ES 3950
(3 hours)



Office Hours: MW 11:00 - 12:00

Course Prerequisites: 70 earned semester hours, SED students: ES 3000

Texts::(available in the W.M.U. bookstore)

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
Racism without Racists
  Eric Jensen Teaching with Poverty in Mind
  University of Chicago LRS Coursepack
Recommended: Wood, Donald. Problem-Based Learning: How to Get the Most out of PBL


This course is concerned with the nature and direction of American education in its changing social context. It is designed to help students understand the forces and factors that shape schooling practices and govern the possibilities for change. Course content includes inquiry into how social, historical, political, philosophical, economic and legal factors influence educational policy and practice. The role of individuals in the change process in education is examined. An interdisciplinary approach is used.


As part of each student's professional preparation, this course is designed to encourage, stimulate, and develop capacity for active, responsible participation in the profession of teaching (COE Teacher Education, Conceptual Framework, p.3). Practitioners should be able to reflect critically on the social context of their practice with two broad goals in mind:
 (1) To develop their craft of teaching mindful of the aims, purposes, and constraints of professional practice; and
 (2) To join with fellow teachers in examining, shaping, and evaluating the purposes, values and orientation of schooling, and of the teaching profession itself.



Active engagement in this course will help you to:
1. Analyze the meaning, intent, and effects of educational institutions, including schools,
2. Appreciate the ways in which bias and injustice manifest in social life and schooling, (COE Teacher Ed., Conceptual Framework, Program Outcome: Diversity in the School Environment, p.7),
3. Gain critical understanding of educational thought and practice, and of the decisions and events which have shaped them, in their various contexts,
4. Develop and articulate policy-making perspectives and skills in searching for resolutions to educational problems and issues,
(Standards for educational foundations by the Council for Learned Societies in Education),
5. Identify professional issues at the local, state, and national levels,
(COE Teacher Ed., Conceptual Framework, Program Outcome: Prof. Understanding, p. 7),
6. Understand and analyze students' social, cultural, ethnic, and experiential backgrounds,
7. Develop your own values position regarding education on the basis of critical study
(COE Teacher Education, Conceptual Framework, p.3).


We will spend much of our time in discussion where you will be expected to contribute ideas for our consumption, and try out, analyze and critique new perspectives. In these discussions, you will be challenged. Teaching is an activity that demands careful, critical thinking. A teacher must be able to think clearly and insightfully to facilitate student learning.
In addition, teachers as a group must think and express themselves well regarding the social context of their work. Doing so allows teachers to be forceful and effective advocates for the needs of children and to have an important voice in the nature and direction of schooling.

For these reasons, School and Society is designed to help future teachers develop strong writing and thinking skills. Thinking and writing are complementary processes. Good thinking often begins in serious discussion, but thinking is further clarified and deepened in the process of writing. This course requires diligent student engagement in numerous and ongoing tasks involving both kinds of activity. A basic requirement of this course is that every student demonstrate solid competencies in the written and oral expression of ideas.

Development of such competencies is a core purpose of the course. The number of students enrolled in each section of the course is limited precisely so as to facilitate the close monitoring of student competencies in the written and oral expression of ideas. Every effort is made to help students develop powers of critical and careful judgment with regard to educational issues.

You can develop such skills by providing responsible, critical feedback to others in the class regarding the issues they are working on, critical feedback when interpreting the text, critical feedback when defending their views, and by your peers providing critical feedback as you think through the statements you make. The informed, thoughtful, realistic, and complex view of education and schooling we seek requires a great many perspectives, including yours.
On the basis of the features of the course described above, School and Society fulfills the university's baccalaureate writing requirement.


Instructional Method:

This class uses a problem-based learning (PBL) format. Rather than read a textbook or listen to lecture, students encounter real-life messy problems that demand responses. Students hypothesize possible responses, investigate relevant research, formulate and articulate thoughtful responses. Although you will write individual papers, you will work together to locate valuable sources, evaluate their worth and understand how they affect your response to the problem.

PBL places the responsibility for learning on the students. Because this point is so important, let me repeat that statement in somewhat different words:  In this class, I try to make it clear that you are responsible for educating yourself.  You do so by challenging yourself--by expecting yourself to ask and respond to more and more thoughtful, reflective, critical and self-critical questions.  You are responsible for identifying and learning what will be most helpful and most important to you when you start teaching.  You need to start discerning what you most need to have a successful and rewarding career.  These problems direct you towards serious, rewarding inquiry that might lead you to greater understanding of your students and what goes on in your classroom; then it will be a matter of you following where the best questions lead you. If you get crucial understandings from this class, it will be largely though your own efforts.  And conversely, if you don’t, that also will come from what you do or don’t do here. 


The WMU faculty have not designed this course to make you a better teacher!  We have designed it to help you become a wiser one.

Problem-Based Learning asks you to
Be ready to change your initial beliefs! 
If in the course of your work on a problem,
your initial beliefs concerning a problem do not change,
that is, grow, deepen, develop, mature, expand or extend
—and often times they do so quite drastically—
then start over. 
You haven’t done enough thinking.


You need as wide a variety of perspectives and alternative arguments as possible to consider and judge. 
You want to start with as full a set of possibilities as possible
but quickly discriminate,
winnow away the chaff from the grain  (i.e. separate the useable from the waste) discard the vast majority until you get to the gems you are looking for.

I call these problems messy because in the real world of actual schools, genuine teachers and authentic students, problems don’t come clearly defined.  Many times teachers begin working on addressing the problem because they experience a peculiar, bewildering feeling which suggests that something isn’t quite right long before they or anyone else is able to clearly define, or even name, what is going on. Equally troubling is that you don’t know what kinds of intellectual tools (sources, assumptions, arguments and understandings) you will need when starting nor do these problems allow for tidy, neat and final solutions before the teacher must respond to them.  One can always do more. The teacher must often respond to the students and the situation before having the time needed to fully understand the problem and before he or she is able to sketch out, in their minds at least, an adequate full response.

What we will work on in this class are problems of social injustice that all schools and thus, their reflective teachers, are forced to deal with if not every day, then at the least quite often.  This ES 3950 course introduces you to four of them. Unfortunately, just like what teachers often encounter, we have only enough time in class to introduce you to them before we have to move onto the next problem.  My hope is that throughout your career as a teacher, you will return to these and other dilemmas of social justice quite regularly to create more and more effective, satisfactory and fitting responses.

Since these problems arise in the real-world, rarely does any part of them involve simplistic right or wrong, good or bad answers.  They usually have many variations of good answers and many seductive poor ones.  While these problems rarely have single right answers, they do clearly have many, perhaps thousands, of wrong answers, wrong because they are short-sighted, ineffective, too costly, injurious, faulty or what is even worse inhumane, cruel, immoral, even wicked.
In this course, we will encounter 4 real-world, messy problems that reflective, thoughtful teachers face everyday now.  All of these problems have to do with issues of social justice.  I say that these problems are messy because they often begin as a peculiar feeling that something isn’t quite right.  You are never quite sure how to define the problem, just as you are when you begin to teach.  I don’t and won’t tell you all you need to know in order to craft an intelligent, careful, scholarly, ethical response to that problem.  I won’t for two reasons. First, to do so would diminish the initiative you need to become a thoroughly educated and persevering professional as well as the initiative you will need to become an outstanding beginning teacher.  Second, these problems have more than one acceptable response (as well as countless clearly wrong answers) and I don’t know them all or all the resources you would need to craft these acceptable responses.  I expect you to follow where the questions lead you (even if that means exploring possibilities in other fields beyond education, such as psychology, literature or anthropology) wherever your best reasoning leads in pursuit of crafting the best response to each problem.

I break each class into two groups so that we (we, not I) can run the class seminar-style. One group stays in the classroom with the instructor, while the other half meets in another classroom in the new Sangren Hall responding to the problem in their own way. Every time a group meets anywhere a scribe must take notes of who is present and what the group says and does.

What do I mean by that term, “seminar-style”? you ask?  That’s an excellent question; a rich PBL problem, one that each of you need to research for yourselves. Find what scholars mean when they use those words, “seminar-style”  Find the most useful, most edifying, most helpful possible meanings. We will try to emulate the best you find!

Student Initiative & Responsibility

As much as possible, this class depends upon you, the students, to determine how you learn through this course because as you investigate each problem you can find sources which just reiterate the usual talk and assumptions you will find circulating in most teacher lounges. Or you might insist on going farther to locate sources which might be harder to find but in the end are more trustworthy. You might work to locate the latest research and best philosophical thinking even when these contradict the current fads.

If you resist learning through PBL and see what we do as a waste of time, it will be. But if you make a sincere effort to investigate these problems and sources and try to imagine some of the problems you will face as a teacher, your efforts and acceptance of responsibility for your own learning will pay off in ways you may enjoy for some time. Allow yourself to be led by questions and by your own best judgement.

I see my job as professor in a PBL class is not to lecture or even conduct discussions over common readings. (The usual way we teach.) Rather my job is to provoke careful, rewarding thought by asking questions. If you respond honestly and thoughtfully to these questions, even when they seem to ask about items of common sense, you might just find breakthroughs and find yourself developing new ways of thinking about problems.


Social Construction of this Class

I want to stress the social aspects of this class.  I do not want anyone trying to work through any of these problems and papers independently. That's not the kind of learning I want students to gain in this class.  Rather than try to stuff you full of information and ideas, I try to lead my students to:


Refine their skills at critiquing and employing concepts,

2. Develop ways of grasping complex and (seemingly) innovative ideas,
3. Be able to use new viewpoints towards familiar problems,

Search out both the positive, and the negative, consequences of concepts and practices,

5. Find and develop profitable, rewarding ways of working with other teachers and teacher candidates, and
6. Insightfully play devil’s advocate for other students and even yourself.


Each of these goals requires talking in small groups, even if you are just a twosome, and writing to a specific audience. 

I don't want you to take this class just because it will fit nicely into your schedule this summer or this semester.  To do my class well, even if it is your second time around, takes a considerable amount of effort, reflection and patience.  I expect everyone in the class to engage in the conversation each and every day, engage in meaningful, insightful ways of working with each other and to engage in serious, committed research. 



We will do the first two problems face to face in the classroom and the last two on line because they readily lend themselves to that kind working together.

We will use a writing program from the University of Chicago because this program can help you to improve your writing no matter how well you write now.  Through the two tess you will take this semester, I will evaluate you on how well you understand and use this program.  The preface/forward is very important for understanding how the authors arrived at the suggestions and conclusions presented in this program. READ IT!

WARNING: When first learning the LRS, students often can't write. They become, in a sense, paralyzed because they are trying to remember all of LRS's suggestions. The best strategy to use when writing your first draft of a paper is to ignore LRS. Use LRS only as an editing tool when going back to revise your essay. When you go back to put the their suggestions in your paper, you will often find that you have already been doing much of what they suggest and in other cases you only need to change a few sentences or paragraphs slightly.

You may have noticed the LRS often also makes one a better reader. As a result of this writing program, you will look for opening strategies such as the stasis, disruption and know where to look for the main point and subsequent section points. 

Because I am always revising the LRS coursepack, I give you the chance to earn extra credit—3 points for every mistake in the coursepack or this website you find regardless of how small it might be.  It could be an extra word, a misalignment of a margin, or even just an extra period. 

At each class, I will have a form to collect these mistakes and a copy of the coursepack so you can circle the mistake on the page.   During any free time, ask for it and fill out the appropriate line.  You will earn your three points if you are the first student to point it out. I know I'm asking you to bring quite a load to each class, but we will need these to do the work we need to accomplish during each session. If you find a mistake on this website, please notify me by e-mail and identify as accurately as you can the page on which it appears.


If you have a laptop computer, I encourage you to bring it to class.  You can get a headstart on knowing which search terms are useful for locating trustworthy sources in the library or on the web, locating relevant scholarship, or eliminating suggested research that doesn’t go anywhere. Periodically, if and when you find it useful, I can arrange to bring in the portable computer lab or arrange for us to meet in one of the computer labs in Sangren.  You, and you alone, are responsible for its security at all times including class and whatever breaks we may have during class.  Dr. Pillsbury and WMU can not be held responsible should it be stolen or damaged.

If at any time you need help with your computer, laptop or desktop, here at Western or away at your apartment or even at your parents or relative out of state, it would probably be in your best interest to call one of our computer help desks, the computer help desk at 387- HELP (387-4357) or the office of Ed. Technology at 387-4585.

“You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate and Graduate Catalogs that pertain to Academic Honesty. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. [The policies can be found at under Academic Policies, Student Rights and Responsibilities.] If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with your instructor if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.”
Policy Adopted by WMU Faculty Senate, July 10, 2012


“It is our intent that students who must be absent from scheduled classes to fulfill religious obligations or observe practices associated with their faith not be disadvantaged. However, it is the student’s responsibility to make arrangements with his/her instructors in advance. It is in the student’s best interests to approach each instructor expeditiously and with sufficient notice that the rights and responsibilities of the instructor are not disrupted. Instructors should make it known to classes early in the term what they consider reasonable notice for anticipated absences. Without specifying a fixed notification time, we acknowledge in this policy joint responsibility:  instructors will inform students of their requirements and students will make every effort to cause no disruption in the instructors’ plans and duties.”
Policy Adopted by WMU Faculty Senate May 3, 2007

The Department of Educational Studies maintains a strong and sustained commitment to the diverse and unique nature of all learners and to maintain high expectations for each student.

Any student with a documented disability (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) who needs to arrange reasonable accommodations must contact the professor and the appropriate Disability Services office at the beginning of the semester. The two disability service offices on campus are: Disabled Student Resources and Services 269-387-2116 or Office of Services for Students with Learning Disabilities 269-387-4411.


Problem #1 Problem 2 Problem 3 Problem 4