EPE 301: Education in American culture


Instructor: Joe Ferrare, Ph.D.

Spring 2015, Wednesdays 11am - 1:30pm, DH 127

Office: 145C Taylor Education Building

Office Hours: Wednesdays 3 - 5pm or by appointment



Syllabus in PDF

Education Policy Links



The primary objective of this course is to think relationally about schools and the process of “schooling” in the United States. To think relationally about schools means that we will be concerned with how educational practices shape and are shaped by broader social relations taking place in the economic, political, and cultural realms of society. Thus, a recurring question we will ask is, “How might our knowledge of the relationship between school and society shape the ways we organize practices in schools and make decisions in the realm of education policy?” 

With this broad focus in mind the course will center on the following specific themes:

  1. The role of schooling in society
  2. The sociological and political contexts of pedagogy and the curriculum
  3. Issues involving race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, citizenship, and language
  4. School expansion and social mobility
  5. Education policy and reform

These themes are not mutually exclusive and do not constitute a sequential order. Rather, they represent a sample of the many points of reference from which we will situate schools in society. Thus, as we progress through the semester we will apply what we have learned to current and past concepts that emerge from the course material. 


The following represent the primary learning objectives for this course:

  1. To understand how educational practices and trajectories differentially impact students based upon race, gender, class, ability, language, and other cultural identities and social positions;
  2. To understand the dominant education policies and reforms aimed at (re)shaping the practices and trajectories outlined in Objective 1.
  3. To develop the skill of participating in debates about education through writing and public speaking.


The primary format for our class meetings will be seminar-style discussions, debates, and small group problem-solving scenarios. During seminar-style discussions we will work together as a class, in small groups, and individually to raise critical questions and formulate connections across the course material. In addition, I will pose problems through case studies in order to provide you with in-class opportunities to apply theoretical and methodological tools to analyze key questions guiding the course. Periodically I will attempt to motivate discussions through the use of Socratic lecture.


Your work in this course will be evaluated through multiple modes in relation to each of the three learning objectives. The specific modes of evaluation and corresponding grading weights are described below. Grades will be assigned using the following distribution:

A: 90% – 100%, B: 80% – 89%, C: 70 – 79%, D: 60% – 69%, E: below 60%

Upper Tier Writing Course & Citizenship Requirement

In addition to meeting undergraduate certification requirement in the College of Education, EPE 301 satisfies two University requirements: Citizenship in the UK Core (General Education), as well as the Graduation Composition and Communication Requirement (GCCR). The GCCR replaces the former Graduation Writing Requirement (GWR). In order to receive the GCCR credit for this course, you must have successfully completed the first-year writing requirement (ENG 104 or its equivalent) and have completed at least 30 hours of coursework.

Minimum Writing Requirements

  1. Students will be required to write a minimum of 15 pages of formal writing.
  2. At least 10 of these pages must be single-authored assignments.
  3. No assignments requiring fewer than 4 pages may be included in the 15-page minimum.
  4. These 15 pages must go through a draft, review, and revision process. Peer review is sufficient to meet the review requirement.
  5. Any major assignment that receives a D or below must be revised to reflect competency and resubmitted. Students who receive a D or below on papers will have one week from when a graded paper is returned to meet with the instructor and to revise their paper. Only one revision attempt for each paper will be granted.

1.  Participation in Class Discussions (20%)

Students are expected to attend class regularly (< 2 unexcused absences) and to have completed the assigned readings prior to the class meeting. Since this course only meets once per week, missing one class meeting is no different than skipping three class meetings for a MWF course. Thus, every unexcused absence beyond the one allotted will result in a 10% penalty to your participation grade for each class missed. The only exceptions to the latter are personal emergencies or serious illnesses for which I will need formal documentation. Excluding the latter instances, there is no need to notify me if you will be absent. 

Participation in class discussions is required. During the discussion portion of each class session I will randomly call upon students to participate. Everyone should be prepared to offer a summary of the key arguments/research findings in the readings and to have given some thought to where you stand in relation to those arguments/findings. I respect that some of you feel comfortable speaking on a regular basis while others generally prefer to listen. I do not expect that everyone will participate equally. However, the format of this course is structured in a way that will make it impossible for you to sit silently all semester.

2.  Critical Analysis Paper (20%)

For this paper you will be asked to critically analyze one reading from the course. Readings that are preceded by an * on the Course Outline and Readings page are NOT appropriate for this assignment. Your analysis should include a discussion of the key questions raised by the author(s), the sources of data and methodological tools used to address the questions, the findings from the analysis, and the claims made in relation to the results. My expectation is that your analysis will be approximately 1,200 words (~4 double-spaced pages with 12pt. Times New Roman font). The due date for this assignment is Friday February 13th at 4pm. A more detailed description of the assignment can be found here, and you can read an example of an excellent critical analysis here. Please upload your critical analysis as a Microsoft Word document to the Blackboard site with the following file title: [Your last name]301Critical.

3.  Education in the News: Position Paper and Presentation (25%)

Each of you will be responsible for identifying a current (within the last 12 months) news article covering some aspect of contemporary education policy in the United States. The purpose of the assignment is to briefly summarize the article and then take a stance on the policy of concern. For example, you might find an article from the Chicago Tribune about school closures and charter school policy. Your task is to summarize the article and then take a policy stance (i.e. in favor or opposition) concerning this particular situation. Your paper should be approximately 1,500 words (~5 double-spaced pages using 1-inch margins and 12pt. Times New Roman font). On the first day of class we will discuss this assignment in more detail and I will provide some suggestions for where to find relevant articles.

In addition to your paper you will be required to present your position to the class. While you are permitted to use the whiteboard as needed, the use of PowerPoint and other slides should be kept to a minimum (if used at all). My rationale here is for you to stand before your peers and have a conversation about a position of relevance in education. I want the engagement to center on you and your peers rather than a series of slides. You will have 7 minutes to present your summary and position, which will be followed by 5-10 minutes of Q&A from members of the class. The goal of the paper and presentation is to take a stance with enough conviction so as to generate a productive debate.

This assignment will have a rolling due date. On the first day of class you will be asked to sign up for a date to present your article and position paper. There will be a limit of two presentations per class meeting. On the due date for your paper please upload your paper to Blackboard by 11am with the following file title: [Your last name]301News.

4.  Field Experience Project (35%)

A field experience placement of 15 hours is required for all EPE 301 students. This is an inquiry-based, active learning experience, designed to enhance your foundation of knowledge and experience related to education. The placement project should be relevant to you, your professional goals, and the issues covered in this course. A directory of volunteer opportunities can be found here. Once you have identified a site for your field experience please upload your Field Experience Selection Form to the Blackboard site. In addition, please log your time using the Field Experience Time Log and upload the completed document to Blackboard at the end of the semester.

Students are required to log hours using the OTIS portfolio system. For detailed instructions on how to register for an account and log your hours please see the FAQ sheet (Note: Register for an Initial Licensure account).  

Along with the 15 hours of fieldwork, you are also required to write a reflective paper that examines your experience through the concepts and contexts covered in the course. For example, if you volunteer at a youth center then you might analyze your experience through the lenses of social and cultural capital. Your paper should be approximately 1,800 words (~6 double-spaced pages using 1-inch margins and 12pt. Times New Roman font). The more relevant and substantive your field experience is to your personal and professional goals, the easier it will be to engage with this assignment in a meaningful way. The due date for the final paper is Friday May 1 at 4pm. Please upload your paper to Blackboard using the following file title: [Your last name]301FINAL.


There are two books required for this course:

  1. Counts, George. 1932/1978. Dare the School Build a New Social Order? Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
  2. Ravitch, Diane. 2010. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books.

All other readings will be available through the Course Outline and Readings page.

Some Thoughts on How to Approach the Readings in this Course

1. Approach the task of reading seriously. While the volume of reading in this course is relatively light (~50-60 pages per week), some of the readings are challenging to comprehend during your first attempt. In this sense, 50-60 pages might feel like a heavy load. My advice is to do each reading assignment in one sustained session and to try and schedule these reading sessions consistently each week. The complexity of these readings will require your full concentration for an extended period of time that is free from distractions.

2. Follow the logic. As you read, underline (preferably in pencil) the key arguments in a way that will allow you to follow the logic of the arguments when you return to the text in the future. Be selective in what you underline. Imagine that you are trying to turn the full text into an outline. Remember, the purpose is to be able to quickly follow the logic of the argument at a later time (e.g., before or during class).  In addition to underlining, write question marks next to sections of the text that are confusing and make a note at the points in the text where the author changes topic (i.e. transitions points). Finally, once you have completed the reading go back through and re-read what you underlined at least once.

3. Read with the principle of charity. Try to keep in mind that the authors we are reading in this course have made it on the syllabus because many people have found their ideas compelling. Some of these ideas have formed the foundation of many of our modern institutions—especially in education. You may disagree with many of the readings and find the writing styles obtuse (I certainly do), but try to approach each one with the attitude that it might—and likely does—contain insights that you can use to understand and experience the world in new ways.


If any student requires specific accommodations please do not hesitate to speak with me at any point during the semester.  This includes accommodations related to the curriculum, instruction, evaluations, or any other factors that would otherwise prohibit your full participation in this course. Any questions or concerns students have about this matter will be held confidential to the best of my ability. In order to receive specific accommodations in this course you must provide me with a Letter of Accommodation from the Disability Resource Center (Room 2, Alumni Gym, 859-257-2754) for coordination of campus disability services available to students with disabilities.


All instances of academic dishonesty will be addressed according to standard UK policies on academic integrity. Please familiarize yourself with these expectations and the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

Plagiarism is attempting to pass off others' work as your own, such as copying the words of others or paraphrasing without proper attribution; not giving credit to sources in oral presentations; and/or handing in a paper you completed for another class for a grade in this course (i.e. self-plagiarizing). For specific questions about plagiarism please see this document put together by UK's Office of Academic Ombud Services.