Cities and schools are ordinary and extraordinary spaces. Both are at the center of young people’s socialization, public discourse, and often-heated political debate. In American cities, for example, where more than half of the country’s 50 million public school students are enrolled, schools are simultaneously critiqued as engines of social reproduction, defended as sites of opportunity and upward mobility, and envisioned as seedbeds for resistance, interrogation, and social transformation. A reflection of our country’s history, a microcosm of its contemporary challenges, and an undeniable contributor to its future, cities’ schools are worthy subjects of probing examination and sites for experiential learning.
They are also, of course, not the only urban institutions and educational spaces worthy of study here in the United States or elsewhere around the world; indeed, much can be learned from considering more broadly how cities take shape and where within them teaching and learning occur, including those spaces not counted as “school” – for example, museums, housing facilities, community groups, churches, public parks, and so on. Thus this Pathway can and will serve as an intellectual space for analyzing cities and urban educational spaces expansively and comparatively.
To become a student of this Pathway – to examine the policies, pedagogies, and partnerships that shape learning and development in urban centers – is to inquire deeply into and around key institutions of public life in order to become more educated about cities as they are and as they could be. Joining this Pathway also means making a commitment to understanding our immediate context with depth and nuance and to partner in meaningful, reciprocal ways with local agencies, educational organizations, and community members.
While students will construct their own animating questions, some possible examples include:
- What role have city institutions played in reproducing dominant and unequal social relations, particularly along the (intersecting) lines of race, class, and gender?
- What are the historical antecedents and contemporary dynamics of issues – for example, the schoolto- prison pipeline – profoundly impacting cities and their residents, particularly youth? How do those issues manifest locally and globally? How might they be addressed?
- What might it look like to teach literacy, language, history, math, music, or science in and of the city?
- What role might urban maker-spaces and other informal learning environments play in nurturing creativity in an era of constrained (formal) P-12 educational practice?
The Thematic Inquiry course will be a single four-credit course. Whether it is officially team-taught or not, it will involve the strategic participation of faculty members, community members, and alumni working in cities and schools broadly defined.
The Thematic Inquiry course will be arranged into modules that address historical, philosophical, sociological, and psychological inquiry, respectively, through a focus on major “strands” related to life and learning in “the city.” Each module will integrate opportunities for creative, quantitative, and critical analysis.
The content of the modules – and perhaps the modules themselves, to some extent – will shift to some degree each time the course is taught and contingent upon the expertise and interests of the instructor(s) teaching it. For example, in one semester, modules might be organized as follows: health and human services in the city; education in the city; art and design in the city; economics in the city; and science in the city. In each module, students would explore key issues and innovations, particularly (and comparatively) those that emerge from the New London-area context, its conditions and dynamics, and its efforts toward transformative change.
Altogether this would provide students the chance to explore how questions related to any module(s)/strand(s) take shape differentially across disciplines and how methods of inquiry and action likewise shift; at the same time, students would be developing a sense of what different disciplines and approaches offer, alone and together, when it comes to understanding a particular context and addressing a particular issue as it relates to urban and educational studies.
These modules, in turn, would yield to a final module wherein students would have the opportunity to explore topics/issues of their own choosing, read around them (i.e., from different disciplinary perspectives and attending to different kinds of work), and refine their animating questions accordingly.
Each Pathway requires students to pursue purposeful engagement in a local or international context, such as study away, an internship, or community-based learning.