Saturday, July 21, 2007

Where is AESA?

In the most recent issue of Rethinking Schools, Kristan Morrison details what occurred in Virginia concerning the possible elimination of social foundations of education. (I wrote about this earlier here.) While Kurt Stemhagen and others were able to keep foundations coursework as a part of the teacher education curriculum, Morrison states that:

According to the American Educational Studies Association, the major foundations organization, the process of eliminating or reorienting foundations courses has begun or has occurred already at teacher education programs in many states, including Connecticut, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, California, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia.

This list, if accurate, is troubling. Are such (proposed) changes occurring at the state level? Institution by institution? Is anything being done to support foundations scholars and programs that are facing such challenges? Where’s AESA? Where’s CSFE?

What makes this issue double- (and triple-) pressing is that foundations scholars no longer have any policy levers by which to influence such institution-by-institution changes (as I detailed earlier). NCATE’s dropping of “social justice” due to immense pressure signals that foundational issues have little if any weight in educator preparation policy. Interestingly, the same issue of Rethinking Schools has an article by Therese Quinn and Erica Meiners “Do Ask, Do Tell” that details their (failed) attempt to have AERA weigh in on NCATE’s decision to drop such terminology, specifically as it relates to LGBTQ issues. Quinn has provided additional context here in her blog. The connection, for me, is that Quinn and Meiners are advocating for a larger arena in which to influence policy. And, now that I think about, so is the John Dewey Society.

Yet the very first thing I teach my students about foundations, and the one thing I hope and hope they remember from my course, is that one cannot understand individual problems at an individual level; one must look at larger contextual and structural issues that determine and constrain and guide individual actions.

And this is a structural issue. Foundations scholars cannot support themselves as individual programs. Foundations scholars cannot petition NCATE as individuals. And the John Dewey Society cannot, on its own, be heard to the extent necessary to actually accomplish what it wants. There needs to be a larger organization that can serve as a collective voice for the multicultural foundations on each and every single one of these issues.

Where is AESA?


Aaron Schutz said...

Perhaps what we need is a brand new organization with a compelling title? Instead of trying to get organizations that aren't designed to act collectively to act collectively, perhaps we should create an organization that is designed only to do this. The way to recruit people for an org like this would be to find the most compelling famous people and then get them to actually call the people they know to join and etc.

It would need to have some pragmatic tool for creating policy statements and promoting policy actions that does not entail discussions that go on for a thousand years.

Perhaps the main page would be simply the list of members, and statements issued could say x organization with y number of members voted to support z statement (which doesn't mean everyone agreed, but that everyone agreed that it was important to be a part of the organization and that they were willing to stay in even if they didn't totally agree with the statement). You could, of course, vote with your feet after a discussion and vote. But I think there is enough of a sense of a need for a group like this that many people would be willing to stay in even if their key text didn't make it. And there would be an incentive to find statements that would not force too many people to vote with their feet.

And there would have to be an understanding of what an "action" might look like. I could imagine, for example, a commitment to collect the ## to publish full page newspaper ads in the top newspaper in a state where foundations was under attack. Each member could agree to contribute $$ to actions and not necessarily to the organization as a vague collective. And the goal would be to be provocative enough to get other media coverage, with enough famous names. Or something like that, I don't really know.

But the organization would understand that collective judgment would need to be connected in some way to effective collective action. And perhaps policy statements would always be linked to a series of actions that the membership would also support.

Most of the folks on this blog don't have the "names" to generate this organization, but we might have the connections to generate the names that could be the "face" of the organization.

Or something like that.

Dan W. Butin said...


Both the rationale and implementation are actually very simple.

Conceptual argument: Educator preparation has become overly instrumental, focusing on short-term gains to the long-term detriment of democratic discourse, and, ipso facto, educated and involved citizens.

Implementation: provide resources to educator preparation programs (in traditional and alternative certification pathways) that strengths multicultural foundations--the primary vehicle by which such knowledge and discourse is operationalized in educator preparation. Resources would include a spectrum of focused and pragmatic tools.

Then just give it a name, something like, "Education for All", and start rolling.

Anybody know somebody at the Soros Foundation?

Aaron Schutz said...

We don't need the Soros foundation. We need Berliner and Anyon and Burbules and other heavy hitters who would be willing to recruit and be the internal public face of the organization (not necessarily the people who do the work uness they want to) something like a board of something different from the actual board of governance. When you want to act, you connect the statements to a request for donations and a specific dollar amount that needs to be hit to act. Then if you get outside $$ that's great. But you can start without it.

Anyway that's my two cents in the midst of morning madness. Diaper time.

Aaron Schutz said...


That's kind of what I was trying to get at with my questions about the forum for democracy or whatever the heck it's called. Get a bunch of famous people to be together and act famous and you find that they're already busy being famous and the only person who posts to their blog and does anything is the one member who isn't that famous, and so it ends up being another big nothing. Or that's what it looked like to me. Use the famous people for what they are best at with not much cost to them--their fame and their connections. And then let them be a part of actual governance if they want to. But only if they're willing to do the work on a daily basis.

Barbara Stengel said...

I'm just getting around to commenting on the NCATE Dispositions issue and the "Where's AESA?" post. (Sorry I'm late to the conversation . . . too much editing and too much beach -- a great but lethal combination.) It might be good that I waited becuase I was a little distressed by what I perceived to be the "back story" on those posts: that it's a foregone conclusion that "social justice" and "social foundations" are "goods" and "we" just need to get the idiots to come around to what we know as true.

But a lot of the posts on this blog give evidence that "we" are not an undifferentiated lot. And "social justice" _is_ used by some as a slogan for a kind of political correctness that is just as rigid as any coming from the right. And "social foundations" is a moving target (what passes for good scholarship at AESA is not exactly the same as what passes at PES or HES -- and we all know that social foundations courses are being taught all over the country by folks who, through no fault of their own, have neither background nor interest in whatever THAT is).

I'm not disagreeing with the notion that macro-political action on behalf of social justice and social foundations is not needed. I guess I'm asking for some acknowledgement that macro-political action won't "fix" anything -- nor do we want it to. The forces for "social foundations" and "social justice" won't "win" until the vast majority of teachers can reflect on their own practice and thinking about practice in conscious and concrete ways -- and with reference to the "funded knowledge" that folks like Dewey and Arendt and Cremin (or Zinn, pick your poison :-) offer us. But that will never happen because of what "we" do. There aren't enough of us and the chances of requiring a social foundations degree for teachers are nil (and it wouldn't work anyway . . . it would just reify some new set of "must know.")

So yes, it's worthwhile for organizations like AESA and others (including NCATE) to make public statements and issue "white papers", and lobby NCATE officials (who by the way are themselves -- at least Art and Donna G. -- advocates of social foundations and social justice). That creates a public relations background that makes the foreground "work." (And it can give us some job stability while we try to make substantive changes.) But the foreground is the place where we each can make a real difference.

By foreground, I mean the place where future teachers learn to be teachers -- in methods courses and field experiences. We can befriend our behaviorist leaning colleagues and extend their rudimentary foundations perspectives as far as we can, and perhaps even involve them in our own research so that they think together with us about critical possibilities (We might even learn something!) We can be involved in the hiring of folks who teach methods, curriculum, assessment, technology, special education and try to sway the choice toward those who bring a sensibility friendly to a critical, reflective perspective -- "willing to challenge orthodoxy" as we say in our job postings . . in (almost) any ideological direction. We can work closely with our liberal arts colleagues figuring out how to offer programs that integrate content and method in ways that enact the "grammar" of the disciplines our students are learning to teach. We can establish relationships with our cooperating teachers and within our professional development schools with K-12 teachers who will be role models for our students, and in the process change their perspective about teaching. There's lots more we can do but you get the idea.

Anonymous said...

This is the smartest "status quo" education blog I've ever seen, and you all still reveal yourselves to be soft and mushy in your thought, and unaware of your own rather extreme political claims.

"Yet the very first thing I teach my students about foundations, and the one thing I hope and hope they remember from my course, is that one cannot understand individual problems at an individual level; one must look at larger contextual and structural issues that determine and constrain and guide individual actions."

Do you begin to have the knowledge of history and religion to understand what a controversial claim this is?

You folks are wallowing in a morass of social pseudo-science. Reformers are not all interested in undermining democracy, etc etc. A lot of them just care a lot about content because the KNOW it and received great liberal arts education from people who had NEVER taken an education course. You all think you're the embattled minority, but you control the dominant educational organs in this country. Chill out and, better yet, get out of the teacher education game. The best teachers I've had never had the "privilege" of taking classes with teacher educator hacks.

Sherman Dorn said...

Dear Anonymous,

Let me make sure I understand what you're saying: Reformers are all graduates of liberal arts colleges, and liberal-arts college teachers are all great, especially if they never had contact with colleges of education?

Hmmn... I wonder how that would sit with critics of liberal arts professors who claim that such professors are all too much into social context, postmodernism, politicization, or some combination thereof.

Fundamentally, you're comparing apples and oranges. You're absolutely correct that there are some wonderful college teachers who never taught in K-12... on the other hand, their disciplinary background provides many of them with the type of context that methods courses don't. And they're college teachers.

In many states, elementary teachers have a lower-division general education curriculum and then about two years of methods courses. For many of them, a social or cultural foundations of education course is one of the few courses rooted in humanities or social science disciplines that they take after intro sociology or anthropology and a U.S. history survey course. (Many of us in social foundations would prefer they have more, but I don't think you can blame us for state mandates and a variety of pressures.)

Students who intend to teacher in secondary education will often have a major in the cognate discipline, but again, because of time constraints, those outside social studies will often have our courses as the only social-science or non-literature humanities perspectives after the satisfaction of lower-division general-education requirements.

Let's get down to brass tacks, since I'm a graduate of a liberal-arts college: I had a number of great teachers, a handful of mediocre teachers, and a very few who didn't belong there. Down the road from where I used to take courses, Timothy Burke teaches at Swarthmore College. From all reports, Burke is a great teacher, but if you read his blog, it's evident that what you imply is the inherent brilliance of teachers such as he comes from a consideration of the interdisciplinary perspectives we try to bring.

Jim Horn said...

Barbara's warning is entirely appropriate, and one that should be heeded in order to avoid the potential replacement (as unlikely as it may be) of one hegemony of the Right with another of the Left. I think we all have our memories of encounters with one or the other of the "elites of non-elitism" who "live for the revolution and by its non-arrival," as Marquard says it.

I think it is worth remembering, however , that change can work down at the same time it is working up (as each teacher becomes a reflective actor). So while it is certainly true that any pronouncements on social justice by a far-removed agency such as NCATE cannot make change happen on the ground, it can frame an agenda, give encouragement, or even offer permission if you like, to those who are unlikely to think or act (reflectively or otherwise) in that direction without the explicit signage to remind them that social justice is a laudable goal in a democratic society.

The maintenance of the language at the institutional level makes the aspiration for attainment by the larger society an officially recognized core principle, rather than as a marginalized underground movement kept alive by a handful of academics paid to do so.

While it is surely oxymoronic to think of force-feeding democracy at any level, there is nothing contradictory in insisting on justice in a society that hopes to preserve the democratic values that are built on that same aspiration.

I wish that those who experience nervousness about the threat of a leftist hegemony could get at least a little queasy about the heated declarations by those who feel that justice is a threat or an imposition to liberty.

And the accusation of politically correctness by those who favor justice over privilege? Absolutely. But then so is the Constitution.