Academic journal article Educational Foundations

(Re)imagining Our Foundations: One Social Foundations of Education Program's Attempt to Reclaim, Reestablish, and Redefine Itself

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

(Re)imagining Our Foundations: One Social Foundations of Education Program's Attempt to Reclaim, Reestablish, and Redefine Itself

Article excerpt


As many have noted, we are seeing the continuing marginalization of Social Foundations of Education (SFE) courses and programs to the point at which some are disappearing completely (Butin, 2007; Carter, 2008; Hess, Rotherham, & Walsh, 2004; Lewis, 2013; Morrison, 2007; Sirotnik, 1990; Swain, 2013; Tutwiler, deMarrais, Gabbard, Hyde, Konkol, Li, Medina, Rayle, & Swain, 2013). In addition to the closing of Emory University's Educational Studies department mentioned in the Journal of Educational Foundations' call for submissions, one of the authors of this article is a recent graduate and one of the last graduates from a state flagship institution's Ph.D. program in SFE that is now defunct. While the undergraduate component of the department lives on, the opportunity for in-depth graduate study in this SFE program has been all but lost.

The renewed emphasis on SFE standards published in Educational Studies (Tutwiler et al., 2013) was especially timely for us, the SFE faculty at the University of North Georgia (UNG), in light of our university system's recent suggestions that SFE courses be revised to reflect the new tiered certification process for educators, with specific emphasis on accountability. Moreover, the university system's SFE task force suggested that we "make coursework more functionable" and move "some content" to graduate-level courses and professional development workshops (B. Michael, personal communication, February 6, 2014). This movement is in direct opposition to the importance of SFE, as outlined by Dotts (2013):

   As an academic discipline grounded in the liberal arts, social
   foundations programs serve a unique purpose in teacher preparation
   by giving future educators opportunities to interpret, reflect
   upon, and normatively critique the social, political, economic,
   religious, and historical dimensions of public schooling, (p. 163)

These types of "revisions" send the message to future educators that SFE content is somehow "less than." While Swain (2013) contended that "SFE scholars are obviously not doing a good job of connecting our content to practice if pre-service teachers feel that history and philosophy courses are inconsequential" (p. 127), we would argue that the national direction of teacher education preparation toward "reducing the art of teaching to a technical skill intended to meet the demands of modern schooling, including the well-known cliche of 'teaching-to-the-test'" (Dotts, 2013, p. 165) broadly diminishes the perceived importance of the SFE both within the student population and within academia. This focus on functionability and accountability reflects what Swain (2013) pinpointed as the overemphasis on the nuts and bolts of education, including ready-made responses to classroom management and teaching (Butin, 2004; Carter, 2008; Swain, 2013). In a similar vein, Carter (2008) has argued that many pre-service and new teachers "see their coursework as only marginally important to the work of teaching" and thus "relegate social foundations concepts to the heap of learning considered not directly applicable to the classroom" (pp. 223-224). This dismissal of SFE can further separate teachers from the practice of being reflective and analytical of not only themselves and their pedagogies, but of their school, the education system, and the profession of teaching.

At the organizational level, these suggested "revisions" from our university system also send the message to departments, colleagues, administrators, and educational partners that SFE is unimportant. Given current trends in teacher preparation, for example, the very idea of graduate education in the field of education may be a thing of the past as more states discuss merit and tiered pay systems based upon student assessment and performance rather than increased pay for the knowledge and expertise gained through an advanced degree in one's field. …

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