Saturday, December 9, 2006

CSFE and the Future of Foundations

I’ve been holding off responding to the numerous comments to my previous post about the future of foundations in Virginia. I was hoping that Steve Tozer (AESA President), Kathleen deMarrais (AESA Past President), (see the AESA officers) or Jamie Lewis (President, CSFE) would have posted something. I was CSFE vice-president for the last year (I resigned in October) and thus did not want to muddy the conflict-of-interest waters. But here goes.

The Council for Social Foundations of Education (CSFE) used to be the primary link between a host of social foundations-related organizations (e.g., AESA, John Dewey Society, etc.) and NCATE. That relationship was dissolved in 2004, ostensibly because the membership fee ($15,000) was too much. As Dottin et al. phrase it: “While money was the apparent reason for the recent break up between CSFE and NCATE, there continues to be an undercurrent of other concerns. Many within the social foundations of education community do not look with favor on national accreditation as a structure, or on NCATE as an adequate example of such a system.” They quote a memo by Steve Tozer (then-President of CSFE) that puts it clearly and succinctly: “I am coming to believe that NCATE is not the most cost-effective way to accomplish this [“to sustain and strengthen the role of the foundations in professional preparation and in undergraduate and graduate programs”].”

Ever since the formal dissolution, CSFE has attempted to reconstitute itself with a new vision and mission. They recently conducted a survey of the social foundations field (which gets at Mary Ann’s very good point about needing raw data about the field), but I don’t think there was a good return rate.

So to get to the heart of the issue: I think that CSFE or another organization like it needs to strongly take the lead in creating a coherent national umbrella organization that can speak on behalf of the foundations field. For the field is way too fragmented for any other single individual, organization, or institution to make a real difference. It should, in my perspective, (1) be a central clearinghouse for curricular and pedagogical information for graduate students and faculty (e.g., syllabi, textbook reviews); (2) be a central hub for job-related issues (e.g., central database of jobs, job advice, comments section, history of the foundations field); (3) build off its Standards to create checksheets, rubrics, and pamphlets that support the accreditation process and make visible the role and value of foundations within educator preparation (this may be the place where coming back to NCATE and TEAC makes sense; but maybe not); (4) Offer a visible voice within the educational field to show the relevance of foundations. Every time a national report or issue surfaces (school violence, accreditation, etc.), the same think tanks and policy groups put forward their take on the issue. I cannot state loudly enough that the foundations field has no voice. And if we are not seen or heard, we will of course disappear. I think Aaron is completely right that people just don’t see any use for what we do because we have not been good at explaining ourselves to others. And if we can’t do that, they certainly aren’t just going to take our word at it.

Every other major scholarly society has such an umbrella organization. And the ironic thing is that there are many, many avenues for this to be successful. Think of the numerous scholarly societies within education that would fit under this umbrella (sociology, history, critical theory, multicultural education, anthropology, philosophy, qualitative research, etc., etc., etc.). Think of how easily it would be to align foundations with progressive movements that are attempting to change the way schools are thought about (Gates Foundation, Center for American Progress, etc.). I cannot believe that we could not write a six-figure grant to support the creation of a small, full-time administrative staff to make this happen.

Wendy is completely right that this is going to continue to happen state by state. And all we can do for now is keep a tally.

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