22 May 2008

What can social foundations educators contribute to teacher ed?

(that no one else can)

One of the things I am interested in on a personal and professional level is what SoFo brings to the teacher ed table that other perspectives do not. This is important for personal and professional reasons. Personally, it helps me to think about what I am doing with my students -- what do we do in my classes that are complementary to other courses? What do we do that they will not get anywhere else? Answering those questions helps me focus and give direction to what I am teaching. The professional reason that question is important is we SoFo people often need to justify our existence in ways that other teacher ed faculty do not. I don't like that situation, but it is often the case. By figuring out what we bring to the table, what value we add, we can better make our case for our academic worth.

There are lots of possible answers to that question. Dan Butin gives three -- liberal arts, cultural competence, and teacher retention. I am not sure the first two will work, at least at my institution (and, I think, at a lot of others) because they are easily covered by other disciplines or folks within the colleges of education. If you are at a liberal arts institution, or at least an institution with a hefty set of core requirements, then the liberal arts answer may not have much sway. That is, it is easy for folks to say teacher education students get that stuff (the critical thinking aspect, anyway) from all the other elements of the university, even other education courses, so there is no real need to have a course where that is the primary focus. Of course we want critical thinkers -- that's the point of a university in the first place -- so if that's SoFo's justification for existence within a college of education, then it's pretty thin. (Note: Butin's argument is much more robust here than I am giving him credit for; he makes an important point about educational issues being the focus of such thinking. And this argument assumes colleges are really interested in developing critical thinkers. While many may not actually be, most I think, say they are. Thus, saying your course alone brings critical thinking to the table isn't going to get you very far).

The other dimension of the liberal arts answer is actually the traditional SoFo approach -- the X of education. SoFo is typically thought of as a conglomeration of disciplines focused on education: the history of education, the philosophy of education, etc. Through these disciplinary lenses, one gains the critical perspective on education the liberal arts answer says SoFo brings to the teacher ed table. As much as I think this is a good answer, the issue brought up here is always relevance. How is the history of education relevant to good classroom teaching? While I think this answer is obvious, it has been and continues to be dismissed or ignored. I just don't see (most) administrators and teacher ed students suddenly coming to the realization that history or philosophy of education is a vital part of teacher education.

The cultural competence answer is also easily dismissed by other folks within Colleges of Education, because that answer is often framed as the "diversity" answer. SoFo cannot lay claim to preparing teachers to teach in diverse classrooms, because t every other course deals with that in some way. Our ed psych sequence, for example, discusses poverty, race, gender, and cultural background as influences on student efficacy. We have a course that deals with students with learning differences in mainstream classrooms. And those are just in the core, not in C&I. So claiming that SoFo brings diversity to the teacher ed table won't get us very far, either. (Of course, there are criticisms of these diversity approaches from a SoFo perspective. Namely, that they neglect the social dimensions of these issues and individualize difference. That is, they neglect system and structure. In other words, while those other faculty are talking about poverty and the issues students of poverty present for the classroom teacher, none of them are talking about Marx. Talking about Marx, however, is not a good way to get people to listen to you in a college of ed. I don't think my colleagues fall into this neglect of system and structure, however).

In the next post, I'll look at Butin's third answer and put forward my own idea about SoFo's role within teacher education.

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