Political Economy of Public Education: History and Philosophy

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Winter 2019
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Michael Vavrus
education, history, political economy

In this program students examine historical patterns and strengthen analytic reading, writing, and speaking skills to participate in the current political, philosophical, and economic debates about the purposes of education. Throughout U.S. history people have politically contested the nature and purposes of elementary and secondary education. To better understand this, students will be introduced to competing ideological perspectives on public education and the political and economic contexts in which schools exist. Students will investigate public education and schools by using both a broad macro social, political and economic lens, and a micro school-level lens.

Because schools are a human invention with a history, schools change form and adapt in response to social and political pressures. Therefore, students will examine significant philosophical, political, economic, and social tensions as to what the term “public” in public education means. Together, students will consider historical contexts from colonialism to contemporary neoliberal governance in order to relate historical patterns to the development of elementary and secondary education. This inquiry covers the locally controlled, Protestant Christian origin of public education and its effects on our contemporary, multicultural environment in an era of increasing privatization of education. Students will investigate the contemporary political and economic debates surrounding the expectations for public education to measure accountability by means of high-stakes standardized tests. Students will explore a history of the charter school movement and contemporary neoliberal interests in shifting public school funds to private charter schools and vouchers for private schools in relation to the various effects on young people and teacher autonomy.

At the micro level, students will study and analyze the effects of educational policy and school management practices pertaining to curricular decisions and student disciplinary policies on the life opportunities of children and youth. Students will have an opportunity to learn how social and political attitudes on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class can have differential effects on the lived experiences of young people in and out of schools.

Each week students will expect to engage in text-based seminars, attend lectures, critically view documentary films and contemporary news reports, and participate in workshops. To prepare for seminars and workshops, students will be provided guidelines for writing brief preparation papers based on an assigned reading. Students will gain practice in writing papers that regularly integrate program material. Each student will write a summative project as a synthesis paper based on course materials and present key points to the class.

Anticipated credit equivalencies for this program include: introduction to a history of U.S. education, introduction to the political economy of education, introduction to the philosophy of education, and analytic writing.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: public policy, education, social services, and history.

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$20 for supplemental booklet.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia