Potential Senior Thesis Idea: Education and Social Mobility

Well, being in my second semester of junior year, I'm thinking a lot about the future. One possible thing I might do is write a senior thesis next year. It's not required; I just have to figure out if I want to do it. Who knows what sorts of things I might end up deciding to do next year, but that's a question for another time.

If I were to write a senior thesis, I should at least come up with a couple ideas for what it could be. Considering that I've made it my quest to look at poverty through history while I'm at Georgetown, and considering that for my career I know I want to go into education, I've thought up the following proposal:

Educational Systems and Social Mobility: 
Students Around the World in the Early 20th Century

This would be an examination of how education (particularly public universal education) has affected social mobility in the past (particularly the social mobility of the poor and impoverished).

This could be done as sort of a global whirlwind tour, looking a several macro-regions, such as East Asia, West Africa, Western Europe and North America, for example, and then looking at specific examples within each of those world regions. The relevant questions would include how, when and why public education was established, what sort of access and content there was and how this changed over time, and whether or how this significantly influenced the social mobility of children attending school, especially children from poor and impoverished backgrounds.

Here’s an idea of places I might examine and their sequence, depending on the availability and depth of material. (They are selected according to my interest and exposure so far in college to their histories.) After doing the research required for one or two of the places, I would definitely have to reassess how many different studies would be ideal (and realistic) for inclusion in the thesis.

East Asia: Japan, Korea, China
West Africa: Senegal, Liberia, Ghana
Western Europe: France, Germany, Britain
North America: Canada, Mexico, the U.S.

The purpose of doing this global selection of case studies would be to seek out similarities or differences in the establishment and function of education systems and especially the role of education systems in either the replication of social class, the breakdown of social class, or something more ambiguous. Nothing would be explicitly tied to the present: the studies would be strictly tied to the past, likely a relatively compact period in the early part of that country’s development of their education system, probably in the late 19th or early 20th century. (For Senegal and Ghana, for example, this would necessarily mean looking at their colonial education systems.) This sort of time period is preferable because it will make it a lot easier to see potential results of social mobility borne out in subsequent decades. The studies might end up following along the lines of generational history, perhaps looking at one or two decades of students and then how the educational system shaped the rest of their lives.

At the beginning of the thesis I may need to set out some definitions, and I will definitely have to do a lot of explaining as to what I do and do not seek to accomplish or address. I also need to frame the key questions of my study.

After doing the case studies, I may or may not want to devote a lot of space to an overview of similarities and differences and conclusions on the role of education in social mobility across the globe.


In any case, I really don't know much about what a good thesis topic looks like, and as I said, I might not write a thesis at all. If you have any sort of comment, criticism or input on my idea, please submit it right below this post!