Saturday, March 3, 2007

I am a history-education half-breed

Over on my own blog, I've been outed as a Michael B. Katz student (when writing about the new Ravitch-Meier blog) and discussed in a sideways fashion the old debate over Diane Ravitch and presentism in education historiography. (My advisor isn't the same person as Michael S. Katz, a philosopher of education at San Jose State. They're two different Michael Katzes who have written about education and been elected presidents of their respective social-foundationsish scholarly societies.)

But there's a personal story that ties in to my graduate education and says a lot about the respective position of colleges and schools of education within universities, on the one hand, and the position of social foundations within colleges and schools of education, on the other.

When I first came to the University of South Florida, I heard from my fellow new historians of education how parochial our colleagues in Arts and Sciences were. I thought that a little strange; is the cattiness erupting so soon? I wondered. A few weeks later, I attended an event with some colleagues from Arts and Sciences. I introduced myself to several other assistant professors, and one of them asked me where I had my degree from. Penn, I said.

"No," she replied. "I meant, what department did you get your degree from?"


"Oh," she said with a nod. "So you're a real historian."

I was speechless at the incredible display of parochialism. "Oh," I thought to myself, "you probably don't know that my advisor got his degree from one of those inferior schools of education, the one up in Cambridge. And you probably don't know that my fellow historians of education you insulted a few weeks ago had advisors who had their degrees in history. So we're all just history half-breeds."

This parochialism is dangerous within institutions. Social-science and humanities faculty tend to marginalize social foundations faculty without realizing that the social foundations faculty are the best inroads for their perspective in colleges of education. And faculty in colleges of education tend to marginalize social foundations faculty without realizing that they're the faculty who have the greatest link to the disciplines. And all of this marginalization made me laugh when I read p. 23 of Arthur Levine's Educating School Teachers, where he says,

From their inception, America’s schools of education have engaged in a continuing quest to gain acceptance in the academy. It’s a story of unending accommodation to win the approval first of the university, then of education schools as they expanded beyond their initial teacher education programs to include a host of new and more highly prized subjects such as school administration, educational psychology, and the liberal arts disciplines (e.g., sociology of education and history of education).

So what fantasy world does Levine live in, where sociologists and historians of education are at the acme of a college of education? As I feel whenever I've heard the (generally rare outside the head of Ahmajinedad) conspiracy-of-Jews theory, I want to ask, "So where did my secret conspiracy decoder ring and my Swiss bank accounts go?" Sometimes, I'd like that kind of authority in my own institution, but it just doesn't exist.

For more on historians working within schools of education see a discussion last November about the history of education as an interdisciplinary field, held on the H-Education e-mail list.

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