The Role of the Social Foundations of Education in Programs of Teacher Preparation in Canada

By Kerr, Donald; Mandzuk, David et al. | Canadian Journal of Education, December 2011 | Go to article overview

The Role of the Social Foundations of Education in Programs of Teacher Preparation in Canada


Kerr, Donald, Mandzuk, David, Raptis, Helen, Canadian Journal of Education


In this paper we argue explicitly that the social foundations of education must form a strong component of high quality teacher education programs in Canada. (1) Despite the declining role of the foundations in teacher education programs, (2) we believe that there are good reasons for ensuring that students gain some exposure to the social foundations of education generally, and we believe that there are very good reasons why students need to gain some familiarity with knowledge and understanding gained from each of the disciplines of history, philosophy, and sociology. (3)

Recognizing the importance of the foundational studies, the American Council of Learned Societies in Education stated that teachers must "exercise sensitive judgments amidst competing cultural and educational values and beliefs" and therefore require such judgments to be shaped by "studies in ethical, philosophical, historical, and cultural foundations of education" (1996, p. 5). In 1996, the Council published the Standards for Academic and Professional Instruction in Foundations of Education, Educational Studies, and Educational Policy Studies. Endorsed by the American Educational Research Association, the Standards stipulate that roughly 16% of teachers' professional studies should be within the realm of the "humanistic and social foundational studies" (Lucas & Cockriel, 1981, p. 342-43). Despite these standards, Faculties of Education across North America are increasingly characterized by unquestioned ideologies, often leaving prospective teachers with the erroneous impression that there is one "right way" to teach (Hare, 2007). In contrast, Liston, Whitcomb, and Borko have argued (2009) that teacher education should offer multiple--not singular--perspectives on teaching and learning (p. 107). Many others have written about the importance of the social foundations of education and their place in initial teacher education programs (Butin, 2008; Chartrock, 2000; Crocker, & Dibbon, 2008; Sadovnik, Cookson Jr., & Semel, 2001).

Our own backgrounds are as scholars in the social foundations of education: one of us is a historian of education, one a philosopher, and one a sociologist. Collectively, we have over 40 years of teaching in several teacher education programs across Canada. While we each care deeply about our own disciplines, we each also feel strongly about the fundamental importance of strong teacher education programs, and are concerned that the role the social foundations play continues to diminish over time. We are convinced that if our standards for our school-aged students are going to be high, then our standards for our teachers must also be high--in terms of a deep introduction to their practice; in terms of the complex knowledge, skills, and dispositions they must understand and master; and in terms of their understanding of how contested much of educational practice is.

We proceed in the following manner: As an example of the declining role played by the social foundations in our teacher education programs, we review the role that the history of education as a discipline has played in both teacher education programs, and in Faculties of Education, in Canada. We then canvas some of the strongest reasons for being concerned about the declining role of the foundations in teacher preparation; some of these reasons apply to the social foundations generally, and some to individual disciplinary areas. We conclude with some general comments about the role that the social foundations play in an initial teacher education program.

The Changing Role of the Social Foundations in Teacher Education: The Case History

The history of 'history of education' as a field of study provides a good example of the general decline in the role played by all of the social foundations disciplines: history, philosophy, and sociology. History of education courses, for example, have long been staple components of teacher preparation programs across North America. …

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