Education in Fiction and Fact

American high school students spend about 1000 hours a year in the classroom. Is that time well-spent? Whose idea was that, anyway, and what are they getting out of it? Does the system operate the same way for everyone? What is the school-to-prison pipeline, and how is it related to the struggles over school desegregation? These are some of the questions that will frame our study of education in the US. Focusing especially on high school, we will explore the history of compulsory education and the stories (both fictional and social) that we tell ourselves about what students should know, and how they should learn it.

Inside the Classroom:

The course will help students become aware of the way the educational system permeates the culture, from the books we read, the holidays we mark, and the “facts” we know, to the assumptions we make about children and youth.

There are four main learning objectives for the course:

  • Gain an awareness of the social, historical, and economic determinants of educational opportunity
  • Develop skills in literary analysis including close reading, awareness of genre and theme, and historical context
  • Learn to write analytical papers about literature
  • Reflect on and analyze the students’ own educational experiences to date.

These learning objectives will be met through reading and discussing literary and policy texts, visiting urban and suburban schools, and writing a research paper on education in/and literature.

Outside the Classroom:

The course will include a CBL component, immersing college students in the lives of local high school students. Opportunities for CBL engagement may include after-school tutoring and mentoring programs or volunteering in area high schools, experiences which will demonstrate the way privilege interacts with education in local school systems.

Students will also take a trip over Fall Break to Boston, where we can explore a variety of educational systems, from urban to suburban, public to private, charter, magnet, and open, college preparatory to vocational/technical. They will meet with experts on education including teachers, principals, professors of education, and other stakeholders.

Research and Capstone Projects:

In the fall semester, students will produce a research paper based on our classroom readings, discussion, and experiences in and of schooling. These papers will compare literary representations to the policies and history of education as we have explored them. In the spring semester students will work in groups to propose alterations to the current system(s) they have observed, invent a possible “charter” school, or otherwise engage creatively with suggestions for educational improvement.