semester roundup, fall 2010

Well, things sure have been busy the past couple of months. I’ve gotten off to a solid start in my new PhD program. Here’s a roundup of this semester’s activities, for posterity and just in case anyone is interested (hello, fellowship committee!):

  • Economics of Education: This was a fantastic class. We learned about human capital theory, the costs and benefits of education, teacher labor markets, school choice, and more. Professor Levin really lived up to his reputation as an excellent lecturer, and the material balanced breadth and depth nicely.
  • School Change: This was a depressing class. We learned all about the obstacles facing school reform and why it so rarely works. Main texts were Tyack & Cuban’s classic Tinkering Toward Utopia and Managing to Change by our outstanding professor, Tom Hatch. I was already pessimistic about school change, so the course basically confirmed and informed my pre-existing conclusions. But I think it crushed the souls of some other students, actual teachers and principals whose identities are tied up in improving public education on the ground.
  • School & Society: The alternate title for this course was something like “Educating for Social Justice,” so I was moderately concerned about potential political issues. Fortunately, though, I didn’t really encounter any problems in this regard, and actually wrote some fairly libertarianesque stuff without incident. A major course text was Yehuda Bar Shalom’s Educating Israel (chosen by our visiting professor who does philosophy of education in Israel), which I wasn’t expecting to find interesting. However, as it turns out, the book provides great evidence for the power of decentralization and social entrepreneurship in education. I ended up writing a paper about the importance of resisting the technocratic urge to try scaling up the successful school models portrayed in the book, in a vaguely Hayekian vein.
  • Doctoral Proseminar: We hit Plato hard: Alcibiades, Protagoras, Meno, Gorgias, Apology, Phaedo. In the spring, we will continue with The Republic. I am exhausted just thinking about it.
  • Research Assistantship: I was tasked with selecting and preparing some texts for a possible future interdisciplinary course in Ed Policy & Philosophy. I chose Brighouse’s On Education, Nussbaum’s Not For Profit, and Swift’s How Not to be a Hypocrite. I am still wrapping up my outlining and annotating of these, and will some parts of them when they’re finished.
  • Volunteering: I taught two courses at Columbia Secondary School through Columbia University & Teachers College’s Philosophy Outreach Program: intro to philosophy for seventh graders and bioethics for ninth graders. It was a challenging yet rewarding experience; teaching kids is quite different from teaching undergrads.
  • Other Academic: I presented an extremely tentative dissertation proposal at an IHS workshop in Arlington in October; as always it was a valuable and educational event. Also, I got a proposal accepted to the Middle Atlantic States Philosophy of Education Society’s upcoming conference at NYU in February. The paper is tentatively titled: “Are We All Political Animals?: A Criticism of Educating for Political Participation.”
  • Extracurricular Reading: Academic-ish: Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree, Illich’s Deschooling Society, and Moe and Chubb’s Liberating Learning. For pleasure: de Botton’s On Love and Nabokov’s Lolita.

All in all, a pretty good semester. Here’s to even better productivity in 2011.

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