Spring 2019

The Purpose and Politics of Education

Listed in: American Studies, as AMST-352  |  Black Studies, as BLST-351  |  History, as HIST-352


Leah N. Gordon (Section 01)


(Offered as HIST 352 [US/TC/TS], AMST 352, and BLST 351) Focusing on the United States, this course introduces students to foundational questions and texts central to the history of education and education studies. We will explore the competing goals and priorities Americans have held for primary, secondary and post-secondary education and ask how and why these visions have influenced – or failed to influence – classrooms, schools, and educational policy. We will pay particular attention to sources of educational stratification; the tensions between the public and private purposes of schooling; and the relationship between schooling and equality. In the first part of the course, students will reflect on how Americans have imagined the purpose of self-education, literacy, public schooling, and the liberal arts. Among the questions we will consider: What do Americans want from public schools? Does education promote liberation? Has a liberal arts education outlived its usefulness? How has the organization of schools and school systems promoted some educational objectives in lieu of others? In the second section of the course, we will concentrate on the politics of schooling. Here, we will pay particular attention to several issues central to understanding educational inequality and its relationship to American politics, culture, and society: localism; state and federal authority; desegregation; and the complicated relationship between schooling and racial, linguistic, class-based, gender, and ethnic hierarchies. Finally, we will explore how competing ideas about the purpose and politics of education manifest themselves in current policy debates about privatization, charters, testing, and school discipline. Throughout the course, students will reflect on both the limits and possibilities of American schools to challenge and reconfigure the social order. Course assignments will consist of a mix of short papers and analytical reading exercises. One class meeting per week.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Associate Professor L. Gordon.

If Overenrolled: Priority will go to students with a demonstrated interest in Education Studies, and then History and American Studies majors. Then we will prioritize sophomores, juniors, and first-year students, in that order.

HIST 352 - L/D

Section 01
W 02:00 PM - 04:30 PM SCCE A013

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities: Who Wins and Who Loses When Schools Become Urban Amenities University of Chicago Press Cucciara, Maia Amherst Books TBD
Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America University of California Press Gonzales, Roberto Amherst Books TBD
Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream University of Chicago Press Goldrick-Rabb, Sara Amherst Books TBD
Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling Harvard University Press Labaree, David F. Amherst Books TBD
A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle University of North Carolina Press Sanders, Crystal Amherst Books TBD
The Diversity Bargain and Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy University of Chicago Press Warikoo, Natasha Amherst Books TBD
In Defense of a Liberal Education Norton Zakaria, Fareed Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2022