Midterm Topics
Spring 2003
ECS 4111
Audrey Thompson and Amadou Niang

Choose one of the three questions below as the topic for your midterm paper. The paper should be 5 to 7 pages long, typed and double spaced.

The paper should offer an argument, well supported by material from the readings, lecture, and class discussions. (When quoting, indicate page numbers. Also cite your reference when paraphrasing. The author's name and the page number are sufficient for citation.) Be careful not to paraphrase too closely.

Be sure to take into account any important counter-arguments or counter-evidence introduced in the course. You are encouraged to work with other students in studying for the paper, but the actual paper should be distinctively your own work.

In writing your essay, keep in mind the purpose of the course, which is to foster an awareness of the social, historical, and political context of schooling in the United States. We will be looking for arguments that show that you understand this context and have thought carefully about its implications for schooling. Thinking about the lectures, readings, and discussions both appreciatively and critically, take a position that you are interested in exploring further. Because this course is meant to address the complexity of the social, cultural, and institutional context of education, we do not expect you to take a “correct” position but rather to consider both the pros and cons on particular issues in such a way as to stretch and further clarify your thinking. Accordingly, we will be looking for careful arguments and careful consideration of counter-arguments, rather than for whether your position is “right” or “wrong.” Your essay must focus on a minimum of five of the readings and must demonstrate that it is engaged with and informed by the course readings, lectures and discussions more generally.

Please make clear which of the three questions you are answering. Either identify the question number on your paper or repeat the question at the head of your paper.

1. Historically, government-approved education for white girls and women (including prospective teachers), immigrant and working-class children, and American Indians has tended to emphasize socialization over intellectual development. a) Focusing on two of these groups, explain how educational assumptions regarding the two groups have been similar and/or different in the particular historical contexts addressed in this course. b) Then explain what you see as the pros and cons of the emphasis on socialization over intellectual development for these two groups. What would count as progress for members of these groups, in your view, and why?

2. Public schools in the U.S. have often sought to assimilate students to a common culture as a way of promoting social harmony. Drawing on Perdue, Mann, Brownson, Lerner, Ignatiev, Katz et al., Washington, Du Bois, Woodson, and/or Wescott (choose at least five), discuss the role that schools have played in promoting particular ideas of citizenship and human capital. What do you see as the costs and benefits of the approach to education that you describe?

3. Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Carter G. Woodson take three distinctively different approaches to the question of vocational versus classical or intellectual education for African Americans. In your paper, a) Summarize the arguments that each figure makes for his position, including a discussion of what you see as his assumptions about the relationship between education and social progress for African Americans. b) Compare and contrast these assumptions about the relationship between social progress and education that Horace Mann and Orestes Brownson. How are the assumptions similar or different, and what do you see as the significance of these similarities and differences?

Study Tips

1) Form a study group focused on the question you have chosen.

2) Clarify what the question is asking and identify the main components of the question. What is the central focus of the question? What is the question asking you to do? How many parts are there to the question and what relation do they bear to one another? (e.g., Is one question logically prior to another?)

3) Identify the framing of the question. How does the question ask you to address the issues? What will you need to keep in mind in order to answer the questions fully?

4) Explore what might count as a thesis statement (and foil) in answering the question. Make sure the thesis statement is not so general that it could count as the answer to almost anything. “Education is important” is too general a thesis statement.

5) Identify the readings most likely to be important in answering the question.

6) Brainstorm about issues, claims, counter-claims, evidence, counter-evidence, contextual information, and examples that have a bearing on the question.

7) Begin to organize these points into categories or an outline for your paper.

8) When you begin the actual writing of the paper, prepare a thesis statement and an outline (preferably a sentence outline). Have your course notes from lecture and discussion handy, as well as the readings from the course and any handouts, quizzes, or written assignments that speak to your topic; consult them carefully. Your paper will be richer if you have closely reread the materials that have an important bearing on the question you have chosen. Simply inserting occasional quotes from the reading will not make your paper richer; you need to show that you have understood the nuances and complexity of the materials from the course.

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