Social Issues in Education (6W2 EDB 604-501)

Department of Curriculum and Foundations
Social Issues In Education – EDB 604-501 (web-based), Summer 2015

Professor: David Backer, PhD
twitter: @profdavidbacker
Skype office hours: by appointment

Basic Course Questions What is a social issue in education, and what does it mean to analyze social issues in education? What are the differences between pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist theories of education? What is relationship between capitalism and schooling?

Course Objectives

Cognitive Objectives:

  1. Students will understand the ways in which major social, political, technological, and economic forces influence educational priorities.  (Contextualism)
  2. Students will understand the tensions between the goals for individual success, the collective good, and the welfare of groups in public education (Contextualism)
  3. Students will understand the history of efforts to achieve “equal educational opportunity” and contemporary school reform initiatives intended to narrow the achievement/opportunity gap.  (Contextualism, Professionalism)
  4. Students will understand the dilemmas inherent in public education within a pluralistic democratic society.  (Contextualism)

Skill Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to analyze in an extended written format the role of political, economic, and social forces in shaping educational discourse. (Contextualism)
  2. Students will be able to apply course readings in class discussions, presentations, and written assignments on topics related to cognitive objectives (Contextualism, Professionalism)

Disposition Objectives:

  1. Students will approach course material and views of classmates with a level of openness while also demonstrating a willingness to critically examine their own and others’ point of view.  (Contextualism, Partnership, Professionalism)

Books: There are no required books for this course. All readings will be available on PDF.

Academic Honesty: The use of the intellectual property of others without attributing it to them is considered a serious academic offense.  Cheating or plagiarism will result in receiving a failing grade for the work or course.

Special Needs:  If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share with us, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, let us know.  Please make an appointment to discuss any special needs you have within the first two weeks of class.

Social Media Privacy: Since this is a class in Social Issues in Education, part of our pedagogy will be to use and explore social media. The course will be conducted primarily through social media outlets, such as blogs and Twitter. Students are encouraged to use psuedonyms in these blogs and Twitter feeds, if they choose. Do not post personal information on your blogs or twitter feeds, such as phone number, address, or social security number, etc. If students do not feel comfortable posting or interacting through these public social media environments, they have the option of submitting work via Blackboard or personal email to the professor. Please contact Dr. Backer if you have questions regarding this policy, its accordances with FERPA regulations, and/or want to set up an alternative means of course communication.

Instructions for Assignments (see below, after Course Calendar)

Note on grading: Rather than the professor “giving” students grades, students will take the measure of their own progress throughout this course. After the midterm and final assignments students will complete a survey which asks them to propose a grade for themselves. The professor will either agree or disagree with the proposal, and students can negotiate thereafter.

Course Calendar

Due date Assignment Reading Link/pdf Nonrequired reading
6.29.15 Watch opening lecture video (linked above). Fill out the course survey (linked here)
                                                 Part 1: Pro-capitalist theories of education
7.1.15 FEI Blogpost 1 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, Chp. 1 milton-friedman-the-relation-between-economic-freedom-and-political-freedom-1 Joel Spring, Economization of Education, Chp.1 available selection)
7.3.15 FEI Blogpost 2 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, Chp. 2 friedman2
7.6.15 FEI Blogpost 3 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, Chp. 5 “The Role of Government in Education”
                                                Part 2: Anti-capitalist theories of education
 7.9.15 FEI Blogpost 4 Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically, “The Commodity Form” cleaver-reading_capital_politically
7.13.15 FEI Blogpost 5 Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, “Reproduction of the Relations of Production” (p.140-148)+ “On Ideology” (p.171-209) “Capitalism in the Classroom”: 22310-53986-1-PB (1), p.11-20
7.16.15 FEI Blogpost 6 Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, Schooling in Capitalist America, “Education, Socialism, and Revolution,” p.264-288 “Lenin’s lessons on schooling”: lenin on schooling
 7.24.15 (you may also use this week to catch up on any missing blogposts) Video Midterm: In a 10 minute video response, summarize and contrast the pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist theories of education. What are each about? How are they different? Which side are you on, and why?


 Part 3: Analyzing social issues in education, applying theory
7.27.15 Memoir Write a creative nonfiction/memoir piece narrating a personal educational experience from the recent or distant past. Use as many details as possible. (1,000 words)
7.30.15 Political and economic analysis of your personal experience Using the theories from the first part of the semester and original research, write a political and economic analysis of your personal educational experience. What were the policies and economic realities which shaped your educational experience? Cite current data, government approved or peer-reviewed journal articles, books, or reports. (1,000 words)
8.3.15 Political and economic analysis of educational issue of interest to you Choose a contemporary educational issue of interest to you. Like you did for your personal experience, write a political and economic analysis of this issue. (1,000 words)
8.7.15 Video Final Using the analyses of your social issues in education as examples (personal experience and issue of your choice), building on the theories we’ve read, respond to the course question in a 10 minute video: What is the relationship between capitalism and schooling?

Instructions for Assignments

FEI Blogposts

The first six blogposts are Fact-Evaluation-Interpretation (FEI) posts. These three words refer to a technique of writing meant to encourage close reading and discussion. Full credit on an FEI blogpost requires three components:

  • Write a factual question about the text and answer it yourself
    • Factual questions include: What does [a word] mean? Who is [a person]? When did [an event] happen? What is [a thing]?
  • Write an evaluative statement about the text (500 words)
    • Evaluative statements include: I disagree with [position or idea]. I relate to [idea] because in my own life [personal experience]…
  • Write an interpretive question about the text (no answer, 100-300 words)
    • Interpretive questions include: When the author says [passage], does s/he mean [an interpretation] or [another interpretation]? On the one hand, the author says [passage], but then elsewhere s/he says [different passage]–is that inconsistent? Is the real meaning of what the author is saying [your thought], or is it something else? When I read [passage], I think it means [your thought]–but I’m not sure because [doubt]. Am I right? In one reading, I thought [something] was true, but in this reading the author says [passage]. Is [something] really true?

(Please include page numbers for all questions and statements in the FEI post.) Cold-calling: Professor will grade blogposts via cold-call. Several times a week, professor will randomly select a student’s blog to read and comment on. The professor will be looking for the week’s blog post, as well as previous weeks’ posts. Students will be cold-called at least twice during the semester, once before the midterm and once after the midterm.


As part of the day’s work (for each blogpost), respond to a classmate’s interpretive question on twitter. Use the hashtag #edb. To respond to a tweet, search for the hashtag for your classmates.

Video Midterm + Final

Your midterm and final assignments will be 10 minute videos. These videos can be simply you speaking to the camera, or doing a voiceover for a presentation you’ve made, or even other more creative expressions using film. Upload these videos to the Blackboard assignment.

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