I’m a recently retired professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. I see this blog as an opportunity for me to continue my work as a teacher without the annoyances of having to teach classes, grade papers, and attend faculty meetings. It will allow me to exercise my teacher voice and to explore the wide range of issues that I have raised in my classes over the years. The idea is to write for a broader audience, freed from the annoying conventions and stilted jargon of the academic journal article.
At core, my scholarly work has explored the historical sociology of American education, with a particular focus on the role that consumer pressure and markets have had on schooling at all levels. As a sociologist, I’ve been most interested in examining the nature of American schooling as a system: how it evolved, what dynamics govern its behavior, and what the consequences of this are for both school and society. My overall frame is that this is a system without a plan, which emerged organically as part of the evolution of American society — more influenced by self-interested actors in the educational marketplace than by deliberate efforts at educational reform.
My most recent book is A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education (Chicago, 2017). Others include Someone Has to Fail: The Zero Sum Game of Public Schooling (Harvard, 2010); The Trouble with Ed Schools (Yale, 2004); How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning: The Credentials Race in American Schooling (Yale, 1997); and The Making of an American High School: The Credentials Market and the Central High School of Philadelphia, 1838-1939 (Yale, 1988). More recently I have been publishing in Aeon Magazine (https://aeon.co/).
I plan to continue writing books, but not ones that are overly researchy. In the past, my books have emerged from classes I have taught. In practice, I work out a story about a particular topic after teaching a class for a half dozen years of so, and at a certain point it feels like time to turn this oral account into a written text. I publish individual pieces around the class topic (drawing on a set of sources used in class) and then eventually pull them together into more coherent form between the covers of a book.
The idea is to continue that pattern here. The blog will be my effort to explore issues that pique my interest through the medium of essays, both short and long. Some I will be be publishing in nonacademic venues, of the sort that I have been seeking out in recent years: Aeon Magazine, Kappan, Quartz, Project Syndicate, and Dissent. Others will appear only here. Freed from academic conventions, I plan to pursue a wide range of interests that in the past have found an outlet in my teaching. Here are some examples:
- The role of consumers and markets in shaping educational systems
- The implications of the peculiarly organic and emergent form of the US higher education system
- The role of schools as institutions of credentialing more than learning, whose major social function is to promote social access and preserve social advantage
- Explorations in Big History, about the factors shaping the rise and fall of empires, with special emphasis on the role of fear and greed, war and profit
- The art and craft of good writing, looking at examples of when it’s done really well and examining the approaches that ordinary writers like ourselves can use to infuse our writing with clarity and grace
- Mini-reviews of books that cut across all these topics, mining them for key insights and cool quotes
That’s the plan. I hope you will join me for what could prove to be an interesting ride.