I write this letter not just as the only philosopher of education left on the University of Tennessee's (UT) Knoxville campus, the research one level university for the state of Tennessee; I am now the only tenure track faculty member in any of the social foundations of education left on our campus. As you go through the difficult decisions of what lines to support for faculty searches and which ones to redirect, I hope you will appreciate the need for me to try to make a case in support of educational foundations (history, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy of education). I cannot make a case in terms of productivity or demand that cannot be out-matched by other fields of study in our college or across our campus, but I can make a case on moral and political grounds. A nation that does not have citizens who are knowledgeable about their past, understand their cultural roots, are able to analyze their social institutions, and able to make an argument for what should be on the grounds of justice, care, beauty, truth, and goodness is a nation that cannot hope to be a democracy someday. My work includes making the case that democracy is an ideal we are striving toward, it is not something we have achieved; it is something we must continually struggle for, someday. (1)
Our k-12 teachers teach the next generation of America's society, the future citizens of our country. Their job includes passing on to our next generation the cultural wealth of the current and past generations. When schoolteachers lack the knowledge and wisdom they might gain from courses in educational foundations, how can we expect them to be able to withstand the daily pressures they experience as teachers and help their students become the needed future citizens in our democracy-someday? Social foundations courses give teachers the base of knowledge needed to have a larger perspective of how the present compares to the past and how things continue to change. These courses help teachers know how to work well with diverse students from multiple cultural backgrounds. How can we expect education faculty who teach in teacher education programs and research educational problems and issues to succeed in deepening their/our understanding of the context within which our schools are embedded without having a knowledge base necessary for them to begin to understand? There is no significant educational research that does not require a theoretical base of understanding of one's self and the methodology that justifies the methods one proposes to use (what's my epistemology and ontology?) to help one understand an educational problem (what do we already know?), as well as the tools needed to analyze the data collected (whether it be survey data, interviews and field notes, archival data, or the ideals explored and debated in an argument where the data are ideas), critique the study/argument, and develop the implications for future research. I am worried for UT's Graduate School of Education, for the future teachers we are certifying and the future faculty in higher education we are awarding degrees. I am also worried about the students of our future k-12 teachers, the children who are our hope as future citizens to continue the process of the U.S. becoming a democracy someday.
I believe the strongest argument in support of social foundations of education's importance for our college is the liberal arts argument that can be traced back to Aristotle and is more recently offered by Martha Nussbaum with a cosmopolitan focus, similar to the multicultural argument that Dan Butin recently discusses. (2) Butin also suggests that social foundations courses help to lower attrition rates for employed teachers, which is my experience as well, but I will not dwell on this point since UT's social foundations courses are no longer a required part of our teacher education programs. (3) I begin with a description of the current situation to illustrate that I do understand the pressures you are up against. I will then turn to an analysis of democracy, as my argument depends on us embracing the goal of achieving a democracy-someday.
Setting the Stage
We live in difficult times for social foundations at universities all across America, not just in Tennessee. In fact, there is a general crisis concerning the humanities in the Euro-Western world. (4) Historians and philosophers of education do not bring in a lot of external money to our departments, colleges, and universities that are very much in need of funds. We may have a chance of bringing in small grants to buy out some of our teaching load for a research project, or find a way to work collaboratively with others on a social justice project, for example, but in general private foundations and federal programs such as the National Science Foundation do not fund philosophers often and we do not add much to the appeal of funding a research project. Scientific-based research is what is getting funding. We may add clarity of thought and scholarly depth to the written narrative, and we may be able to contribute a thick curriculum vita of publications that helps lend credence to the claim that the work will be completed to everyone's satisfaction. What historians and philosophers of education bring to our colleges of education in terms of external funding is not significant compared to what our colleagues who work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can bring in, for example. Our colleagues in our college who work in nutrition eclipse social foundations monetary contributions by far, in terms of research support.
Sociologists and anthropologists of education do have chances of contributing significantly to funding demands for colleges of education today as qualitative...