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The Interview Paper

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					                                 The Interview Paper

Objectives:
•     to help you learn to listen to others' stories (as a teacher, it is particularly
      important to be able to hear the perspectives of others, whether students, parents,
      or your colleagues);
•     to write an argument-driven paper with a central argument and evidence that
      supports your point; and
•     to analyze the relationship between schooling and social inequality in America.

Doing the Interview
You should interview someone who is between thirty-six and sixty-three years old (born
1946-1973). This person needs to have been raised (schooled from first grade) in this
country. Although our country is dependent on the labor of immigrants, their situation is
a complex one: some immigrants are highly-trained professionals in their own countries
who work low-status, insecure jobs in this country (taxi driving, small business, etc);
furthermore, some immigrants live in constrained conditions in order to send substantial
sums of money home, thus raising the socio-economic status of their families at home or
as a fund for retirement. Should we consider their socio-economic status on the basis of
their life here in the US or also take into account their status in their home countries?
Because of these complicated questions, you should not interview a first-generation
immigrant without first seeking my permission to do so.

The interview itself should be about forty-five minutes long: at least thirty minutes and
no more than an hour and a half, enough time to settle into the interview, relax, and get
some good information, and before everyone collapses from exhaustion. It should take
place somewhere that is comfortable for the informant, that is his space as much as
possible or a neutral space (as opposed to being your turf), and that allows for a
somewhat private conversation to take place, wherever that may be: a living room, a
kitchen, a coffee shop. You do not need to tape the interview, although you may. You
should take notes during the interview, noting down as much as possible the phrases and
words that he himself uses to describe what was happening (as opposed to your
summarization, which you can do later). You should also leave time after the interview--
at least half an hour--to write down your impressions and thoughts from the interview.
This should be done as soon as possible before you forget what your informant said, in all
its richness and vitality.

Your informant has done you a favor in giving you an interview. How can you
reciprocate? Be respectful and attentive. You might consider what you can give her in
return, doing whatever seems natural and respectful for the relationship: buy her a cup of
coffee or dessert or a drink, give her a copy of the paper, etc. Make it clear to your
informant that her information will not be read by anyone else other than me (who will
not reveal it to anyone else), and say that you will not use her real name in the paper.

Because we are interviewing human beings, unexpected things may happen: children may
get sick, cars may not start, someone may have to work late. This means that you should



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schedule the interview as soon as possible, because your interview may need to be
rescheduled. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO DO THE
INTERVIEW!
INTERVIEW GUIDE
Main Question #1: What was your schooling experience?
Probes:
•        Describe your elementary, middle, and high schools. Potential follow-ups: what
        did they look like in terms of architectural space and landscaping (look to Wilcox
        for examples of how class issues are coded in terms of school appearance)? Were
        your schools resource-rich or resource-poor?
•       What kinds of grades did you receive in school?
•       Tracking issues: AP classes (college-bound) or vocational?
•       Private or public schooling?
•       Any tutoring?
•       Interventions by parents, teachers, or guidance counselors that affected your
        education?
•       Prestige/status of high school for good education and producing college-bound
        kids?

Main question #2: Were you able to go to college?
Probes:
•       What influenced your going to college?
•       How many siblings and friends from high school went to college as well?
•       What kind of college in terms of prestige (community college, state university,
        private institution, Ivy League)?
•       Did you complete college? At what age? (Note that the high-status credential is
        getting a college degree, so some years of college without completing it does not
        "count").
•       What allowed you to complete (or prevented you from completing) college?
•       If I may ask, how did you pay for college? Loans, parents, your own work, or
        scholarships (through military, work, athletics, "need," "merit")?

Main question #3: What was your family background in terms of income and social
class?
Probes:
•       parents' schooling: note credentials and prestige of educational institutions
•       parents' occupations (both mother and father): note relative prestige/status/income
        of both occupations, but father's occupation often taken as more salient to social
        class of family than mother's
•       when your father and mother were your age, what were they doing? How stable
        were they in their careers?
•       describe the neighborhood where you grew up (rowhomes, apartment buildings,
        single homes, mansions: look at Wilcox for descriptions of neighborhoods and
        how lower-middle-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods are marked as
        such)




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•      you will need to get enough information to estimate which income quartile the
       family of origin fits into. What do you estimate your family's household income
       to be when you were growing up? This is a sensitive question, and you might
       present it as a series of ranges, under $10k, $10-20k, etc, but if the person balks or
       does not know the answer, do not force the issue, and use other information to
       determine this.

Note to yourself your informant's gender and ethnicity as they may be significant for your
analysis. Remember to thank your informant!

Schooling and Social Structure: Analysis
Look at the chart accompanying this assignment and the one on page 200 in the chapter
by Steven Brint showing the chances of someone in your informant's income quartile
getting a college degree by the age of 24. Does your informant fit the profile of his
income quartile or not? Whether he does or doesn't, I want you to give three factors that
resulted in your informant attaining the educational credentials that he did. Brint
elucidates the outcomes and broad patterns across thousands of people, as represented in
the chart. Here, I am asking you to flesh out some of the details for how this happened.
You should make use of the evidence and concepts presented in class and in the readings
on social class and mobility (Brint, Wilcox, Lareau, Leonhardt, Douhat, MacLeod,
Orfield and Lee, the report by the Education Trust, Kozol, Gamoran, and O’Neil’s
interview with Jeannie Oakes) to help explain what happened in your informant's life.
Here, you should use the details of your informant's life to prove that the argument you
are making is valid.

Finally, in your conclusion, you should use the three factors gleaned from your interview
to make an argument about which kinds of policies and programs generate less equal or
more equal opportunities to attain high educational credentials, no matter one's social
class. For instance, because the armed forces are mainly made up of working poor and
working-class families, educational scholarships through the military provide the
opportunity for these folks to get college degrees, thus promoting a more meritocratic
society (albeit mainly to men and at the potential cost of their lives). However, the rising
cost of college education, and the reduction of scholarships in favor of loans, makes it
more difficult for those who are not from wealthy families to afford college without
working many hours during the week, thus reducing their chances of completing college,
thus promoting social reproduction. So you should draw conclusions, from the factors
you see present in your informant's life, about what kinds of policies and programs we
should be working on as a society to equalize the chances among people of different
social classes of attaining high-status credentials.

To help you organize your thoughts for the paper, I would recommend that you fill out
the following outline before writing:
•       Where does my informant fit into the income quartiles?
•       Does my informant fit the profile of their income quartile for the estimated
        chances of obtaining a bachelor’s degree by the age of 24, as represented by the
        accompanying chart or the chart in Brint on page 200?



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•      What are the three most important factors that influenced the educational
       credentials she has received?
•      What is the evidence from the interview that supports my idea that these factors
       were key?
•      How do I explain this evidence in light of the theories discussed in class—
       regarding the role of structure and agency in social reproduction? What has been
       the role of economic determinism, cultural capital, and resistance?
•      Based on these factors, what are the policies and programs that are generating
       more---or less---equal chances for members of different social classes to attain
       valued educational credentials? If we are working for a more meritocratic
       society, what programs and policies should we be advocating for and working to
       support?

This outline should form the basis for your paper.

Some Recommendations for Writing
Your paper should not be a summary of the interview or of a biography of your
informant, but use the data collected in the interview to make an argument: about how
the informant attained the educational credentials she did and about what we as a society
should do to promote a more meritocratic society. The details your informant has given
you about her life should be drawn in selectively and persuasively to illustrate and
support your argument.

Throughout your paper, you should remain aware that you are interviewing one person
out of a cohort of thousands (see Brint, 1998, pages 187-196 on the differences between
individual- and group-level studies) and that the experience of your informant's cohort, as
reflected in the charts, which show the experience of thousands of people, may be quite
different from her individual experience. Therefore, because your data is based on only
one person's experience, make your argument tentative, using language like:

   e.g., Based on my interview with X, it seems that... OR one could conclude that... OR
it suggests that....

rather than hold one person's experience as universally true across his cohort.

What To Turn In
On Wednesday, April 10th, you should turn in three items, staped together, in the
following order:

1) your paper;
2) the outline;
3) your notes (handwritten or typed) from the interview itself.

How I Will Evaluate Your Paper
For this paper, you need to demonstrate to me that you understand the theories and ideas
presented in class and in the readings on the relationship between schooling and social



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inequality. You should review your notes or key chapters as you need to. If you have
questions or confusions about any ideas or about the interview you conducted, please see
me, preferably not at the last minute.

Please review the guidelines for papers and the citation guidelines in the syllabus.

Your grade will be dependent on (in this order of importance):
    your understanding of the concepts;
    the depth of your analysis of the details of your informant’s life; and
    your ability to make a clear argument and prove it through the details of your
       informant’s life.

As with the last paper, if you have more than five typographical errors and grammatical
mistakes, including improper citation format, your paper will be taken down a letter
grade (e.g., from an A to an A-). Please note that the syllabus has links to APA citation
format.




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