Discourses in Education Policy – My Independent Research

This past semester of school was the final semester of school as an undergraduate student. The past two years have been devoted to completing my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. To complete the degree, students are required to complete a senior project. The driving idea behind all of my schooling for the past six years has of course been an interest in education, education policy, and education research.

During my time at the University of Minnesota, I discovered a fascination with the study of discourse in society, which is a field within sociology. By combining these two interests, I decided utilize the resources around me and do an Independent Senior Research Project, instead of taking the Senior Project class. This allowed me more flexibility in the kind of project I did. The main question my paper asked was: What impact is the free-market ideal having on the relationship public school districts have with charter schools and how do those in charge of making policy decisions frame opportunities for collaboration?

The result was a a 20-page paper that detailed some recent trends in education policy in Minnesota, laid out my process for collecting data, and explained my findings based on 6 interviews I conducted with school board members from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Richfield. Overall I found two frames, a pro-competition frame and pro-collaboration frame. Within the individual contexts of competition-based policy approaches versus collaboration-based, I found other important frames that seem to help facilitate a favoring for one approach to the other.

Here’s a short quote from the paper:

Within the pro-collaboration frame, I found a focus on how to best teach to the individual student, a focus on class as a factor that disadvantages students, and an emphasis on equal opportunity for every student. Within the pro-competition frame I found a focus on how to provide the best learning environment and a focus on race as a factor that disadvantages students, then emphasizing the importance of diversity. Alternately, while Minneapolis school board members were more wary of charter schools, they were also more open to working with them, while St. Paul school board members were generally approving of charter schools existing as competitors to public schools but were hesitant about working collaboratively with them.

This was a massive project, I’ve never done anything like it before. What’s even more exciting, though, is that I got an A on my paper!

I’ve gone through and made a few edits to it, and I have made it available to download as a protected PDF file if you are interested in reading it.

Download the PDF

If you do download it, let me know what you think in the comments section.

Posted in Blogging, News, Sociology by Preston on June 22nd, 2014

Emergence of Self

So, this semester I took a class called Social Theory, where we studied all of the philosophers and theorists that talk about social phenomenon. At the end of the semester, we were to do a final project that incorporated these ideas into what could be an art project, or a paper if we chose to write one. I decided to write a poem that explored George Herbert Mead‘s theories about the self. I’m really excited about this poem, I haven’t written a long poem like this in over four years. It will definitely be a good addition to my portfolio. I am even more excited about this project because I received a high grade. To quote my teacher, “Really, really beautiful work… You manage to keep Mead at the center of the work without it being clunky or distracting.”

You can view the poem by clicking here, the poem can be found on my portfolio page.

Below (after the jump) is the artist statement for the poem.

Click here and read more after the jump…

Posted in Poems, Sociology by Preston on May 21st, 2013

k, Bye Winter

Now that winter is over, I just feel like sharing some of my favorite moments from this winter in photographic form, voila.

February   Frosted Tips

From Washington Ave Bridge   Down the Street

Posted in Diversions by Preston on March 27th, 2013

Snowy Night

Just felt like sharing a little of the Minnesota winter with the world. It’s also about damn time I write a poem.

Posted in Blogging, Diversions by Preston on February 11th, 2013

Concerning the Legality of Human Levitation

I recently began a course called the Sociology of Sexualities, one of the books assigned for the course is Sexuality written by Jeffrey Weeks. In it, he discusses a new way of talking about sexualities.

Nothing is sexual, Plummer suggested, but the naming makes it so (Plummer 1975). If this is the case, it follows that we need to move gingerly in applying the dominant Western definitions to non-Western cultures. Both the significance attributed to sexuality and attitudes to the various manifestations of erotic life vary enormously… 

As a I free-associated for a moment, after reading that, I arrived at the notion of the legality of homosexuality in certain regions of the globe. First, I set aside my emotional response to the existence of these laws, and examined them passively for a moment. I do not believe it is too controversial an argument to say that the existence of these laws is the result of homosexuals being perceived by the general culture, and those in power, as being a deviant minority, which threaten certain aspects of the cohesive society where all members reside. I began to think about the homosexual members of this society, and how they must feel when they first exhibit desires to perform actions that they’re society considers punishable by death.

One important aspect of this class is that we are considering sexuality to be socially constructed:

…the forces that shape and mould the erotic possibilities of the body vary from society to society. ‘Sexual socialization,’ Ellen Ross and Rayner Rapp wrote in the early stages of this historicizing of sexuality, ‘is no less specific to culture than is socialization to ritual, dress, or cuisine.’ …

Weeks continues:

I do not wish to deny the importance of biology. The physiology and morphology of the body provides the preconditions for human sexuality. Biology conditions and limits what is possible. But it does not cause the patterns of sexual life. We cannot reduce human behavior to the mysterious workings of the DNA… I prefer to see biology in a set of potentialities, which are transformed and given meaning, only in social relationships.

So in returning to this hypothetical homosexual man, living in a society that punishes homosexuality by death, I began to wonder what social forces led to his homosexuality. His existence seems, in this way, to provide evidence for a biological cause for his state of being homosexual. But then in all cultures, to my understanding, all people are subject to variability, not just biologically speaking.

But I am not so much concerned with this person’s homosexuality, as much as I am with the notion of his homosexuality being illegal. This, I believe is really the heart of the issue. People may be whatever they are, inherently or otherwise, but this only becomes significant when it bumps up against the construction of our society. So, I started to think, what if something were illegal that no-one was even physically capable of. There have been a few documented cases of levitation that some monks are able to accomplish through intensive meditation, but for the most part the laws of gravity are pretty definite for the rest of us. Nevertheless, what if a state were to pass a law that banned levitation? The question is more or less rhetorical because what I really mean to point to is the idea of deviance to begin with. I think I may have had this idea in my head that laws were made for breaking, which translates to the idea that social pressures against any sort of behavior lead to the existence of those behaviors through an unconscious, almost Freudian, kind of rebellion against society.

There is also a reason the idea of making human levitation illegal is inconceivable, and that is because we all understand the purpose of laws. On the surface, it seems that they exist to regulate and organize society, but in fact all of us do that on a daily basis without need for a law-book in our back-pocket. The laws exist to collectively organize the understanding of the values held by those in power. Of course, I don’t really mean to say that with such force, I am speaking specifically of what Emile Durkheim would call Repressive Law. In other words, we can get a glimpse at the nature of society by looking at the laws the society creates. Because there is no-one in the society who levitates, there would never be any laws concerning levitation.

I guess I’m not really sure what I am arguing then. Mostly I’m just trying to combine my reading on Emile Durkheim with my reading on Sexuality, but I’m not sure where this leaves me. Does all this mean that by creating laws that outlaw homosexuality, those governments are in a way affirming the existence of homosexuality and thus participating in its continuance? Or does it mean that homosexuality is innate, and no social construct can successfully repress it? Or perhaps, rather, it means that by creating this notion of deviance, the society is actually creating rigid, categories that create a psychological profile for this hypothetical ‘homosexual’ as the result of simple variation in his biological sexual preference. In reality, the truth of his biology is probably much more complex and amorphous, or maybe it isn’t.

I guess, really, what I am left thinking is how absurd the idea of determining “deviance” truly is. It does not take the ordinary web-searcher very long to find contradictions to today’s notion of deviance in the world’s history. Was Lincoln gay? Pederasty in ancient Greece? Anal-sex between heterosexual couples in ancient Chile? When it comes to social mores, to make the “popular” opinion the gold-standard only makes sense because that’s the unfortunate fact of how power works.

I guess deviance is kind of a paradox. Nothing is really “deviant,” but, like sexuality, the naming makes it so.

Remembering what it means to be an undergrad. Yes, I’m an amateur Sociologist, sue me.

Posted in Blogging, Sociology by Preston on January 24th, 2013

Transnational Activism and Invisible Children Inc.

This semester, as part of a class titled Transnational Activism, I wrote a 20-page paper that detailed the shifts in strategy, tactics, and goals of Invisible Children Inc. in order to determine my prognosis for future outcomes for the organization. I have to admit I started out being really skeptical and pessimistic about the organization, and I ended rather optimistically, which is not at all like me. Overall I don’t think Invisible Children Inc. will have a negative impact on society, but there’s a lot of things the organization could be doing better and this paper illustrates all of them. This was a massive project, I’ve never done anything like it before. What’s even more exciting, though, is that I got an A on my paper!

I’ve gone through and made a few edits to it, and I have made it available to download as a protected PDF file if you are interested in reading it.

Download the PDF
If you do download it, let me know what you think in the comments section.
Posted in Blogging, News, Sociology by Preston on January 1st, 2013

Please share.

This is a plea by Naderev M. Sano of the Phillipines at the Doha Climate Summit. This all happened shortly after the Philippines was struck by deadly Typhoon “Pablo,” which left over 1000 dead and hundreds missing. According to scientists, disasters like this are going to become more frequent as ocean temperatures rise and the ice-caps melt, causing more water to enter the atmosphere. And third-world countries have the greatest risk of being effected more by these disasters. Making the decision to reduce emissions, or pursue alternative forms of energy is not simply about saving ourselves, but about helping one another. This is not one person, one nation, or one region’s problem. This is a global problem. Please watch and share.

Here is a link to more information about the Philippines: Philippines among Asian nations worst hit by disasters in 2012

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox by Preston on December 8th, 2012

December 2, 2012

Today a dense fog drifted over my mind and
behind my pupils, my breath
swam through it as I passed blindly over the
moist cracks in the sidewalk. And no
matter how hard I focused, my
lungs still felt heavy and my heart
still raced, and
my legs couldn’t keep
from stumbling on the thoughts
that flickered through my mind at top speed.
Today, I threw my hands at the
gates of never-never land
desperate to escape, even if I cannot see
the other side, even if these gates
are made of nothing but my own
I want to scream, “I AM AN EMOTIONAL
MAN,” but there is
no one but the squirrel,
confusing the utility pole for a tree as I pass by.
Today, snippets of joy and confusion and
longing slip in front of my retinas
like water particles
suspended in air. I can feel
the emptiness burn like a fire within my core,
the void that I confused for hunger.
Today, my
eyes see nothing but the tenderness
that lays softly upon my heart, the
longing for
inner-peace that laces my every breath, and the
yes, maybe, someday, love, that echoes in my
every footstep.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a poem, turns out it was rather apropos.

Posted in Poems by Preston on December 2nd, 2012