Though his research interests reach far and wide, Associate Professor of Education Charles Dorn has never lost sight of what's going on right here on campus.
He is currently writing a book that directly involves Bowdoin and its student body. He describes it as "a larger book project in which I use the history of higher education to trace the decline of American's commitment to the common good over time."
In it, Bowdoin figures prominently in a case study entitled "From 'Liberal Professions' to 'Lucrative Professions': Bowdoin College, Stanford University, and the Civic Functions of Higher Education" as a model of student preoccupation with the common good in the 1800s.
"When we read the letters and the diaries of the students who were enrolled in Bowdoin at that point in time, they're clearly concerned with getting ahead through these college educations, but they're also equally concerned with being of use to society," he said.
Dorn has found that over time, the focus of student concern has shifted to being much more about "getting ahead."
Not that he has little faith in the Bowdoin students of today.
Above and beyond his scholarly work, Dorn is focused on developing Bowdoin's resources for creating the successful educators of tomorrow. He is currently working in conjunction with other professors in the education and mathematics departments and College administrators to develop a coordinate major between mathematics and education for students interested in becoming secondary school math teachers.
"The United States is in desperate need of well-educated, well-prepared middle and high school math teachers," said Dorn, "and we hope to help provide Bowdoin students with the opportunity to become those teachers."
Beyond Bowdoin, much of Dorn's research has been grounded in his specialty, American history. He is particularly interested in the World War II era and has written articles such as "'War Conditions Made it Impossible': Historical Statistics and Women's Higher Education Enrollments, 1940-1952" and "'Treason in the Textbooks': Reinterpreting the Harold Rugg Textbook Controversy in the Context of Schooling during WWII."
Dorn is also co-authoring a book entitled "Should Public Schools Teach Patriotism?" with University of Rochester's Professor of Education Randall Curren.
Lately Dorn's work has been covering international territory. He has written on the use of education in the democratization of postwar Germany and co-wrote a piece with Assistant Professor of Education Doris Santoro on John Dewey, an iconic figure in education philosophy.
Dorn connects the courses he teaches to the outside research he conducts. Both are organized into two overlapping categories. He conducts courses designed for students interested in becoming educators and others that examine education as a social institution. Dorn's research can be similarly categorized into his work that directly involves Bowdoin and its teaching program and his work concerning educational history.
He explains that this multiplicity of roles is commonplace in the field of education.
"One could define the field as inherently interdisciplinary," he said. This notion is certainly true in the case of the Bowdoin Education Department, whose faculty is comprised of historians, philosophers and policy analysts, all doing research in the context of Educational Studies.
Dorn's scholarship, too, is a perfect example of the diversity of research that can appear in the educational field. He is, however, something of a special case among educational historians. Most historians of education, he explains, choose a level of education to study, such as the primary or secondary level.
Dorn operates under a different model: a thematic approach investigating the civic purposes of educational institutions in general. He is interested in how societies have expected and understood educational institutions to spread and promote civic virtues, such as patriotism and citizenship, inside and outside of the classroom over time.
"I'm looking into the past and trying to understand how people thought about and acted towards education in their terms," he said.