Faculty Profiles

Cynthia Miller-Idriss

Assistant Professor

""[Working class students] are often disenfranchised in the political and economic systems. I'm interested in knowing how transitions to adulthood can be improved for that population of youth in particular."

As an undergraduate, Cynthia Miller-Idriss spent a year in Hamburg, Germany. "I was studying language and sociology," she remembers, "but once I got to Germany I encountered their vocational schools, which are attended by the majority students between the ages of 16 and 20." Students in these schools receive occupational training, usually through an on the job apprenticeship, in addition to academic training.

"This is so different from the mainstream American system," she remembers thinking, and she became fascinated by the differences between education systems, and the implications those differences had for young people across the globe.

In thinking about these implications, Miller-Idriss started to contemplate the education system she grew up with in the United States, and how that system might have shaped her national identity. "I then wondered about how German students think about issues of citizenship and national identity, and how teachers in civic education classrooms there talk about those issues."

To explore this, she received grants and fellowships from the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation, The National Science Foundation, The Social Science Research Council, and the University of Michigan, which allowed her to live in Germany and spend time in German civics classes and interview students and teachers. All of this work was initiated while she was pursuing her PhD in Sociology, which she received from the University of Michigan.

Miller-Idriss later returned to Germany to do another round of interviews with the teachers she originally interviewed. She then analyzed those interviews in preparation for a forthcoming book for Duke University Press, Blood and Culture: Race, Citizenship, and National Belonging in a Re-Imagined Germany. The book will explore whether there are political or generational differences between teachers and students in terms of how they think about issues of citizenship, national identity, and national pride.

"For example, national pride remains a taboo in Germany - it is simply unacceptable to say the phrase, 'I am proud to be a German' - in large part because of the connotations it has to World War II and the radical right. But in my interviews with students, I found that young people expressed significant resistance to this taboo."

"So one of the questions I explore in this book is whether teachers' - and other adults' - insistence that national pride is unacceptable may inadvertently backfire, instead helping to create a situation in which the radical right -- which uses slogans promoting national pride as part of its marketing and recruiting strategy -- becomes more attractive to some young people who argue that their generation should be permitted to be proud of Germany's accomplishments since World War II."

Miller-Idriss says this research focuses primarily on working class students because not as many people study them. "They are also often disenfranchised in the political and economic systems. I'm interested in knowing how transitions to adulthood can be improved for that population of youth in particular."

She also hopes to use this research for her next project, which will be a comparison between German vocational schools and high schools in New York City.

Because students in general are the subject of so much of her research, Miller-Idriss feels strongly that input from her own students is an integral part of her work. "They have a real interest in the issues of citizenship and national identity, and how the latter affects social action and education," she says. Because so many of her students have lived, studied or worked overseas, "their experiences really inform my thinking about comparative education and international education systems."

Miller-Idriss says that all of her students are "fantastic." She also says, "This is an incredibly supportive environment, with a supportive group of faculty. I've been able to teach things that are closely related to my research interests, and that's been great."

She looks forward to the department and Steinhardt building on the excitement and the energy that's being generated by interest in current international issues. "Our masters program in International Education is a great example of that interest. Last year we had double the number of students, and enrollment will increase significantly for next year as well. I think we will continue to build on that momentum, and that is what I'm really looking forward to."