement of Learning
1592–1621: Developing a Philosophy of Learning and Science • 1605: The Advancement of Learning • 1605–1621: Bacon’s Progress • 1621–1626: Assessing Bacon’s Plans for a Science-Based Utopian Society • Two Propositions: Humankind’s Capacity to Advance Learning and “the Relief of Man’s Estate” | The Role of Historical Development in the Advancement of Learning • Bacon’s Negative Impact on the Advancement of Learning
2. Benjamin Franklin’s Revolutionary Theory of Education
Franklin’s Goals for Higher Education • A New Kind of Society Requires a New Kind of Education Curriculum, Methods, and Texts • The Burden of “Ancient Customs and Habitudes”
3. William Rainey Harper and Jane Addams: Progressive Era
Organizational Innovation and the American Research University The American Research University in the Progressive Era • Jane Addams’s Hull House: Organizational Innovation, Knowledge Production, and Social Change • William Rainey Harper and the University of Chicago: The Urban University as the Strategic Institution for Improving Communities, Schools, and Society
4. John Dewey and the Community School Idea
Participatory Democracy in Schooling Systems and Societies Dewey’s Laboratory School and His Scientistic Fallacy • Addams and Hull House: Dewey’s “School as Social Centre” • The Schooling System as the Strategic Subsystem of Modern Societies • After Dewey: Social Centers, Community Centers, and Community Schools • New Models of Community Schools and the Coalition for Community Schools
5. The Higher Education Democratic Civic and Community Engagement Movement: Realizing Bacon’s and Franklin’s Ideals
The Short Rise and Long Decline of University Civic Engagement in the Twentieth Century • Public and Community Service • Service and the Curriculum • The Service Learning Movement Divides • Toward Democratic Civic and Community Engagement The Path Ahead

6. The Netter Center for Community Partnerships: Intellectual and Practical Roots
The Wharton School in the Progressive Era • West Philadelphia: Social Forces and Contexts, 1960–1990 • Setting Penn’s Course Aright
7. Penn and West Philadelphia: From Conflict to Collaboration
Two Strategies for University-Community Partnerships Organizing for Communal Participatory Action Research: Theory into Practice • Taking Advantage of a Favorable Institutional Climate • The Penn Compact and the Netter Center: One University in Practice
8. The Netter Center and the Global Society: Outreach to the Nation and the World
Replicating the WEPIC Idea: From the Region to the Nation • Building a National Infrastructure for University-Community Partnerships • Becoming an International Movement
9. Solving Complex Real-World Problems through Academically Based Community Service: The Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative
Obesity as a Complex, Ill-Structured Problem • Origins and First Decade’s Growth • TNAP’s Expansion: UNI and AUNI • School Gardens and School-Based Small Businesses, ABCS and AUNI
10. Universities, Local Engagement, and Achieving a Democratic Devolution Revolution
A Strategy to Bring About a Democratic Devolution Revolution • Obstacles to Developing and Sustaining University-Assisted Community Schools and Achieving a Democratic Devolution Revolution • Reducing Obstacles to Developing and Sustaining University-Assisted Community Schools and Achieving a Democratic Devolution Revolution


About the Author(s)

Lee Benson (1922–2012) was Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of Dewey’s Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform (Temple).

Ira Harkavy is Associate Vice President and Founding Director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of Dewey’s Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform (Temple).

John Puckett is Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of Dewey’s Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform (Temple).

Matthew Hartley serves as Associate Dean in the Graduate School of Education and Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also co-editor of “To Serve a Larger Purpose”: Engagement for Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education (Temple).

Rita A. Hodges is Assistant Director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.

Francis E. Johnston is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Joann Weeks is Associate Director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.