Should Sociologists Make a Leap From the Ivory Tower?

By Debra Viadero — August 11, 2009 1 min read

There’s apparently a revolution brewing at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association meeting in San Francisco this week. Some unofficial blog posts from members of the 14,000-member group are highlighting a schism among education sociologists over how much academics ought to be doing “in the real world"—especially if they haven’t earned tenure yet.

Should they be doing more studies intended to solve the practical problems of everyday educators? And, if so, should that kind of applied research count towards tenure? What about op-eds or—perish the thought—blogging?

Over at “Thoughts on Education Policy,” blogger Corey Bunje Bower, a graduate student, made this impassioned pitch upon hearing a senior scholar say, “you’re not going to get tenure by blogging:"

What purpose, exactly, do faculty serve? I always thought they were there to do two main things: 1.) learn about the world, and 2.) teach others about the world. Why the heck would we interpret "others" to mean only the couple dozen people who read your article in a highly specialized academic journal? When a professor helps educate a wider audience they often provide a greater service to society at large than they do when they publish an academic article. And that should be taken into account. Professors should be encouraged to write op-eds, talk to reporters, write policy memos, and even blog. If all knowledge is concentrated in the hands of but a few professors, what's the point?

Sara Goldrick-Rab, an assistant professor, offers a more neutral response to the debate at “The Education Optimists,” a blog she shares with her husband, Liam Goldrick.

She notes that the tenure question will indeed dictate the path that sociologists choose. Most sociologists now make “their academic work the center of their agenda, and do the more applied stuff on the side—like a hobby:"

But is it time for this to change? Can, and should, more applied sociological research on education be rewarded in the tenure and promotion processes? I can report there’s very little consensus among my colleagues in this regard, and that differences of opinion are not entirely explained by professional or generational status. However, what’s most remarkable is how impassioned grad students, assistant profs, and tenured professors all are about this issue.

I can’t wait to see how all this turns out.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read