ED 615 Syllabus (Fall 2020)

MAT ED 615 Critical Inquiry Into The Foundational Narratives of Schooling

Fall Session 2020

Instructor: Dr. Dana Ulveland

Office: ED 227

e-mail: ulvelad@wou.edu


Office Hours:

By arrangement


Course Description

This course examines the foundational narratives that give meaning to the modern school experience. Historical, philosophical and societal narratives of schooling are analyzed in an attempt to better understand not only the workings of the American school system but also our lived experience as learners and teachers within the public school. Prerequisite: admission to M.A.T. : Initial Licensure Program

In Plain Speak or ‘What this course description means to me.’

I suppose a lot of the course description comes down to this: If everyone was happy with what was taking place in schools, we probably wouldn’t be having any of the academic conversations we do. This is not to say that there aren’t great schools. There are. And there are great teachers, and great students, and great content, and great successes. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in school. And I am thankful that my children have had so many fabulous teachers. But academe is built around the idea that things might be better.

Better in what way? We all have our own stories. For example: I spent twelve years taking math classes prior to entering my first university math class. For me, the time spent didn’t seem to be a reasonable indicator of what I should have known. In other words I should have known a lot more. Why is that?

Also, why is it that I had a student in my fifth grade class who, if given the opportunity, would have been able to take the engine out of my truck while it was parked in the parking lot, and then put it back together in running condition. And yet this young man was made to feel like a fool and a failure in school. Why is that?

Also, why is it that many teachers are made to feel like failures if they happen to have conditions so challenging that no one could possibly succeed in the environment in which they are placed. Why is that?

So, what does the course description mean to me? It means we ought to be asking ‘why’ a lot more than we do.

So, this is a class where we spend time thinking about what we do in schools. We ask a lot of questions. For better or for worse. Sometimes it is a whole lot easier to refrain from asking questions.

What do we find out when we start to ask why? Well, we find out that there are a lot of stories that talk about teachers, schools, students, education, administration, success, failure, grading . . . . I could go on and on. And these stories–well we refer to these as narratives. The interesting thing for graduate-thinkers like ourselves is that we often hear conflicting stories about the same thing. What’s up with that? Furthermore, if the person telling the story has more influence over someone telling an alternative rendition, that alternative rendition might be obscured.

This is interesting stuff. We start unraveling some of these stories, or narratives, and we gain some insight into why things are the way they are in schools.

How do we do that? How do we get to the bottom of all of this? We suspend our prejudices (pre-judgements) and beliefs and ask a lot of questions.

If you have taken any other graduate classes from me, my continual urging to question will be familiar to you. We throw ourselves into unfamiliar territory at times, and we try to leave our preconceptions at the door. We listen to a number of theorists tell us what they think, and then we take what we want from these other voices and consider how those other insights might inform, challenge, and perhaps change, what we do and think. Many of the people we will listen to have strong arguments, reasoned approaches, and some great insights. But when we encounter some of those folks out on the fringes, we are often confronted by ideas that seem foreign, critical or too extreme (to put it nicely). But, if we do this right, if we go about our graduate work in a thoughtful manner, we will ultimately begin to listen to ourselves. We will try to break away from some of the language and conventions (discourse) that pull us into what might be ill-founded, biased, or oppressive narratives and ‘schooling practices’– narratives and practices that pull us away from what we might intuitively know about ‘being with’ others. By recognizing that we have the responsibility to challenge the system, we may be more comfortable allowing our own arguments to come to the fore as we agree, or disagree, with other’s ideas and expectations.

We allow ourselves the right to Wonder and Question. We allow ourselves time to wonder; and, we push ourselves to question. And then we try to question our questions.

Course Objectives

Ever wonder where course objectives come from? Ever wonder why every syllabus you get has some form of course objective? Well, it has a lot to do with the industrial revolution. But since we aren’t quite there in our thinking, I better put some objectives in here.


A. Understand the difference between schooling and education by analyzing the differing narratives that substantiate the different endeavors.
 This includes developing a familiarity with how students learn and how teachers teach.

B. Understand the educational endeavor from your own perspective.

C. Understand how your own personal narratives can impact the classroom climate and the school community.

D. Become familiar with the language and concepts used in the teaching profession.

E. Have some understanding of historical, sociological, and philosophical influences on current educational practices.

F. Have a better idea as to how schools are influenced by equity issues (social, gender, cultural, economic, racial and ethnic differences) and language domains.

Now, I do have more objectives, but these are a bit more difficult to measure (as we all know, objectives should be measurable, shouldn’t they?)

To find joy in our work.

To increase our capacity to learn.

To increase our confidence in our ability to learn.

To develop our ability to inquire and wonder.

To recognize our own uniqueness as learners.

To try to sense and understand the universals in the human condition ultimately enhancing our ability to draw closer to other people.

I like this second set of objectives. I get these from Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner as shared in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

Why Question and Wonder? Because this is graduate work.

We should make an important distinction between undergraduate and graduate work. What we do in this class is a bit different from undergraduate classes. Much of what we do in this class makes sense when we keep in mind that we are doing “graduate” work. If this is your first graduate class it is worth recognizing that the type of work we do in graduate classes is often very different from what we do in undergraduate classes. As an undergraduate, especially in a teaching licensure program, we have others tell us what we need to do to work well in a school classroom or a school system. As an undergraduate student we accept that others know what they are talking about and we learn what we can from them. As an undergraduate, we learn as much as we can to get by and do well in the workplace. Of course, there are many graduate classes that we take for the purpose of learning how to function in the school system. So there are two sides to graduate work.

We might think of graduate school as having two components: 1) learning and adopting what others know; and 2) developing new insights. It is in the development of new insights that we focus on in this class. Much of the responsibility of the graduate student is to develop new knowledge–original work–original thinking.

As an undergraduate you learn what is already known. As a graduate student there is an expectation to create new and original knowledge. You work to reveal the unknown. I will talk about this in greater detail in our first lecture.


Educator Diversity Outcomes

It is important to me, and I hope important to you, that we work to affirm diversity in all its forms. I think we should recognize and accept the diversity in others, as well and being clearer on each of our own aspects of diversity.

I don’t know about you, but I think schools can be very discriminatory places–especially if someone is being discriminated against. I don’t think that’s right. Actually, I know that is not right. I have taught in schools for years–from second graders to adults–and I certainly didn’t mean to be discriminatory. And I don’t think other teachers and administrators mean to discriminate. But I wonder sometimes if schools aren’t designed to be discriminatory, or at least inadvertently designed to be discriminatory. Now in hind sight, I have, I am sorry to say, been discriminated against as a student. And in hind sight, I have, I am sorry to say, discriminated against students by the teaching practices I have incorporated. I have, I am sorry to say, seen, as a classroom observer, numerous accounts of discrimination. What kind of discrimination you might ask? Anytime students are oppressed, given the impression that they are stupid, belittled, or expected to do mindless unreasonable tasks–that is discrimination. Thus, in our attempt to broaden our world view and embrace multicultural/multi-humanistic ideas, we will critique schooling when it is oppressive. And I hope we will embrace schooling when it is liberatory. Hopefully we will challenge practices that oppress those who find themselves falling outside the bounds of the dominant culture. And we will uphold practices that enhance students’ acceptance and engagement. We will challenge practices that oppress students and teachers. And we will try to think of ways to change practices to make schooling a better place for all of us. By engaging in ontological questions (questions that reveal intelligibility) we come to understand how the system of schooling has been used as a vehicle of both oppression and liberation.


Required Evidence Showing That Objectives Have Been Met

Written Reflective Responses

Simply, this is a class about wondering, questioning, challenging, and understanding school practices that are oppressive and liberatory. In our wondering, we begin to articulate our own original insights. I ask that you work on a series of written reflective responses. These are responses to the content and questions we are considering in class. Not only do these reflective responses consider the content at hand, but they help us consider how our responses to, and understanding of, the content might impact the way we think about, and teach, our own students. Not only that, our thoughts should impact the way we think about ourselves, and what we do. Ultimately in our analysis and understanding of narratives, we think of ways to transform practice. Transformation is one aspect of our original thinking–graduate thinking.

Each week I ask that you respond to the content at hand. Your consideration of the ideas we encounter will show evidence of philosophical thinking, original thinking, as well as provide glimpses of how you might begin to transform yourself through a deepening understanding of the social and cultural aspects of education.

By the way, don’t let the phrase “evidence of philosophical thinking” trouble you. If you have an interest in education, you are likely already philosophizing. You are thinking about your students’ experiences, how your students learn, and what is best for your students. That covers the philosophy basics of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology (reality, knowledge, and values).

Your written responses are a way to provide an artifact of your thinking and your actions.


Who comes up with the response questions? Andragogy vs Pedagogy

Given that we are adults, andragogy takes precedence over pedagogy. Both you and I come up with questions to consider.


How Many Responses and When?

I will ask that you submit your responses to questions on three different occasions. A couple of times during the term and once at the end of the course.

The dates I ask that you submit your responses are staggered with submissions from my other classes. So it is easier for me if you are able to send me your responses on the dates listed. If I receive responses late it is difficult for me to respond as thoroughly to your work as I would like. But I am well aware that life happens and sometimes we all need a little extra time. I do, however, have a final date and time that I have to submit my grades to the registrar though–even if we all need a little more time 🙂


Written Responses

There will be 3 sets of responses.

Each response = 33.3333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333 percent.


Are we limited to three sets of responses?

Please keep in mind, I love talking about this stuff. And every time I am able to discuss these ideas with others, I learn something new. So if you would like to meet with me and discuss the course content, or if you would like to write something that you would like me to respond to, please email. We can meet and talk, and think, and wonder, and question, and find the joy in our pursuit of understanding.


Final Grade Assignment

A (96 →100)

A- (91 → 95)

B+ (86 → 90)

B (81→ 85)

B- (76 → 80)

C+ (71 → 75)

C (65 → 70)

C- (60 → 64)

D (< 59)



Required (If possible)

The Book of Learning and Forgetting, by Frank Smith, Teachers College Press, 1998

This book can be purchased at amazon.com for under $8.00. Given the current circumstances with the corona virus, we can only do our best at getting course materials.

The WOU bookstore has also ordered this book for our class.

I have the first few chapters scanned and I will share those with you in the first lecture. Hopefully that will give you time to get the textbook. If you are unable to get it, you will not be penalized in any way (except for what you would otherwise learn from Smith). We will work around this inconvenience.


Tentative Schedule Outline (Content will change. I can’t help it. Sometimes I want to share things that seem to come out of nowhere.)


Tentative Course Schedule

 Click on the “Week One” text below to access the first set of lecture notes for Week 1 🙂

Week One (Monday, September 28) 


Schooling vs Education

Values and Wisdom



Week Two (Monday, October 5)

Language and Reality. (Really?)

Please try to read Part 1 pages vii – 39 in your Smith book.


Week Three (Monday, October 12)

**************** Please email me your responses from sessions 1 and 2 ******************


The narrative of telling


Week Four (Monday, October 19)

Please try to read pages 43 – 72 in your Smith book.


John Taylor Gatto


Week Five (Monday, October 26)

The Factory Model

Please try to read pages 73 – 102 in your Smith book.


Week Six (Monday, November 2)

Frank Gilbreth

Frederick Winslow Taylor




Week Seven (Monday, November 9)

**************** Please email me your responses from sessions 3, 4, 5 &6 ******************

Neurons and Neuronal Web Assemblies

Whole body learning and the cinnamon bun


Week Eight (Monday, November 16)

The Fender Rhodes

The Referential Whole

Metaphors and Categorization


Week Nine (Monday, November 23) 

Embodied Learning Continued


Week Ten (Monday, November 30)

High-Tech High

Gever Tulley

Racing Perspectives



Week Eleven Final Responses Due (Monday, December 7)

**************** Please email me your final set of responses ******************


Accommodations: Students with documented disabilities are entitled under the law to reasonable accommodations. If you have a disability and need accommodations, you should also contact the Office of Disability Services at 503-838-8250.

Respect: In this class, the expectation is of mutual respect. Western Oregon University is an inclusive community that celebrates diversity and strives to reflect the diversity of our pluralistic society in our faculty, staff and students. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, class, linguistic background, religion, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, or physical ability. In this class the goal is to establish an environment that values and nurtures individual and group differences and encourages engagement and interaction. Understanding and respecting multiple experiences and perspectives will serve to challenge and stimulate all of us to learn about others, about the larger world and about ourselves. By promoting diversity and intellectual exchange, we will not only mirror society as it is, but also model society as it should and can be.

Academic Integrity: In any academic work — especially graduate work — it is important that the work you do is your own. It is also important that you give credit to others when you make reference to their ideas or their published work. This level of honesty places you ‘into’ a community of academics who work together to bring about a deeper understanding and a greater awareness of the world around us.

DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS: If you have a documented disability that may require assistance, you will need to contact the Office of Disabilities Services (ODS) for coordination in your academic accommodations. The ODS is located in the Academic Programs and Support Center (APSC) Suite 405. The phone/TTY is (503) 838-8250.

Military Service Statement: Veterans and active duty military personnel with special circumstances are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor.

Student Success Specialist: Students in this class may be referred to the WOU Student Success Specialist (SSS) if the instructor determines their performance in the class is placing them at academic risk. The SSS will offer to work with referred students to address issues and develop a student success strategy. Irrespective of whether a referral has or has not been made, you are ultimately responsible for tracking your own progress in this course.


WOU Writing Center: If you feel you need additional assistance with your writing, I encourage you to take advantage of the writing center. Help is available. For further information go to: www.wou.edu/writingcenter.



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