10/8/2003 SSE MA Seminar
Emerson "It's usual in advocating a favorite subject … such a design should be utterly disdained except … "
"Write down a page or two about what's "in your heart" what you want to write about, what you want to learn. I doubt if your heart is wrong. It doesn't necessarily know how to say it, but don't do a paper that bores the shit out of you, it'll bore the shit out of everyone else, don't do it unless it screams its importance."
Anecdote about first day teaching and Horace: "Latitude and attitude". He's a great storyteller.
"I got convinced that day that the kids who are in the most trouble in society knew about stuff I didn't know, and they were probably right. I didn't know how to say it, they knew how to say it. So that's my heart, and for 35 years, that's what I've been doing – various versions of listening to Horace, defending Horace, getting pissed off at the people who don't understand Horace…
"I think things get worse every year, but it's not depressing, because the worse things get, the more you've got people like me working hard to figure out what's so wonderful about the people who are getting hurt. Not as good as if they weren't getting hurt, but…
"We have really bad ideas about education, sociology's not much better…damn, right, where did all this stuff come from, so the last two years I've been working a lot on the history of the idea of genius. The excitement is that the idea of genius didn't used to be what it is now, and every fifty years or so it goes through a transformation…used to be you were a medium for genius, then it became a person, then a person everyone wanted to be, by 1879 a "fixed" kind of person, you're born a genius, social Darwinism 100 years later, so you got Good Will Hunting, take a break from beating people up to learn Nobel-Prize-Winning Math, "searching for Bobby Fisher" no, no, no, we are hell bent on having these people stick out, and it comes out in the worst possible way as we approach our own kids, it put individual differences on the top. Psychology shows that geniuses go through at least ten years before they are really interesting. Basically what's happening is that as we have commodified everything, quantified and put it up for sale, that's what's happened to the human mind, you got your scores, your test marks, and then people buy you, the school, the job whatever. Some really marvelous people along the way have been pissing on the idea of genius, It's really wonderful.
"Even Adam Smith, Mr. Capitalism says that if you need genius to push the system, the system is wrong. If the markets work the way they should be working, everyone's going to be smart enough."
LK: Pierre Bordieu, "Homo Academicus" studies the university, looks at the mythology of the university – what are the myths about who we celebrate, our cultural capital and nothing about an ancient conception of genius, you won't find that in the academy because it's so grounded in cultural capital.
"It doesn't always matter to everyone what you understand. Finding something that has a crux point between various points in the field gives it greater value beyond yourself, as something to build on or make a contribution, that's the second thing, as well as finding one that you can accomplish in a three-quarter effort.
"I'm not going to say that one kind of methodology is better than another, it all comes down to whether or not it can reinforce the claims you're making about the questions that you have. Some are more suited depending on the question you're asking. Even recently I've learned a new method, cachet and data models, which is like inventing data that doesn't exist. Some people disagree but it helps clarify your thinking.
"As far as how I came into what I do, I don't have a good story, I've only been in this for three years, and it's more of a matter of what I didn't want to do – sociology is a generalist's dream, you can be a political scientist, an enthogrpaher. I don't think there was an inner drive from the word go, it was just a matter of finding things that interest me, puzzles to solve…it's like running downhill, I have to do this because I don't know what else to do.
"As far as what I'm doing I have some work on resistance, how people reproduce a social situation or transform it, some work on collective action dynamics in classrooms, modeling and doing visualizations, defining across classrooms mechanisms that generate norms across classrooms. Also working on notes and relational dynamics. Changes relational theory because through text I'm negotiating 3rd party ties or other people's third party ties and it influences their perceptions. Fourth thing is high school elections study, collected ballots from some high schools and bylaws from the web, a study of how representative government is first encountered by students, how they first experience representative government. Also the simulation of actual schools. Last thing is just a large scale (Alison Hoff data set) it's this huge data set that asks about actual interpersonal relations, and I've been looking at the actual social structure of high schools, hierarchical or small groups and how they vary. They're all about social dynamics in school, if you want one little topic.
"Like I said, I'm only in my third year, I don't have a narrative yet of what I'm doing why I'm here, and I don't necessarily think that you need one."
RD: How many of you are thinking of studying schools from the inside?
"So people do this every year, they do this stuff, and it's really hard. The sooner you lock yourself out of your house in the field the better, you won't be there long before something happens that touches you, pisse syou off or whatever, and then you can't really afford to have more than one idea…
"Write like crazy, take lots of notes, the notes you take this month two months from now will look very strange. Sometimes you find stuff you found the first day and it will never go away, it's so important. Early in my field work there was a kid who never got a trun, she was invisible, seemed out of it, and the teacher said, I dobn't know what to do about here, I can't reach her." And the kid was a great athlete, I was looking at the films, she'd be looking at the teacher and as soon as the teacher looked at her she'd look away… The more stuff you get down the better, and by about January you just have to decide to focus. If I were you I'd tape-record a lot of stuff and listen to it a lot, because you'll hear something…the more you listen to it, the more you'll be able to say about it.
"Look at it like going to a gym, nothing happens in the social world that you can't play with, do "excercises". Get ideas, just MESS with it. Write in situ, it's not like you're dead.
I started my fieldwork without a question, just going into classes to observe them, at first it was really excruciatingly boring, and I eventually found a question. You could do fieldwork if it's small enough, one guy did something on pickup basketball games in the area, another did one on Dungeons and Dragons games in the area. for every hour of observation I spent two hours writing it up, constantly organizing and reflecting. You can get lost in that, have too much information and spend 1100 pages trying to talk about it. It's going to be a big focusing process for all of you.
LK: Can you talk about surveys and interviews
DM: When I did my fieldwork I did multiple methods because I was always worried that what I saw wasn't what the kids saw, so I was cross-checking…took way too long, but my background was philosophy of science and I was really into rich description. The biggest trick I learned in conducting interviews: shut up. And conducting surveys, there are books on that and people's use of them. You can always use someone's prior survey that has been tested and validated, and relate it to what has gone before.
"My specialty is policy analysis, my decree is in political economy, merged the two basic building blocks of policy analysis. I look at education policy and try through my research to find policies that will improve the current educational situation. My interests change, I roam all over the place, right now I'm in transition from secondary to postsecondary, one of my first topics was school finance equity. Often when I feel that people aren't looking at something they should look at, that interests me. The Bridge project, we look at broad access institutions.
"My style is in the model (Policy Analysis for CA Education) the motto is "Speak truth to power" One is to find out as much as you can about the research, the other is to communicate it to powerful people. Consortium for Policy Research in Ed, I'm on the board of that, that works with a lot of federal policy or advising state legislators, governors. My writing…when you're a very senior professor you can do whatever you want. The "Betraying the College Dream report was very popular, marketed it over the Internet, would never have made it into a refereed journal, and opinion pieces. Finding research question is what motivates you, what interests you; lately I've been trying to get the worthwhile questions that aren't on the menu on the menu.
LK: What advice would you give to students who are doing a 9-month project, given that they are following their interests, what sort of work should they do. T
MK: The biggest problem they face is not methodology, it's narrowing the field down. They're one person with very limited time….getting a bite-size question is essential, how can I get something I can really deal with in this time. You'll have to make tradeoffs between what you want to explore and what you need to explore. Doing field research is hard to me because you can only probe out there a little bit. The best way to me, and of course this is a lot of what we do in policy analysis, in synthesis. What's out there and what should we do about this?
The theme of policy analysis is "Do No Harm" They may want to come to a point of synthesizing research, using existing data, you want to have a client in mind. If you're speaking truth to power, who's the power and what do they need to know. On policy issues there's a lot of existing data.
Jenn: What did you recommend Governor-elect Schwarzenegger do?
MK: I think the biggest crisis we have is the financial crisis, we have no credit. We were talking about the school finance system. The school finance system in CA has no rationale, is not adequately funded, and is not oriented to student outcomes. So I said the system needs to be redesigned to focus on classroom instructions, and how students can meet the standard that are being set. What you need to do with school finance is reason back from the standards. What we have now is a lot of input-driven finance and no sense of how any of this relates to the people outcomes. If you got that route (reason back) you spend a lot more itme on teacher quality.
Jim: How do we make a career out of our specific research interest, once you find it?
DM: The job market in academia period is hard. You want to think a little more short-term perhaps. The people who do PhDs spend a lot more time. You may want to switch for your PhD topics to get a little more breadth. It helps to have a good idea and quality work. If you really like your ideas and have a passion for it, and have no problem eating rice and beans, you'll be fine eventually.
MK: Let me answer on the non-academic side. There's lots of money spent on policy analysis…they contract with non-academic research institutes, there are about 15 around here alone. The basic thing they want is not a particular interest in a topic, they're out there fishing for contracts and the contracts change topics. What you want is a solid base of methodologies that you can apply to different topics as you go along, so you can apply it to what's out there and people wan tot know. The attraction of master's students is they're young and you can put them on airplanes all over the country. There's quite an active market out there.
LK: Need qual and quant?
MK: Most of the research involves both. You would take more methods courses and less subject exploration courses for that kind of thing.
Adam 2: Any insight into how to get things published, for those of us who want to get read and heard?
RM: I had four publishable MA theses last year. You have to pick the right journal, it can't be too long. Getting it published vs. getting it read, I wish I had a solution to that problem. I actually don't spend a lot of time worrying about dissemination, I just do what I want to do, except sometimes, and then I look for different kinds of journals or projects.
LK: Another thing to do is submit the paper to a conference. A lot of time the best bet for getting your ideas disseminated is reading at a conference and making a community for yourself.
Erin: Since you all use different methodologies, how do you go about human subjects proposal, do we need to have the survey Now to submit it?
DM: If you use someone else's survey, you won't need human subjects, if you use adults you need human subjects approval, children you need EXPLICIT CONSENT (parental approval) and committee approval. You would have to approve at end of this quarter.
RM: They have protocols for getting approved, but you don't have to hand in the whole questionnaire. It's 99% protecting the university 1% protecting subjects.