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PWR 1JPA: Learning toward the Future: Education in Changing Times

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Catalog Number: PWR 1JPA

Instructor: John Peterson

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Is education primarily a pathway to your career, or is it designed for you to learn about yourself and how you can contribute to the world? It’s likely both at the same time. But when times are changing rapidly, we have an unclear sense of the future. How should we design education to respond to our needs? This course engages with spirited conversations around the diverse goals of education. We look at how stakeholders — teachers, parents, politicians — don’t agree on how education should operate and who should be in control. We explore how students in this course may very well determine the shape of education to come.

We will consider readings that help us define the concept of education and address how schools should prepare students for adult life. From a Stanford perspective, Jennifer Summit and Blakey Vermeule write about how college students are caught in the tension between specialization and education for breadth. Diane Ravitch shows us the unforeseen consequences of institutions such as standardized testing and charter schools. We look at authors who explore the challenges of developing creativity when teaching practices emphasize grades and competition.  We will also explore images of the student as depicted in popular culture, in films such as The Social Network; Dead Poets Society; and perhaps even High School Musical 3.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) This assignment asks that you look critically at a short reading that describes a vision of education: Who is the writer addressing, what problems are at stake, and how does the author use language to present an argument and/or invite debate?

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words or 6-8 pages) Here, you begin to conduct research, analyzing arguments that illuminate your selected topic from different perspectives. For example, you could analyze not only how elite universities must compete for top applicants, but how their marketing implicitly takes sides in long-standing debates over the value of higher education. Or you could explore how research in cognitive psychology is sometimes at odds with education that operates largely on intuition, local culture, and unquestioned tradition.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words or 12-15 pages) With this essay, you continue your research by focusing on a central issue and taking a position on it. For example, you might examine how economic fluctuations have affected the funding of public education. Or you could investigate how technical institutions address broader liberal arts education objectives.

Other Notes: This course offers several avenues for collaboration in creative scholarship and research. It also offers an opportunity for you to reflect on your learning, so that you might design research that deepens your understanding of topics you have explored or are exploring in your other courses.