ED 632 Syllabus (Winter 2023)

Cultural, Social, and Philosophical Issues in Education


Ed. 632M

Winter Term 2022


Instructor: Dr. Dana Ulveland

Office: Ed. 227

e-mail: ulvelad@wou.edu


Office Hours:

By arrangement


Course Description

In this course we examine issues of schooling, teaching, and learning from a variety of philosophical perspectives. We try to see how practice and perception is informed by theory and ideology. Students will frame their teaching and learning experiences by examining the role of culture, history, and narrative as it applies to schooling and learning.


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 endure a substantial amount of pressure because 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.

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 behind. 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 a lot of good 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 ‘schooling practices’  —  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.


To begin to better understand the difference between schooling and education.

To begin to better understand our own educational/pedagogical behaviors in terms of educational and schooling pursuits, and to transform our behaviors and understandings to better resonate with our own philosophical beliefs.

To develop a sensitivity to the social and cultural language that influence schooling and educational practice.

To develop our own philosophy of education/learning/pedagogy so that we might use our own educational philosophy to derive educational/learning/pedagogical theory.

To develop an understanding of how the language of cultural and schooling impact the actions of the classroom teacher.

To develop an understanding of how educational philosophies and theories influence the choice of curriculum, instructional methodology, classroom management, and interpersonal relations.

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

To witness and grasp possible aspects of school oppression and think of ways to liberate those who are oppressed.


If you have taken another class with me, you know that I do my best to live by some additional objectives that are less measurable, but nonetheless important.

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.

If you have taken a graduate class from me before, you might recall differentiating graduate work from undergraduate work. It is actually pretty important. If you have taken an undergraduate class from me, this is an important distinction because 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 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. I will try to extend this idea of knowledge and suggest that our responsibility is to ‘understanding.’

As an undergraduate you learn what is already known. As a graduate student there is an expectation to create new and original knowledge (understanding). You work to reveal the unknown. I will talk more about this later.


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 discriminatory practices. 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

We will demonstrate that we, “Value diverse perspectives, build upon individual strengths and differences, and promote equity and inclusivity” by: 1) using a variational method to determine the ontological foundations of compulsory schooling; and 2) writing responses that consider the importance of ‘understanding’ as well as how mechanistic practices in education might objectify and subjugate teachers and students — ultimately subverting ‘understanding.’

In our conversations and writings we will demonstrate that we are able to differentiate and adapt our own thinking to ensure that all learners maximize opportunities to learn, grow, and reach their potential by speaking to ways we might begin to subvert dominating behavioristic and scientific management practices as they exist in our public schools.


Dana, what on earth does all of that mean?

Simply, this is a class about wondering, questioning, challenging, and understanding school practices that are oppressive. 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 we think of ways to transform practice. Not only practice as it relates to those we interact with educationally, but also transform our own practice of living in a way that begins to honor understanding. 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.


How Many Responses and When?

I will ask that you submit your responses to the questions I pose 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. If I receive responses late it is sometimes 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 I need a little more time 🙂


Written Responses

There will be 3 sets of responses. Your responses will be to questions I intersperse throughout the lectures.

Each response = 33.3333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333 percent, or thereabouts.



Final Grade Assignment

A 95 – 100
A- 90 – 94
B+ 85 – 89
B 80 – 84
B- 75 – 79
C+ 70 – 74
C 65 – 69
C- 60 – 64
D < 60









No textbook required for the class. There will be adequate reading and analysis throughout the lectures. 


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

*** Click below on Week One: Part 1 to get to the first lecture***

Week One: Tuesday, January 10th


A bit about the class


Week Two: Tuesday, January 17th


Gatto, Zander, and Kohn

The Three Branches of Government

Education, Schooling, Understanding

Week Three: Tuesday January 24th

Context Confers Meaning

The Fork

Causal Modality Frame and Variations

Sushi Chef and the Big Mac

Week Four: Tuesday, January 31st

Spectator / Embodied Perspectives

Sensing Bodies

Biological Bodies

**** First Set of Responses Questions Due Monday, February 6th   **** 

Week Five: Tuesday, February 7th

Neurons and Learning

Grasping Neurons

Week Six: Tuesday, February 14th


The Equipmental Nexus

Reciprocal Influence

Week Seven: Tuesday, February 21st

Factory Assembly Line

Scientific Management

Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Gilbreths

**** Second Set of Responses Due any time during week eight  ****

Week Eight: Tuesday, February 28th)

Timed Bodies

Duration vs. Time

Erik Satie and Henri Bergson

Time in the classroom

Week Nine: Tuesday, March 7th

Lighting the Bulb: What are we really learning here?

Hands-on might not be what is seems.

Week Ten: Tuesday, March 14th 


Sailing away into the sunset

Week Eleven: Tuesday, March 21st

**** Third Set of Responses Due Monday, March 21st  *****


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.


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.