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Mike Rose: Research Contributes to Public Scholarship on Education, Literacy, Social Class, and Vocation

Professor of Education, Mike Rose

Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education” by UCLA research professor Mike Rose was released in paperback by The New Press this month. The book, which was originally published in 2012, examines the impact that returning to school from the workforce, military, or other life experiences has on improving the lives of students, the economy, and education itself, by expanding and diversifying the student body.

Rose, who teaches in the Social Research Methodology Division of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, has taught and observed a variety of student populations for nearly four decades, from kindergarten to Vietnam veterans in a reentry program offered through UCLA Extension. “Back to School” is the result of years of interviews with students attending community colleges, occupational programs, and adult schools for a variety of educational and personal goals. In his writings, Rose tells stories about people at school, work, or in their communities, and enhances statistics and policy analysis with these stories.

“I think that stories have great appeal, especially if you’re trying to write for a general audience as well as an academic one,” says Professor Rose. “But I also think that stories alone get you only so far. What is the purpose of the story? Is it only a single story, maybe a dramatic one but atypical, or does it represent a trend? How does the story illustrate something about either the benefits or limitations of a current public policy? To get to those questions, you need numbers and analysis blended in with the story.

“I started writing this way through trial and error. I wrote some short descriptions of classrooms, neighborhoods, and my Italian immigrant forebears, and I pasted them onto big sheets of paper alongside scholarship from psychology and education and just began fiddling, trying to see if I could get these very different kinds of writing to blend in a sensible way.”

Rose encourages his students to experiment with their writing, and to read widely outside of their particular field of research.

“Read fiction and literary non-fiction,“ he says. “See what other people are doing. Read like a writer – that is, read with an eye for writing techniques you can try to adapt. Take chances with your writing – but keep your advisor in the loop! – and spread your writerly wings a little. You’ll grow as a writer, have more linguistic options at your disposal.”

In his writing, Rose often draws from his own experiences as the offspring of blue-collar parents and his less than exemplary academic performance in school to illustrate the life-changing aspects of education. In his blog, he recently shared an account of the difficulty he encountered while reading “The Aeneid” in high school. In it, Rose candidly reflects on the reading skills he lacked and the emotional strain of reading Virgil’s epic when he was so academically unprepared. He says that in his interviews with students, hearing about their similar moments of discovery and personal and academic challenges enables him to gain a fuller perspective on teaching and learning.

“The more stories you hear from people who in some cases are similar to you but more often are quite different, the deeper your understanding of education becomes,” notes Rose. “Recently, I’ve been going with people back to the communities where they grew up and to the schools they attended. I drive or walk with them as they reminisce about their educational histories, and let me tell –you, those histories are so rich and detailed. The challenges they faced, the breakthroughs they had, the remarkable moments with a certain teacher, the disappointment, heartbreak, fear, insight, hope they express.

“The general contours of what they say may be familiar to me after all my years of teaching, but the specifics often are a surprise, and I learn and keep learning more about the complex ways school can affect people’s lives.”

A prolific contributor to The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet,” The Los Angeles Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dissent, and The American Scholar, and a sought-after interview for broadcast and online media, Professor Rose was recently interviewed on NPR’s “On Being with Krista Tippett,” and shared his perspectives on literacy, schooling, social class, and the value of knowledge gained through occupations.

In view of the focus on public scholarship at the upcoming 2016 meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Rose says that the ability to disseminate his research through print, online, and broadcast media with a lay public enables him and his UCLA colleagues to share their expertise with the public in order to give them a more accurate view of education today.

“Both scholarly and non-scholarly audiences are important to me, and I try as hard as I can to meet scholarly expectations while writing in a way that is accessible to a broader public,” says Rose. “I do believe that writing for a general audience makes your work clearer and tightens your argument. Your logic has to be transparent, and you can’t rely on jargon or accepted disciplinary truths. You have to explain yourself.

“But there’s an even bigger reason to write for and speak to a broader public, and it’s why a number of people within UCLA Ed & IS do it – and do it well,” says Rose. We have an obligation, I believe, to bring our knowledge to bear on policy issues and public debates. Especially in education, there is so much misinformation out there, and flawed policy, and journalists who write catchy columns and books that tell only a part of the story or, worse, are wrong-headed. I really do think it’s our responsibility to hone our speaking and writing skills so that we can enter the public conversation.”

Rose has two other books that were recently updated and released in new editions. “The Mind at Work” (New York: Penguin Books. 2nd Edition, 2014) examines the multiple intelligences involved in highly skilled, blue-collar occupations, and “Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us,” which addresses intelligence, education, and opportunity in an open society through the lens of public education in America.

To listen to Professor Rose’s “On Being” interview, click here.