Foundations of Education

Here are the basic course navigation buttons:

Unit 1
Unit 2
Unit 3
Unit 4
Unit 5
Unit 6
Unit 7
Unit 8

The full course syllabus is below:

Instructor: Dr. Mark Girod


Phone: (503) 838-8518

Office: Ed 110

Class meetings: On-line at and 3 on-campus meetings (1/10, 2/21, and 3/14). We will only use WebCT for discussions. From this page, you will find all other course materials and information!

Readings: Provided

A few words about this experience…

You might ask why a class in social foundations is necessary for you as a teacher. I’ve asked myself the same question — and here’s the answer I’ve come up with. Many people believe that a right to a free and public education is something guaranteed by our Constitution. That’s not true. Public education is truly a great American experiment unfolding along with our nation and evolving into what it is today. Several major issues have been at the center of this experiment such as who will go to school, what will get taught, what will be the purpose of school, who will teach, and what will be the measure of success? At first blush, these questions may seem too amorphous or philosophical to have any real impact or effect on what goes on in schools. Don’t allow yourself to be passive about any of these — these questions are fundamental to the American school experiment and continue to rear their heads in issues today. Learning about the origins of this experiment, the major themes and events that have shaped public education, and continuing debates that so often represent current instantiations of these same issues — gives us insight into our endeavor as educators.

My goal for you is this: to read, think, and write about issues, both historical and current, that affect the lives of teachers and students in schools across the country. By doing this, I hope you will become a better critic of messages about education, a more reflective educator, and a champion of activism in the name of better teaching and learning. These are lofty goals.

On that note, I do not have a series of multiple choice tests or even a discrete body of content that I want you to understand. I do want you to wrestle with these issues, as well as others, and make sense of them for yourself — in your own context, with your own students in mind, with your own political views and beliefs at heart. These things will make being a student in this class somewhat difficult. I’m going to ask you to read tough stuff, to write about tough issues, and to respond to the ideas of others in ways that might at first be uncomfortable. In the end, my ultimate goal is that you will walk away thinking differently about some things related to schooling, society, teaching, and learning. We must make every effort to take this experience seriously — to stay on top of readings and assignments, to read carefully and respond thoughtfully, and to allow ourselves and our ideas to be moved or shaped by new ideas. If we can do these things we will surely have a successful experience. Please be resigned to do so.


A note about assignments: This class is "back-loaded" because it takes a fair amount of reading to effectively build deep understandings necessary to complete the assignments. Do all you can to be aware of the quick succession of assignments that are due toward the end of the quarter. In other words, prior planning is critical!

Minor (weekly) assignments — Reading and response papers:

I’ve organized our course into "units" which should basically equate to weekly assignments. All units will be open for two weeks so weekly units actually overlap from week to week. In unit #1, for example, I’ll ask you to read two chapters linked from the unit 1 page. After you’ve done the reading, I will post a question or two to which you will respond. Responses should be well thought, well-stated/argued, and well articulated totaling about 200 words — that’s about 1 double-spaced page. You’ll need to post your response to the WebCT site in the appropriate discussion section. Now, here comes the tricky part. After you post your response, you need to read and respond to two other peoples’ response papers. The idea here is that you’ll share your own ideas, read the ideas of others, and respond in an effort to elaborate, extend, or promote discussion. Read, write, and post your response in the first week and read and respond to your classmate’s ideas in the second week. Do not fall behind on this!

By enrolling in this class you also assume some share of the responsibility for your classmates’ learning. All this conversing will take place in the threaded discussion section of the website. You will earn points weekly for both writing your response paper and then responding to at least 2 other papers. Your WebCT postings are un-graded, participation assignments. Make no mistake, though, your thoughtfulness in weekly assignments will be evident in your monthly, graded assignments!

Weekly read and respond assignments are due two weeks after they are initially assigned. Units will close after two weeks so don’t fall behind!

Major (monthly) assignments:

In addition to reading and responding to questions, you will also be asked to complete three major assignments. The major assignments are designed to engage you in more deep critiques of past and current ideas about social and cultural forces that shape education. Each major assignment is described more completely in the section that follows.

Optional Assignments - pick one of the following:

School governance report (optional assignment A)

Part of exploring schools is understanding something about the governance structure within schools and school districts. This assignment gives you the opportunity to do that. Your mission is to attend a school board meeting or a site council meeting (probably the more informative choice) at the school or district in which you are placed. Attend as a thoughtful participant and write a short summary of your experience. Ask yourself these questions as you write: What was the purpose of this meeting? What was accomplished and what will be the ramifications of this work on teachers and students? Who are the people in charge of this meeting? Whose voice or interests do they represent? Would you feel comfortable as a teacher being governed by this group? Would you feel comfortable as a student being governed by this group? Why or why not? What kinds of things came to your mind during the meeting that relate to issues of social, historical, and philosophical conversations in education? If you say "nothing" I won’t believe you! In other words, connect to ideas we’ve been talking about in class. Finally, what was your overall reaction to the meeting? School governance reports typically run about 3 pages in length.

Oral history (optional assignment B)

I’ve never offered this option so we’ll see how it goes — you’re brave if you select it! Current rhetoric in the media suggests that schools are in dire need of repair — kids are lazy and unintelligent, teachers are unprofessional and poorly educated, and that a return to "the good old days" would be beneficial. I’m not convinced. Your task for this assignment is to interview somebody that’s at least 70 years old about their schooling experiences. Ask them all the appropriate nuts and bolts kinds of questions — where they went to school, what they liked or disliked about school… and so on. But then ask them some hard questions that relate to themes we’ve been talking about in class. Was there a difference in how rich kids and poor kids were educated? Was there a difference in how Caucasian and minority kids were educated? What kinds of supports were available for kids that didn’t do very well — had trouble reading, concentrating… and so forth. Come up with a list of your own questions as well. Be careful in how you go about structuring this experience — you certainly don’t want to offend the person you’re interviewing. You can either turn in a 3 page report of your interview — take lots of notes or consider taping the conversation to help you remember what to write about. Or, if you wish, you can videotape the interview and prepare a short documentary of your experience. If you choose this option, be sure to include some footage of you debriefing the interviewing and discussing the themes that were touched on. Have fun with this one but definitely squeeze it for its educative value. Be sure not to simply recount your person’s responses. Sum them up and make an argument based on their experiences and recollections. It will be this point that separates outstanding reports from mediocre ones.

Viewing assignment (optional assignment C)

Watch a movie, on your own time, and write a three-page critical review describing the social and cultural themes it dealt with as they relate to education. Relate these themes to your own similar or different experiences, and describe how this movie has helped you to "re-see" or "re-think" past, present, or future problems or situations in education. Don’t worry about providing a description of the movie — I’ve seen them all. Focus instead on the messages within the movie that relate to broader themes of culture and education. Movie reviews typically run about 3 pages in length.

Please chose one of the following movies but don’t watch it yet — give yourself a couple weeks to get the feel of some of the class ideas. As of now, the movie choices are restricted to these — please, however, feel free to suggest others:

  1. Conrack — a 1970’s flick with John Voight as a teacher in the poor, rural south. (I own this if you can't find it)
  2. Stand and Deliver — Edward Olmos portrays Jaime Escalante teaching math in L.A.
  3. Dangerous Minds — Michelle Pfeiffer as an ex-Marine teaching english literature

Content analysis (optional assignment D)

Each of us has curriculum standards, guidelines, benchmarks, or some documents which guide what were supposed to be teaching our students. In this assignment, look critically at these documents (you may have to choose just one if many dominate your life) for messages and influences related to society and culture. For example, what is the "hidden curriculum" that exists within your standards document? Where do you see evidence of it? Whose agenda does it further? At the expense of what other agenda? What group(s) does it privilege/marginalize? You will need to cite specific examples from your standards documents and be as explicit as you can about what messages you see hidden inside the document. This can be a very difficult be rewarding assignment. If you take it seriously and give it the time it demands, I think you’ll find it highly educative. Most content analyses run about 3 double spaced pages.

Optional assignment A, B, C or D is due to me by email by midnight on Sunday, February 22nd.

Book Review and Presentation (required assignment)

You will also be required to select, acquire, read, and report on one book which deals (broadly) with themes related to society, culture, and education. Book presentations will occur on Saturday, March 14th here at WOU. Basically, each person should prepare a short summary of their chosen book, articulating themes related to social and cultural influences on education, and reflections on current issues and/or personal experiences related to themes in the book. Craft this summary into a handout for other classmates to take with them highlighting the important elements in the book and what current educators might find useful about it. Keep your handouts to one page and don’t worry about making a poster or something before class — we’ll make some little posters in class right before we give our presentations. We’ll talk more about how this book fair will look as we get closer to it. For now, select a book, find a partner if you should choose to do so (feel free to team up on a book if you wish), order it, and begin reading!

Many books would be appropriate for this assignment. If you’re looking for something in particular let me know and I can probably help you choose something interesting and useful.

Select from the list of books below or lets talk about another:

  1. Ayers, W. & Ladson-Billings, G. (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher.
  2. Beykont, Z. (ed.)(2000). Lifting every voice: Pedagogy and politics of bilingualism.
  3. Bruner, J. (1996). The culture of education.
  4. Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). The right to learn.
  5. Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom.
  6. Dewey, J. (1990). The school and the society and the child and the curriculum.
  7. Dilg, M. (1999). Race and culture in the classroom: Teaching and learning through multicultural education.
  8. hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom.
  9. Howard, G. (1999). We can’t teach what we don’t know.
  10. Kohn, A. (1999). The schools our children deserve: Moving beyond traditional classrooms and tougher standards.
  11. Kohn, A. (2000). The case against standardized testing.
  12. Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools.
  13. Kozol, J. (2000). Ordinary resurrections: Children in years of hope.
  14. Lemann, N. (1999). The big test: The secret history of American meritocracy.
  15. Oakes, J. & Lipton, M. (1999). Teaching to change the world.
  16. Ohanian, S. (1999). One size fits few.
  17. Orenstein, P. (1994). School girls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap.
  18. Meier, D. (2000). Will standards save public education?
  19. Nieto, S. (1999). The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning communities.
  20. Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education.
  21. Sadker, M. & Sadker, D. (1995). Failing at fairness: How schools short-change girls.
  22. Sizer, T. (1984). Horace’s compromise: The dilemma of the American high school.
  23. Sizer, T. (1993). Horace’s school: Redesigning the American high school.
  24. Sizer, T. (1996). Horace’s Hope: What works for the American high school.
  25. Nichols, S. & Berliner, D. (2008). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts America's schools.
  26. Sizer, T. (2004). The red pencil: Convictions from experience in education.
  27. Kozol, J. (2007). Letters to a young teacher.

The book review presentations will be held on Saturday, March 14th and 1-pagers are due at this time as well.

Philosophy of education paper (required assignment)

It is common to be asked to include a statement of your educational philosophy with your application materials when you apply for teaching jobs. People want to know what you believe — the assumption is that what you believe will guide your actions in the classroom. It doesn’t always work this way — but I believe it should. Having an articulate philosophy at least gives you something to fight for or strive towards. Believe adamantly in something! Anyway… this assignment is designed to help you formulate a coherent philosophy statement. Most job applications will restrict your statement to 1-2 pages but we can tolerate a little more verbosity here so shoot for about 3 pages. Remember, you’re not only trying to state what you believe and connect to some other ideas about teaching and learning but you’re also trying to paint a picture for readers of the kind of classroom you will strive to create. With that in mind, a good philosophy statement addresses four main ideas: How students learn, what’s worth learning, how to best teach what’s worth learning, and classroom management. Ask yourself the following questions for each section. Don’t feel obligated to specifically answer each — use the questions to guide you as necessary.

Learning: How do students learn best? What are students doing when they are learning most effectively? What kinds of things need to be in place before high quality learning can occur? Is there a particular metaphor that helps you express what you believe about learning? Why do you believe what you do about learning?

Curriculum: What kinds of things are important for students to learn? Should we be teaching basic skills, subject matter knowledge, higher order thinking skills, metacognition (how to learn)… what knowledge is worth learning? Skills? Attitudes? Beliefs? Why do you believe what you do about curriculum? Is there a particular metaphor that captures what you believe about curriculum?

Teaching: How does a teacher best support high quality learning? What metaphors, heuristics, or guidelines should teachers follow? What kinds of things do teachers need to consider when designing instruction? Better yet, who is a teacher? What qualities or dispositions do they need? Is there a particular metaphor that captures your beliefs about good teaching? Why do you believe what you do about teaching?

Management: How does an exemplary classroom function? What’s the desired relationship between teacher and student? What should happen when student behavior falls outside the desired boundaries? How will you work to hold all kids to high standards of conduct? Why do you believe what you do about management and is there a particular metaphor that captures what you believe about it?

Consider this a first draft for something that will be an integral part of your application materials. Because it has such heavy consequences, your papers will get a very close read and should therefore be reflective of your best work. As a rule of thumb, help the reader to "see" your vision of what your classroom is like. When appropriate connect to philosophical perspectives, historical figures, or other issues and ideas in education. A little name-dropping helps people to see that you know something about your chosen profession!

If you are currently employed on a transitional license this assignment may not feel very authentic. In that case, remember that an articulate and compelling set of beliefs are one of the most important factors in guidings ones actions in the classroom. It took me almost 10 years to align my philosophy with my teaching practices. Achieving this kind of integrity should be a goal for all teachers.

Your philosophy of education paper is due to me by email by midnight on Monday, March 16th.


Unlike many of your previous educational experiences I do not have a particularly well-delineated body of content I want you to "get." In fact, it is this "getting it" metaphor that I think is most damaging in current teaching and learning. I do have a set of ideas about schooling and society that I want you to engage with. These ideas are often not ones with clear answers — very rarely will your work as a teacher be neat and tidy like a traditional test would have you believe. For this reason, I believe the most authentic activities I can assign to evaluate or judge the degree to which you are wrestling with these big ideas is through extended writing. You’re here because you wish to become part of a professional community — part of entering this community is learning to express your ideas in clear and thoughtful prose. You will be evaluated on your ability to do so.

Additionally, I have identified the following characteristics I believe are indicative of a genuine commitment to the spirit of this course:

I believe very strongly in only asking teachers to engage in readings and assignments that are important and meaningful. I believe the assignments above reflect that. Although, as you all know, grading is the bane of teachers, my experience has been this: engage fully — read, write, reflect, and learn with reckless abandon and grades tend to take care of themselves. Come along for the ride!

Just so you know, however, I will weight our assignments according to the following scale.

Major Assignments:

Minor assignments:

Total 100%

Grades will be assigned according to the following scale: