EDF 583 – The American School as Social Narrative

Instructor: Dr. David I. Backer
Office: Wayne 930
Course Hours: Tuesday, 6-845pm
Room: Wayne 104c
e-mail: dbacker@wcupa.edu
Office Hours: Monday 2-330pm (McDermott 207); Tuesday 3-530pm; Wednesday 3-4
University Emergency Number: 610-436-3311

Course Description:   This course is intended to help teachers engage in an advanced exploration of the philosophical, cultural, social and physical foundations of schooling/education.  The essential question for the course is: How do schools reproduce ideologies?

Course Objectives:  Among the objectives of the course are the following

-to develop an understanding of, and an ongoing interest in, the foundations of schooling and education (CF1.5, 4.1)

-to increase knowledge of ourselves and of the diversity of others (CF3.4,3.8)

-to develop habits of reading, writing and speaking that are reflective, analytical and that demonstrate a knowledge and appreciation of other viewpoints (CF 4.1,5.7)

-to develop a philosophy of education that integrates an understanding of philosophical, cultural, social and physical perspectives (CF1.5, 4.1,5.7)

Course Readings

There are no required textbooks for the class. All course readings will be available here on this syllabus website  (or via email).

Note on readings: they are philosophical. They may be difficult or hard to understand. When it comes to thinking about these readings, and how you treat yourself as you read them, don’t use a deficit approach to studying the texts. Read the whole thing from start to finish and pay more attention to what you do understand than what you don’t. Focus on the ideas that emerge for you, and how they emerge. Write about them in your FSAI papers. No one will understand it all, but we can get together and talk and further our understandings. That’s what class discussion is for.

Course Schedule

Date                                                   Course material                                      Due


Part 1. Introduction to concepts

READ: excerpts from Elements of Discussion, by David I. Backer Elements Excerpts NWM

Syllabus, introduction, about the discussion method, collective reading of the key passages on interpellation to practice FSAI, practice discussion

9/4 READ: Beginner’s Guide to Interpellation – David I. Backer: Beginners Guide to Interpellation pamphlet

READ: Louis Althusser, “On Ideology,” from On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Althusser – On Ideology


*In the application section, write a personal story that the pamphlet made you think of, ideally a story from your past that could be an interpellation

Submit all assignments to the Course Google Drive folder.

9/11 READ: “Interpellation, Counterinterpellation, and Education,” by David I. BackerApplications. Backer – Counterinterpellation


Microaggressions in the classroom

Teacher looking

Name mangling


Part 3. School, Reproduction, Ideology: Past Perspectives

READ: Jean Anyon, “Intersections of gender and class: Accommodation and resistance by working-class and affluent females to contradictory sex role ideologies” AnyonIntersections


Underfunding of PA schools 

School inequality from students in PA  

Inequality in America – Brookings

9/25 READ: Rosemary Deem, Women and Schooling, Chapter 1Women UK Mass Schooling


How the Other Half Learns

Schooled, ep 1

10/2 READ: Linda Valli, Becoming Clerical Workers: Selections, Valli


Schooled, ep 2 +3 (use link from previous day)

Segregation by Choice



READ: Christine Eden, Gender, Education, and Work: Inequalities and Intersectionality, Chapter 6: Gender in the Classroom


Kids’ ideas about gender and work

Outrage over gender diversity



Part 4. Contemporary Intersectional Interpellations

READ: Ken, Ivy. “Sugar Metaphor for Intersectionality” Ivy – 2008 – Beyond the Intersection A New Culinary Metaphor for Race-Class-Gender Studies


Strawberry Mansion school profile

How American’s schools keep kids in poverty


Short expository paper due

Midterm grade proposal survey

10/23 READ: Connie Wun (2018), “Angered: Black and non-Black girls of color at the intersections of violence and school discipline in the United States”: Angered_Wun



Doll Test

10/30 READ: Research for Action, “Racial Disparities in Educational Opportunities in Pennsylvania: A First Look at New Civil Rights Data” RFA-Civil-Rights-Data-PACER-Brief-Nov-1-2016 FSAI 9

Part 5. Counter-interpellations

READ: Angela Davis, “Education and Liberation: Black Women’s Perspective” Davis Education


11/13 READ: “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race”

Bronson&Merryman.Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race (1)


11/27 Contemporary Examples: read the following articles, if you choose to write an FSAI on them take them as a whole text.

Merion Mercy head abruptly resigns after online petition cites problems – Philly

Student Walkouts Against Gun Violence (in Philadelphia)

Student Walkouts in Philly and Lower Merion

Student Walkouts Against Gun Violence (nationwide)


12/4 Counter-interpellation Show and Tell.

In this class, students will each bring a counter-interpellation they have found from their field notes/journals. This counter-interpellation could be the one you are using in your interpellation paper, and you can use your allotted presentation time to get feedback on your understanding of it. Please bring in artifacts (documents, objects) relating to your counter-interpellation if possible.

12/12 Final class discussion Send your interpellation paper due via email.

Prepare an informal talk through the main points of your paper.

Final Grade Proposal Survey


Assignments: Please turn in all assignments through the course Google Drive.

Field notes

Every day, after school, write in a journal for 15 minutes about one or two things that happened that day. Recount things students or you or an administrator did/said; notice the way things look, the building design and its relation to students’ behaviors; tell the story of strange things; things that make you feel sad or happy or confused throughout the day – small events that impact you in some way, good or bad or otherwise. Keep a notebook or computer file, and write 200-300 words each day. The more details the better: narrate very specifically. You will draw from these notes in your FSA papers (see below).

Expository Paper – Midterm

“School is a site of ideological reproduction through interpellation.” Explain what this statement means according to the readings we’ve done thus far. This is a short, succinct expository paper: a complex summary of Althusser’s idea of interpellation, and how ideology works at schools according to Anyon, Deem, and Valli. Convince me that you know what the statement means. (1500 words)

FSAI Papers

FSAI papers are Fact-Summary-Application papers. You will write 8 of these papers. They will guide your reading and help you prepare for class discussions. Each day will focus on a reading and a series of videos or podcasts. The FSAI paper is meant to focus your engagement with these texts. Full credit on an FSAI paper requires three components:

1) Write a factual question about either the reading or the video/podcast and answer it yourself by looking it up elsewhere (internet, wikipedia, dictionary, encyclopedia)

Factual questions include: What does [a word] mean? Who is [a person]? When did [an event] happen? What is [a thing]?

2) Write a summary statement of the reading (300 words)

Summary statements will demonstrate your understanding of the reading’s main points in your own words. A summary focuses on important terms and using examples to illustrate how you uniquely comprehend the material. Use your own words, analogies, previous knowledge, personal stories, movies, poems, or anything to show that you understand the ideas. Summary statements include: The most important concept in this reading is [concept], which the author says is [definition].  [Idea in reading] reminds me of…Something I kept thinking about as I read was [your recurring thought/image]. Make sure to cite the author’s words throughout.

3) Write an application of the text to the video/podcast (300 words)

An application statement takes the important ideas in the reading applies them to the video/podcast for that day. First, try to use your field notes. How does the reading apply to something you’ve journaled about recently? If the field notes don’t work, are there examples or counter-examples in the reading itself? What about the video/podcasts assigned each day? How do these videos demonstrate or illustrate what the reading is getting at?

4) Write an interpretive question about the text (no answer, 100-200 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?

Interpellation Paper – Final

Write a paper on the following question: “What are the ideologies that your school reproduces, and how does it reproduce them?” Using your field notes and background research on your school district, students’ lives outside of school, articulate a thesis about the imagined relations to real conditions that your school tries to maintain. Demonstrate your thesis using examples of interpellations you collected from your field notes, and analyze those interpellations through an intersectional lens. (3,000 words)

Paper structure suggestion:

Introduction – map of your paper, its thesis

School background – what are the demographics of your school and its surrounding context? What is the median household income? What is the racial breakdown of the area? What is the history of this place? Use census data to paint a picture of your school and district. Use this background to illustrate your thesis and set up the following sections.

Interpellation 1 – In this section, describe an interpellation that illustrates the ideologies your school reproduces

Interpellation 2 – In this section, describe an interpellation that illustrates the ideologies your school reproduces

Counter-interpellation – In this section describe a counter-interpellation that takes up and takes on the ideologies your school reproduces



I will send out a grade proposal survey at the midpoint and end of the semester. Students will take the measure of their own learning with this survey and propose a grade, with which I will agree or disagree.

While no given assignment will be worth any amount in particular, the percentages below are suggestions to help you think about self-evaluation as part of this process.

8 FSA Papers                                             35%
1 Interpellation Paper                            35%
1 Short expository paper                       15%
Overall attendance and participation 15%

Course Attendance Policy

I think of attendance as fluid. I only ask that if you’re going to be absent please let me know via email either well before or just before class begins.


Rarely, students need incompletes for extraordinary reasons.  I will not grant an incomplete at the end of the semester without prior discussion with the student and a firm deadline the student proposes for completing the work.  

Food and Housing Security

When students face challenges securing food and/or housing, it can be difficult to learn. If you are in this situation, please contact the Dean of Students. If you feel comfortable, please also let me know, and I will do what I can to connect you with appropriate resources. Our campus offers various services and supports for students; know that you are not alone in dealing with these issues.


Many students have care responsibilities for a child in their life, whether as a parent, an older sibling, cousin, etc. If your childcare needs ever come into conflict with the course schedule, please don’t feel as though you need to miss class. I understand that sometimes plans fall through. If this happens, you are welcome to bring a child to class with you. I simply ask that you bring materials to keep them busy (e.g., a book, drawing materials, etc.), and remain mindful of your classmates. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Common West Chester Syllabus elements:


All students have a right to expect that the University will reasonably accommodate their religious observances, practices and beliefs.  In accordance with this policy, I expect you to notify me in writing if you intend to be absent for a class or announced examination.


It is the responsibility of each student to adhere to the university’s standards for academic integrity. Violations of academic integrity include any act that violates the rights of another student in academic work, that involves misrepresentation of your own work, or that disrupts the instruction of the course. Other violations include (but are not limited to): cheating on assignments or examinations; plagiarizing, which means copying any part of another’s work and/or using ideas of another and presenting them as one’s own without giving proper credit to the source; selling, purchasing, or exchanging of term papers; falsifying of information; and using your own work from one class to fulfill the assignment for another class without significant modification. Proof of academic misconduct can result in the automatic failure and removal from this course. For questions regarding Academic Integrity, the No-Grade Policy, Sexual Harassment, or the Student Code of Conduct, students are encouraged to refer to the Department Graduate Handbook, the Graduate Catalog, the Ram’s Eye View, and the University website at http://www.wcupa.edu.

Academic Dishonesty:  Academic dishonesty is prohibited at this University and will not be tolerated in this class.  It is a serious offense because it diminishes the quality of scholarship, makes accurate evaluation of student progress impossible, and defrauds those who must ultimately depend upon the knowledge and integrity or the institution, its students and faculty.  Students should review the academic dishonesty policy stated in the University catalog.


If you have a disability that requires accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), please present your letter of accommodations and meet with me as soon as possible so that I can support your success in an informed manner. Accommodations cannot be granted retroactively. If you would like to know more about West Chester University’s Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD), please visit them at 223 Lawrence Center. The OSSD hours of Operation are Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Their phone number is 610-436-2564, their fax number is 610-436-2600, their email address is ossd@wcupa.edu, and their website is at http://www.wcupa.edu/ussss/ossd.


West Chester University and its faculty are committed to assuring a safe and productive educational environment for all students. In order to meet this commitment and to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights, the University requires faculty members to report incidents of sexual violence shared by students to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, Ms. Lynn Klingensmith. The only exceptions to the faculty member’s reporting obligation are when incidents of sexual violence are communicated by a student during a classroom discussion, in a writing assignment for a class, or as part of a University-approved research project. Faculty members are obligated to report sexual violence or any other abuse of a student who was, or is, a child (a person under 18 years of age) when the abuse allegedly occurred to the person designated in the University protection of minors policy.  Information regarding the reporting of sexual violence and the resources that are available to victims of sexual violence is set forth at the webpage for the Office of Social Equity at http://www.wcupa.edu/_admin/social.equity/.


All students are encouraged to sign up for the University’s free WCU ALERT service, which delivers official WCU emergency text messages directly to your cell phone.  For more information, visit http://www.wcupa.edu/wcualert. To report an emergency, call the Department of Public Safety at 610-436-3311.


It is expected that faculty, staff, and students activate and maintain regular access to University provided e-mail accounts. Official university communications, including those from your instructor, will be sent through your university e-mail account. You are responsible for accessing that mail to be sure to obtain official University communications. Failure to access will not exempt individuals from the responsibilities associated with this course.


I am a member of APSCUF, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. We uphold the highest standards of teaching, scholarly inquiry, and service. We are an organization that is committed to promoting excellence in all that we do to ensure that our students receive the best education. Ask me for more information on what APSCUF does for students, and see http://www.apscuf.org or http://www.facebook.com/APSCUF.