September 3, 2001

First week recap


The registrar's website tonight shows 40 students in my undergraduate class, up from 33 the first day of class. We'll see who shows up tomorrow morning. (I better!) Nine showed Thursday night in the graduate class, just about perfect.

Talkative or quiet?

I like students who are willing to talk productively (which most student talk really is, at least in my experience). The undergraduate class is fairly quiet, perhaps because a plurality are in the physical education program (and so why do they need to learn about the social foundations of education?? Obviously, I think they do). Smaller classes, like the graduate one I'm teaching this semester, generally take a week or two to find their dynamics. The first week in this course, I do lead much of the time, including when I'm explaining functionalist, conflict, and organizational theories of change using their explanations of specific events.

Some other stuff

I've now gathered a list of recent history-of-education dissertations which is on the website. This is in addition to the current research projects database in the history of education or childhood. I announced the database midweek and have 16 entries thus far. Only one member of my department apart from me has entered her research!

Discussing specifics

The first graduate class Thursday night worked better than any other attempt I've made to explain the differences among different types of explanations of change in the sociology/history of education literature. I remember, in my first education class as an undergraduate (at Bryn Mawr College), listening to sociologist David Karen lecture about functionalist and conflict theories and being impressed with the profound differences in world views. I have been much less successful in reproducing that aha! reaction in my own students, until this last week, and I now know why: I needed to guide them with their own specifics.

Last Thursday, I asked students to generate explanations of four phenomena in education

  • the history of desegregation;
  • the extent of distance learning;
  • the development of state standards in Florida; and
  • the use of standardized tests in Florida for high-stakes purposes.

The first lends itself well to conflict theories (for a lawsuit requires an argument), the others to both functionalist and organizational explanations of change. As students reported their explanations, I wrote brief labels on the board, in three sections. Only after I had filled in the categories did I describe them and explain my classification scheme. Then I gave a capsule description of each category and used their own examples to illustrate. There were one or two minor confusions (did the explanations refer to different types of school reforms or different plausible explanations of the same one? did they pass value judgments on the reforms?). But I have one bit of evidence that my explanation stuck with at least one student, who immediately tagged the next week's reading as functionalist. (For any student reading this entry, we'll talk about that claim on Thursday!)

The craft in this case is finding real-world examples that will generate different plausible explanations. In all cases, one needs a prompt that will easily draw student discussion.

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