Fall 2013 - 63560 - PA388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy
Education and Social Change
Our national narrative says education is a public good — it’s the best way to develop individuals and a democratic society. Our actions, however, contradict the prominent storylines of civility, reciprocal obligations, and personal development found in the narrative. Schooling is a private good — a commodity to acquire and convert to personal advantage. And, the competition to acquire ‘more’ is ruthless and cloaked in the distracting language of individual merit and achievement.
There has always been contradiction and conflict between education’s public and private purposes. However, what is especially worrisome today is the extent policy and practice promotes private, self-interests. For example, the Fisher v. University of Texas ‘affirmative action’ case (argued before the Supreme Court, October 10, 2012) is riddled with contradictions. The University of Texas’ diversity policy relies on racial segregation (in housing) to counter racial segregation in its admission practices. This moral inconsistency rarely surfaced in arguments presented to the Court. The University, through the Fisher case, is pushing us to re-calibrate how the basic democratic principles of equality, freedom, and fairness can be expressed in education policy and practices.
This course looks at schooling in historical context, particularly its assumed role as a social leveler. History here is not so much dates and events. Rather, it is tracking large-scale structural forces and their impact on education policy and practice. Globalization is one such force—the inter-play of transnational cultural, economic, and political activities. Demography is another — the growth, mobility and flows of an ever-increasing human population. Technology is a third force. These macro-forces shape individual-level expectations and behaviors.
Key questions in the course revolve around the role of schooling as the primary driver of upward social mobility. Another is the claim that universal, public education is a collective good that advances democracy and self-governance. And, of particular importance is exploring the social mechanisms and pathways that transmit inequality from one generation to the next.
This course is appropriate for students with an active interest in education policy that goes beyond standards-based testing initiatives and teacher compensation proposals. The course tests your capacity in three key areas. One is the ability to think critically. The second is to organize and manage the writing required to complete a research paper. The third area is active, helpful engagement with others in the class.