Lessons from Jane Addams on Social Education and Community Organization: Whipps and Hamington


David W. Woods, Fordham University


Democracy focuses on participatory and educative requirements for continuing processes of personal growth and individuation, as well as social-institutional transformation, that make possible a more desirable quality of each member’s individual experience within a shared social life that is mutually beneficial and mutually valued.

                  -- Judith M. Green, Deep Democracy (1999)




     When I was invited by John Lysaker to comment on these interesting and insightful papers by Judy Whipps and Maurice Hamington; I felt both honored and understood.  Honored, because these two interlinked papers add to an interesting larger project regarding placing Jane Addams’s teachings, methods and processes at the forefront of both social education and community organizing, in which until recently, John Dewey, and to a lesser degree to George Herbert Mead, were nearly the only voices still being heard from classical American philosophy and social theory.  I felt understood because as an urban planner and sociologist my career has focused on methods to enhance citizen participation, community organizing, and citizen empowerment to develop the “educative functions” of a deep democracy (Green 1999).

     With that stated, my purpose here is not to totally restate what the authors have already quite eloquently presented, but to offer some key points and questions on which I would like to have further clarification.  I fully realize that each author had to make choices regarding what to include in such brief papers; nevertheless, I will offer each some suggestions about further sources scholarship – classical and contemporary – that they might find helpful when they expand their papers for publication.

Judy Whipps, “Learn To Earn”: A Pragmatist Response to Contemporary Dialogues about Industrial Education”


 Judy Whipps provides the listener (and reader) with a clear argument for resisting the temptation to manipulate America’s public K-12 education system to “fix” economically distressed areas, especially in those highly urbanized areas that still show caste-like distinctions based on race and class.  Judy Whipps correctly sides with John Dewey and Jane Addams who “were supporters of industrial education, but … found a strictly vocation or technical education insufficient for the purposes of individual growth and social democracy.”  In addition, Whipps brings to our attention the purpose of the “sort of education [Addams] wanted at Hull House…the uplift of the imagination.” 

     I totally agree, and so would Jonathan Kozol, if we were to ask him. In Shame of the Nation (2005), on which Whipps draws, Kozol updates the argument and the data from two of his earlier works that I use in teaching sociology, Savage Inequalities (1992), and Amazing Grace (1996).  Based on distinctions of funding, staffing, buildings and educational resources that are linked to class and race, our American public education system is selectively capability limiting and hope-defeating, failing to transform the everyday challenges of living that a large number of inner-city students are accustomed to encountering daily.  The liberal arts are critical for these students to become informed citizens of a democracy, but we also need to keep children in schools by keeping a practical education for those who need to develop a hope uplifting craft, including a skill-set that will allow them to become productive participants in the global economy, as well as effective citizens in our democracy-deficient American polity.  However, there is a missing third piece, which is needed in schools in which extreme poverty affects everything else. This is a radical intervention in which students, their families, and concerned others participate (refer to the work of Archon Fung in Empowering Participation 2004).

Maurice Hammington, “Community Organizing: Addams and Alinski”

    Maurice Hamington provides the listener (and reader) with a clear argument concerning the influence of the Jane Addams “Hull House” model and the contrasting approach of Saul Alinsky, and later generations of Industrial Area Foundation organizers, including Cesar Chavez.  Hamington argues that Addams and Alinsky “had different approaches to the scope and long-range goals of community organizing” (p. 9).  Addams and Alinsky, both focused on the need to empower individuals to fulfill their potentials, which Hamington points out that the Addams model was to empower localized leaders who live in the community, building community organizations from within and staying around that community, whereas Alinsky’s model is to “develop leadership within the community…[with] no effort at a long-term presence by the organizer” (pp. 9-10).  I contend that the reason for the organizer not staying around in the Alinsky model is two-fold: 1) raising up local leadership allows those stakeholders with localized knowledge to live with the results of community actions they organize together and participate in; and as importantly, 2) given the limited number of trained organizers and the overwhelming needs in America, once a local community has identified, trained and empowered localized leadership that would sustain its organization, it would then be irresponsible to keep the knowledge and experience of a professional community organizer from utilizing their skills elsewhere.  Even though the basic framework developed by Saul Alinsky remains in place today, the IAF’s strategies and tactics are now are closer to those of Addams and Dewey, which they call for utilizing networks for collaborative empowerment speaking to power; on this see Mark Warren’s discussion of IAF’s current model in Dry Bones Rattling (2001), as well as Judith Green’s analysis in Deep Democracy (1999).

     The section of Maurice’s paper that I disagree with is his description of the Chicago School.  First, Jane Addams not only had strong ties with “early sociologists of the Chicago School,” but as importantly, with pragmatist philosophers, specifically John Dewey and George Herbert Mead.  (While it’s true that today Mead is regarded as one of sociology’s founding classical social theorists, he was never actually was a sociologist; in fact, he was serving as the Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago when he died in 1932.  John Dewey called Mead, “the most original mind in philosophy in America of the last generations” (Gary Cook 199: 194)).  Both Dewey and Mead were regular visitors at Hull House.  Second, Hamington states that it was Robert Ezra Park[1] and Ernest Burgess who were “more concerned with professionalizing the profession of sociology”; actually this took place a generation earlier, when Albion Small, the first Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago, regulated Addams and the other women (Edith Abbot, Sophia Breckenridge and Mary Zahrobsky) to the less theoretical discipline of social workAll of these women did groundbreaking scholarship, especially focusing on housing, racism and the human condition. 

     Finally, Alinsky, like Dewey, “was loath to credit his academic roots in forming his philosophy of community organizing.” Addams clearly was one of Alinsky’s academic roots; others include Dewey, Mead, Du Bois, Park and Burgess (whose now classic study of The City, was published in 1925, the year before Alinsky entered the University). George Herbert Mead, Robert Park, Ernest Burgess, Roland Mackenzie Everett Hughes, and Herbert Blumer were all at Chicago during Alinsky’s student years.

Other Observations—Future Voices

     I realize that due to space limitations, Whipps and Hamington needed to make choices about which authors to include and which to exclude.  However, given the considerable scholarship relating to public education, community organizing, civic renewal social movements to choose from, there is now a large body of scholarship to aide them in further developing these valuable papers.  I will suggest three authors whose work seems to me likely to be most helpful to them.  

     First, given Addams’s and Alinsky’s close relationship with the University of Chicago pragmatist philosopher George Herbert Mead, it was somewhat surprising to me that there is only one mention of his contribution to the formation of their views on social education and community organizing.  Judy Whipps should look at Mead’s discussion of play, taking the role of the other, and the two stages of the social self.  Maurice Hamington should look at Mead’s discussion of the development of the “generalized other” as this relates to the individual “taking the attitude of the community” (1934: 154), as well as the importance for community organizing of “generalized social attitudes” (1934: 260).
The second classical social theorist that clearly influenced Addams and Alinsky (and Kozol for that matter) is W.E.B. Du Bois.  In 1903, Du Bois laid out the framework for the civil rights struggle in Souls of Black Folk, calling for America to bring together initiatives focusing on “work, culture, liberty” (1903: 8).  Du Bois implemented his program by calling for “The right to vote; civil equality; and the education of youth according to ability” (1903: 37).  For Whipps and Hamington, I’d focus on Chapter III, “Of Booker T. Washington and Others,” and Chapter VI, “Of the Training of Black Men.”  In these chapters, Du Bois presents a highly convincing argument for creating educational situations that raise the individual’s hope and potential, arguing that only by providing support for that hope and for the development of that potential does society advance.  Clearly since Du Bois included Jane Addams as well as John Dewey in 1910 assembly as one of the founders of the NAACP, he did value her work, status, and viewpoint; I would argue that Du Bois and Addams influenced each other for over 35 years.

     Finally, one contemporary pragmatist I would recommend that both authors look at is Judith M. Green, including her Deep Democracy (1999), as well as her forthcoming Pragmatism and Social Hope.  Specifically, I would recommend taking a look at Chapter Seven in Deep Democracy, “ Deepening Democracy: Rebuilding the Public Square,” in which Green provides two examples of the role of public philosophers in this process of transformative influence to rebuild the public square.  These examples include Judith’s and my work with the Crown Hill/Ballard neighborhood study and our leadership in Seattle’s IAF chapter, The King County Organizing Project.  Speaking as an urban planner myself, I agree with Whipps and Hamington that the ideas and examples of Addams and Alinsky continue to have value for us today in guiding our efforts to transform American society in the direction of a deep “social democracy.”  I commend to them the large body of literature that draws on this heritage, which will be directed more clearly and effectively in the future with help from Whipps and Hamington in recovering its roots.



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[1] Like George Herbert Mead, Park went first to Harvard for graduate school in order to study with pragmatist William James, Josiah Royce, and James Baldwin, and then went on to Germany, where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Heidelberg; coming to the University of Chicago after the death of Booker T. Washington, for whom Park served as his Secretary (the equal to a Dean today) at Tuskegee Institute.