As a university foundations of education professor, I try to show my pre-service teachers one can promote a progressive and social justice-oriented vision of education even in these times of heavy teach-to-the-test deskilling. My approach to teaching foundations, which I learned in my doctoral program, and which is an approach echoed at countless other universities, is to help preservice teachers understand the connections between education and democracy, and see education as a moral and liberating undertaking. However, I recently discovered just how much my ideals differ from Virginia's Department of Education (VDE).
Two years ago, the state education department's Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure proposed to summarily delete the current professional course work requirement of three semester hours in the "Social Foundations of Education" and replace it with three semester hours in "Instructional Design Based on Assessment Data" and three semester hours in "Classroom Management." No formal rationale was given for this change.
Many of us in the foundations field were at a loss to explain this sudden and arbitrary proposal. In the foundations course, preservice teachers typically learn about such things as the impact of social class, gender, sexual identity, and race/ethnicity on student learning, about the inequities in school funding, about school governance issues, about different and competing philosophies of education, and about the history of American education including the various efforts for equity in school settings. Were we to conclude that the VDE believed such a course and approach superfluous and irrelevant? Or were we to infer that the social foundations course challenges the present climate of school reform efforts that emphasize standards, control, and accountability through high-stakes standardized tests?
One can only speculate on this question, but there seems to be a great deal of evidence that indicates the latter as being more the case.
University of Wisconsin education professor Michael W. Apple, in Educating the Right Way and elsewhere, has documented efforts to turn teaching
into a paint-by-the-numbers occupation. Education activist Susan Ohanian has written about how pacing guides, specific, uniform, and highly detailed standards statements, and high-stakes standardized tests push teachers to focus more on regurgitation of authorized material rather than on the development of active and critical lesson plans. Deleting social foundations courses adds to this juggernaut by potentially ending preservice teachers' notions that they can be professionals and agents of social change.