Midterm Topics

Autumn 2000

Ed. St. 4111-002


Choose one of the following questions as the topic for your midterm paper. The paper should offer an argument, supported by material from the readings, lecture, and class discussions. (When quoting, indicate page numbers. Also cite your reference when paraphrasing. 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. The paper should be 6 to 8 pages long, typed and double spaced.

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 informed by the course readings, lectures and discussions in general.

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) In your discussion, clarify how you see classical and modern liberal ideology as being at stake in these assumptions. c) Finally, explain what, in your view, are the pros and cons of the emphasis on socialization over intellectual development for these two groups.



2. Horace Mann argued that public schools should provide the common ground that would allow citizens to respect and communicate with one another. Orestes Brownson, by contrast, argued for locally governed schools that would address the needs of their immediate constituencies and thereby operate pluralistically. a) In their arguments, what assumptions do Mann and Brownson make regarding democracy and education? b) How do these assumptions become problematic (in one case or the other or both) when applied to the kinds of issues that Rose, Jones, Treesberg, Friend, and others have discussed? (Consider at least three such issues.) c) Do you see any way to reconcile the claims of unity and diversity that Mann and Brownson make, do you think that one must take precedence over the other, or do you think that there is another way to frame the issues, educationally?



3. An argument advanced in the course lectures and in several of the readings has been that public schooling has been expected to correct perceived social and economic problems. At their inception, the common schools were expected to serve “the needs of industry,” to foster “social harmony,” and to create a “balance wheel” to counter the effects of industrialization on the class structure. Critics of the schools have challenged that these goals are either non- or mis-educative.



Key to the founding of a standardized public school system were the “Normalization” and feminization of teaching. Mann argued that women were particularly well qualified to be teachers in the new Common school system, not only because they could be paid low wages, but also because they would practice a pedagogy of love and would follow supervisors' orders. The Normal schools were designed to make the most of women's suitability as teachers. While female “nature” in effect served as the basis for elementary teaching ability, Normal schools would insure minimal competency in subject areas and would train teachers as to how to conduct themselves in order to serve as appropriate role models. In light of these considerations, address the following question: In your view, have the feminization and standardization of teaching lent themselves more to the education, the non-education, or the mis-education of teachers? In setting forth your analysis, consider both arguments and counter-arguments concerning your position. Be sure to address historical analyses as well as relevant philosophical arguments concerning what education is and what it is for.



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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