Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Marginalization of Foundations

For my first posting on this blog (and thank you for the invitation to join), I want to take up the issue of the marginalization of the foundations of education field from educational policy issues. I have written about this elsewhere, and Michael Katz touched on many of the same issues in a posting recently on this site. My main point for now is pragmatic: the lack of voice is due in part to the fragmentation of our field. And, so long as the foundations field remains fragmented, it cannot and will not have a seat at the policy table. One clear example of this is that the foundations field (through the auspices of the Council for the Social Foundations of Education [CSFE]) is no longer a part of NCATE (see Erskine Dottin et al.’s article about the history of this). When the recent flare-up over NCATE’s use of “social justice” within their dispositions designation occurred, it would have been important for foundations scholars to put forward their own policy perspective. None did. The point here is not to debate NCATE’s decision or CSFE’s decision to stay or leave NCATE. It is to simply state the obvious: there is no central organizing umbrella organization able to make the foundations voice heard in educational policy debates.

I should be clear about why I see the foundations field as relevant, particularly to educational policy issues. Simply put, context matters. It matters because education – from preschool to graduate school – is a complex and oftentimes contested terrain. Clarifying and contextualizing education fosters a clearer comprehension of and thus a stronger commitment to the connections between educational theory and practice. This, in turn, strengthens how we teach and learn and how we think about (and thus legislate) the teaching and learning process in K-12 and postsecondary education.

In later postings I want to explore the structural, cultural, and political issues surrounding this fragmentation. But for now I just want to draw attention to it. While AESA is the seemingly primary and intuitive organization for such an umbrella group (and historically it was founded exactly for this purpose), today scholars will much more intuitively align themselves with the sociology of education section of ASA or with the Critical Educators for Social Justice AERA SIG than with AESA. The implications are huge. On a pragmatic level, our fragmentation threatens the very survival of the foundations field. The inability to have a voice at the policy table has allowed departments of education, schools of education, colleges, and legislatures to literally take foundations out of the sequence of educator preparation. I know of far too many colleagues who have spoken about this occurring in their departments and in the states where they work. Moreover, and worsening this fate, the lack of a unified voice does not allow for foundations scholars to put forward an argument for why foundations matters for future teachers, principals and superintendents. It is easy to malign a course or an idea with very little “value-added’ to students’ standardized test scores. If foundations is not taken as a course by future educators and if its’ ideas are not codified in policy documents, it on many levels does not exist.

10 comments:

A. G. Rud said...

Dan,

It might be instructive to do a "content analysis" of the upcoming AESA program in Spokane. Are central educational issues being addressed? Who is addressing them? In the past, I have been concerned about the sheer volume of papers at this conference, and how at least some of them address issues that are not central to what you discuss. I have not been to AESA in several years, due to family restrictions at that time of year, and financial concerns, but I would like to consider attending again, but only if I sense my attendance is to something crucial to my intellectual and activist development.

Annie Winfield said...

Foundations has always been regarded as something of an afterthought, an intro class which can be appropriately taught by any faculty member from a real discipline. I am right there with you on this one, Dan, and I think the issue reflects a broader societal diconsciousness (is that a word?) regarding history in general and the relationship between past and present in particular. The problem, as you have outlined it, brings to mind many recent conversations I have had regarding the left end of the political spectrum, the difficulty in finding a point of consensus, the cooptation by the right of traditionally left methods of organizing, etc. How to orchestrate a measurable response to the squeeze is well worth talking about. (I say this as I and my colleagues here jump, and dance, and spin for our upcoming accreditation visit - where is the response to that, I wonder)...p.s. Hi Dan - congrats on the new job!

Kathryn M. Benson said...

Well, I think AESA is a loose formulation of a lot of things (academic areas, if you will). But, yes, it is interesting to look at a program and do an informal survey of topic areas to see what sorts of research areas people are looking at....almost a semiotic analysis of sorts of language and focii. I look at the program first for that reason. What are people talking about? I am not sure, A.G. what "central issues" you have in mind? And those quotation marks are not typed in with my eyebrows arched; I really wonder. I know from our topics what some of you are thinking about, but what else would you consider "central" at AESA...The importance of foundations may not be that evident, as most of us in the field take that for granted, despite insitutional stances, etc. I am not sure at all. I am working on a topic that concerns gender, place, and teacher education/practice. Basically, I think people go where they can be heard. And, you are right, there are too many conferences to go to all, and one must choose. I regret often the conferences I do not attend.

Dan W. Butin said...

A.G. and Kathryn, I agree that a topical analysis would go far in showing what is at present seemingly relevant in AESA. And to go even further, a comparison with a topical analysis in HES (History of Education Society) or PES (Philosophy of Education) would be very interesting to see how it compares and contrasts. I think this would go far in making clear the fragmentation I was referring to. In regards to Annie’s point, a study done in the 1980s (the last one I am aware of) showed that half of all foundations courses were taught by instructors trained outside of the foundations field. So yes, the “erosion” of foundations is not a new thing.

Dan

Kathryn M. Benson said...

Yes, the comparison with HES and PES would go further, or would you consider AESA a blend of the two? I know I have really been so shocked to be asked to teach History and Philosophy of Education in a single course....it seemed so far-fetched at the time. A Herculean tast...I attempt to put in a single course what I studied in, let's see, how many hours? I couldn't guess. And, of course, it is an impossible thing to do....in a single semester...even at the master's level. I went to the bookstore to see what had been used as a text(s); no primary sources of course, though those are easy to add. Luckily I teach sec/elem curr and I teach many of the same students in both courses, so I get a chance (though not too obviously) of actually putting the courses together, at least in my mind with what I want to accomplish. We are very, very small and even to have these six hours of "foundations" is probably unusual. Yes, let's look at the programs of all three if possible. Fragmentation? When was there more of a cohesiveness? Is there a pure discipline? Is education a discipline? Remember the controversy of the structure of the disciplines?

Dan W. Butin said...

6 hours of foundations?!? We should all be so lucky. My research from a while back found that at least 30% of foundations-type courses were the "introduction to education" type, and that only 25% of all teacher education programs required a multicultural eductaion course. I know those are two distinct issues, but the point is the same: foundational courses are marginalized within most teacher education programs; see the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee foundations program for a distinctly different and successful approach (Harris, I. (2005). Growing Foundations Through Community Education. Educational Studies, 38(3), 254-263.). In terms of disciplines, the key question here is whether foundations has a unique set of skills to offer to the educational community. If not, then why shouldn't curriculum & instruction have our job?

Dan

A. G. Rud said...

A suggestion to our group: Compose your posts elsewhere and paste them into Blogger. I just lost a long comment! Perhaps too we can go to Haloscan comments, which I did a while ago on my Blogger blog, and which Sherman also has on his blog. I find Blogger’s comment function cumbersome…not to mention losing stuff (I also have lost regular blog posts when after composing it doesn’t go through and I haven’t saved copies…grrrrrr).

OK, will try to recreate. There has been much said on this rich vein. I have a few comments.

First, I don’t think AESA is a combination in some way of HES and PES. Rather, it is a broader grouping of disciplines, including anthro, econ, soc, etc, schmushed together into something called “educational studies.” It is a great idea, but seems, and this is IMHO, to have a small following where folks present papers and write articles for each other. As such it is not so different than other societies. Valiant efforts have been made in the past to make AESA more activist and relevant to schools, notably the fine work of people like Steve Tozer and Erskine Dottin. Of course too, there are considerations of whether and how the academic study of education should be relevant and activist or even directly concerned about today’s schools (see Harvey Siegel on such).

A former colleague active in AESA reminded me that when AESA tried to get PES to overlap its meeting with AESA, PES balked. Aside: Wish more of this went on to make travel more efficient and affordable. (All professors in my dept regardless of rank get around $600 a year in S&E, for subscriptions, phone, photocopying, memberships, hardware and software, and oh yes, if any left over, travel. One can apply for grant dollars for travel of course, but…)

And Dan’s query about a special set of skills: I do believe that foundations offers a unique set of insights and skills, gained in conceptual analysis, that is not acquired or emphasized in C&I *qua* C&I. Of course there are teacher educators who read widely and contribute conceptual thought to the conversation, but they tend to be exceptions.

I really like Dan’s idea of asking the candidates for AESA office for statements we can post on the blog. A minor caveat: we are approaching what has been discussed as the high end for blog members, so if this exercise results in multiple requests to be part of the blog, we should discuss.

Craig A. Cunningham said...

I don't think the key question is whether Foundations people offer a unique set of skills when compared to Curriculum and Instruction people. I think most people will concede that separate set of skills. (For example, I acquired in my graduate studies some training in what might be called analytic philosophy, or conceptual analysis, and more training in historical analysis. Few C&I people, or teacher-educators more broadly, have that kind of training.)

The question, rather, is whether these unique types of skills are valuable for teacher education. Those who are enamored of "on-the-job" training or "interdisciplinary" teacher education are likely to downplay the value of specialized skills in the professoriate of teacher education. Thus, foundations faculty may remain "relevant" in doctoral programs, but are deemed an extravagance in preservice teacher education.

What we need is not an explicit argument for why Foundations skills are unique; rather, we need an argument as to why they are relevant to the training of teachers....relevant enough to support entire "extra" departments in masters-level universities such as mine.

Kathryn M. Benson said...

I too gained some "skills" or knowledge of or ability to think and write in the analytic philosophical tradition, muddle around in a little conceptual analysis, tread through historiography of....history of education....These kinds of thinking, reading, and writing are fascinating...absorbing...productive...but where all of these things really took material form were in my classroom where my teaching English and Spanish transformed from teaching "to the text/test" became teaching in a contextualized manner and content became grounded in all sorts of ways. Foundations enriched and directed how and what I taught...I developed my own philosophy of education; I understood how education was formed and shaped in this country in political, social, and economic domains. I had grounds for teaching other than those the federal government legislated, the state mandated, on and on down the line to me standing by myself in my classroom with my students caught in moments of learning...Are foundations relevant to the training of teachers? I cannot answer "yes" loudly enough. To write a lesson plan, yes, even a Pathwise lesson plan, is a practical application of mechanical and machinations of technicist rationale. To write a lesson plan that will be taught in ways that students become more critical and aware of (name a subject area -- what administrators call "curriculum" -- and themselves in a society that calls itself a democracy --ahh, that is joy.

Craig A. Cunningham said...

Ah, but Kathryn, and here is a worry, you are no longer in the K-12 classroom, but a teacher educator. Perhaps you were too well educated for the assembly line of schooling?