Alumni Interview with Darryl De Marzio (07’), Philosopher of Education (Part I) ☆

Darryl De Marzio is a graduate of the Philosophy and Education program (2007), and currently an Associate Professor at the University of Scranton. In addition to his professorial obligations, he was also recently named the Director of Undergraduate Programs in Education. Darryl is also the immediate past president of MASPES. When he’s not in McGurrin Hall or with his family, you can find Darryl at Northern Lights coffee shop in beautiful downtown Scranton.

By Timothy Ignaffo

What was your experience before becoming a PhD student? Why did you choose Philosophy of Education? Did you jump right into your PhD studies after undergrad?

Immediately following college I enrolled in the MA program in Philosophy for Children at Montclair State University.  I was motivated to do so mainly because I wanted to continue living the life of the mind, i.e. studying philosophy, but I was also persuaded by the idea of getting certified as an elementary teacher through that program.  Furthermore, Montclair State was practically in my backyard, so it was the perfect place to be while I was still figuring out what I was going to do professionally.  The great thing about the Philosophy for Children program is that you really become steeped in Dewey and the American pragmatists, and I was also able to study Freire and Buber for the very first time, not to mention working with Matthew Lipman.  For me, this was a completely different philosophical education from what I had as an undergraduate in a heavily analytic department at Drew University.  Still, I have always felt fortunate that my formative years in philosophy were taken up by these very diverse perspectives.

When I was unable to land an elementary teaching job, I began working in the corporate world.  After three years of doing that, I longed to return to a place of study, and I settled on the idea of applying to doctoral programs in philosophy.  When I went to visit Matthew Lipman at Montclair State to ask him for a letter of reference, he said, “Sure.  And by the way, would you like to teach philosophy of education here as an adjunct?”  So that’s how I eventually came to the idea of the Ph.D. program in Philosophy and Education at Teachers College. I saw it as a place of study devoted to philosophy of education, in the tradition of John Dewey, and it was in New York City. The program was the right fit for me then, and it remained so throughout my time as a student there.

You were instrumental in rebooting MASPES (Middle Atlantic States Philosophy of Education Society).  How did that come about? Tell us about that experience.

In 2003, the society simply went defunct, for seemingly no other reason than nobody at that time was ready or willing to take up the leadership roles that had been left vacant when the terms of the previous officers had expired.  Five years later, I was having dinner with TC’s David Hansen, Rene Arcilla of NYU, and James Stillwaggon of Iona College, when the idea of bringing MASPES back was first bandied about.  James and I were immediately excited by the prospect of reviving the organization, so it took very little persuading to get us to take up the leadership. In particular, what really inspired me was, on the one hand, restoring the great legacy of MASPES, a society once led by the likes of Maxine Greene and Betty Sichel, and a conference that saw papers delivered by such luminaries as Israel Scheffler, Sidney Morganbesser, Elizabeth Flower, Antony Flew and A.J. Ayer.  On the other hand, I was also excited about the possibility of helping to create a venue for graduate students in philosophy and education to present their work, especially given the growing expectation that graduate students develop a record of research before their thesis and dissertation.

So, James and I took the reins, and for the first two years he served as President and I was the V.P. and conference Program Chair.  The first two conferences in 2010 (at Teachers College) and 2011 (at NYU) were very successful, such that MASPES was back on its feet, both in terms of garnering interest from philosophers of education in the region, and also achieving some financial stability.  With that momentum, the next two conferences, chaired by Shilpi Sinha of Adelphi University, were also successful, and we had enough resources to bring in keynote speakers.  Nel Noddings addressed the society in 2012 (at Teachers College) and Jan Masschelein from University of Leuven in 2013 (at NYU).  From my end, it truly has been a rewarding experience, both in the sense of putting in the organizational and leadership work, but also because I have been able to form and strengthen some very positive relationships with colleagues and scholars in my field, and that is, after all, what a regional academic society should be all about.

What does MASPES mean to you, and mean to the field at large.

For me, I have always associated my development both as a scholar and academic professional with MASPES.  It was the first venue at which I presented my scholarship to fellow philosophers of education and I was aided in my development as a scholar, I believe, by doing so in such a small, collegial setting.  Furthermore, serving as V.P. and President of MASPES has been instrumental in developing some of the leadership and organizational skills that I bring to my work at the University of Scranton as a Program Director.

My hope is that MASPES might mean for the field of philosophy of education the chance to recalibrate and to think again of what the philosophical study of education is meant to do today, particularly when we think of the current challenges that both philosophy, as an academic discipline, and education, as a mode of human experience, are up against.  By that I don’t necessarily mean answering the questions, “How do we become more relevant?” or, “How do we now justify ourselves within the academy?”  But given that we are faced with these questions, and given that these questions are for the most part closed, insofar as the game of determining what counts as a field’s relevance and the justification for its existence is already rigged from the start, we can begin to think of what philosophy of education might be able to achieve now.  It may mean becoming a professor and teacher-educator, as I have, but it also may mean bringing philosophy of education to bear on one’s life as a citizen, parent, writer, or artist.  My hope is that something like that will begin to take shape concretely, and that MASPES can be part of it.  I am happy to know that the current MASPES officers share a similar hope for the society.

Timothy Ignaffo is a PhD Candidate in Philosophy and Education and works for the Department of Arts & Humanities.