Spring 2020

Cities, Schools and Space

Listed in: , as COLQ-332

Formerly listed as: COLQ-32


Andy Anderson (Section 01)
Hilary J. Moss (Section 01)


In the United States, a child’s address, more than any other factor, determines what kind of public education he or she will receive. A complex set of historical forces including local and federal housing policies, mortgage lending practices, highway construction, and school districting has channeled particular economic, racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups into particular neighborhoods, where many remain today. And because public schools are funded by local property taxes and influenced by neighborhood boundaries, they often become harnessed to a narrative of inequality. Yet recent Supreme Court rulings have severely circumscribed the strategies communities might employ to disrupt the linkage between residence and educational opportunity. This research seminar blends urban history with educational policy to explore how spatial relationships have shaped educational opportunity since World War II. It will investigate a range of historical, legal, and contemporary issues relevant to both the segregation and desegregation of American cities and their public schools in the twentieth century. Class meetings will alternate between seminar-style discussion and an intensive, hands-on study of one particular community—Cambridge, Massachusetts—noteworthy for the innovative strategies it has utilized to desegregate its public schools. This course involves a significant research component designed to expose students to a range of approaches, including archival analysis and oral interviews. In particular, students will learn to utilize geographic information systems (GIS) to visualize the spatial evolution of inequality in urban communities like Cambridge and to analyze past, present, and future strategies to equalize educational opportunity in American cities.

This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Limited to 6 students. Open to sophomores and juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project. Spring semester. Professor Moss and Dr. Anderson.

If Overenrolled: will seek a balance between students with backgrounds in qualitative and quantitative disciplines and give priority to students who are likely to pursue senior honors or independent research.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Research, Community Based Learning, Quantitative Reasoning


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2020