The interdisciplinary structure of Cultural Foundations in Education familiarizes students with different viewpoints for the evaluation of educational practice, and the examination of social policy and education by cutting across the limitations of any single perspective. Students develop an awareness of the complexities, the strengths and the weaknesses of different intellectual approaches to the study of education, and, at the same time, to develop expertise in one of these approaches through their program concentration:

Disability Studies 

In this area, students explore the meaning of disability in culture and public policy. Disability Studies applies social, legal, cultural, historical, and philosophical perspectives to the study of disability in society. Coursework includes the autobiography of disability, disability law and policy, the representation of disability in popular culture, the sociology of disability, and disability, gender, and race. Dissertations in this area have focused on representations of students with disabilities in special education texts, the experiences of mothers caring for children with disabilities, the perspectives of people with disabilities involved in self-advocacy groups, the intersection of ethnicity, class, and gender with disability in an educational setting, and the experiences of deaf people in medical settings. Those with backgrounds in the social sciences and public policy as well as applied fields such as rehabilitation, special education, and human services are encouraged to consider this program.

Gender and Education 

Students can approach this multidisciplinary field in two ways:

  • Focusing on the social construction of gender, using sociology, history, or philosophy to examine how gender, race and class intersect in relation to education.
  • Studying a particular issue, tracing how this topic is described, framed, and engaged in different fields.

Coursework and research in gender and education gives students opportunities to examine different theoretical perspectives. Students look at how gender is constructed through institutions, texts, research methods, and relationships and how it is represented in these areas. You may also study questions of the history, policy, and practice of education in relation to gender. Students, who have concentrated in gender and education, have researched single-sex education, how adolescent women experience pregnancy, cheerleading, representation of Arab women in National Geographic, perspectives of African American students in higher education, and experiences of urban women in the community gardening movement. We also offer a 12-credit concentration in gender and education that awards a certificate upon completion.

History of Education 

Students pursue two goals in building a program in this area. First, they must acquire a strong disciplinary base as an education historian. They will find faculty members in the history department and other units in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs a major resource. Second, they will become familiar with major policy and social issues in the history of education. CFE faculty members specialize in such areas as issues of gender and race, as well as culture, ethnicity, and community.

Recent research projects of students in history of education have included a study of schooling for African Americans in a New York state community prior to the Civil War; an historical appraisal of former U.S. presidents as public educators, an analysis of Emma Willard's ideas of community, and work on rural schooling, civic education, and community. We encourage you to draw on University resources in sociology, philosophy, and curriculum theory as they pursue their coursework and dissertation.

Philosophy of Education 

In this program, students will acquire competence in the following areas: analytic and continental traditions of philosophical research, basic literature of philosophy of education. moral, social, and political theory in education, theories of knowledge and education, issues of multiculturalism and diversity. philosophical analyses of race and racism, feminist philosophy and applications to educational policy and practice. Within this framework, they can develop their programs of study to satisfy their particular needs and interests. Recent dissertation projects have included work on equity issues in school finance, a study of the role of teachers' cultural and racial identity in their teaching across cultures, and an analysis of conceptions of self-esteem in relation to education. Students will find the University's philosophy department an important resource. We encourage you to gain an understanding of relevant perspectives in the history and sociology of education.

Popular Culture 

The focus of this program is on how individuals and groups make meanings in their popular culture practices. You will become grounded in qualitative research methods and cultural studies and use these methods to study cultural products, activities, sites, and practices. You will examine relationships between the media and its consumers; representations of sexuality, femininity, and masculinity; the character of everyday learning; and the rise of entertainment, media, and culture industries.

Through this work, faculty and students struggle to uncover how power relations are enmeshed in American popular culture, particularly in relation to gender, race, class and ability. Our goals, therefore, include working toward pedagogy of critical literacy, through which teachers, students, and researchers can engage in analysis of popular culture's representations of lives. This concentration connects education within and outside of schools. Dissertations in this area have examined such topics as adolescents' popular culture practices in a weekly early morning discussion group, college women's practices of preparing their bodies for social display, and multiple perspectives on educational travel. Learn more about the Institute on Popular Culture.

Race, Racism and Education 

This area uses multidisciplinary foundational resources to critically analyze how race and racism impact educational practices, curriculum, policies and research. Students take courses in sociology, philosophy and history to gain tools of description and analysis.

Courses cover such topics as the aims and goals of multicultural education, the social construction of race, how racial identity is constituted, systemic oppression and privilege, the meanings of racism, the intersection of race and research methods, critical race theory, critical whiteness studies and white complicity.

Projects students investigate have included:

  • Critical analysis of diversity workshops in higher education
  • The shift in college students' ideas about race between freshman and sophomore years
  • Racial identity and post positive realism
  • The discourses that a mentoring program for students of color on a predominantly white university campus provide for understanding racial identity
  • Teaching about white privilege in predominantly white elementary school
  • Problems and possibilities of the New Abolitionists
  • The alternative forms of cultural capital of African-American women bring to their college education

Sociology of Education 

This field of study concerns the complex relationship between society and schools, for example, how curricula implicitly represent the social definitions of society, the learner, and what is important to learn. A few possible areas of concentration include educational policy, educational innovation and change, inequality of educational opportunity, the social construction of gender, multicultural education, and school ethos. Student projects in recent years have included work on high school and university reform efforts, sex education in high schools; teachers' perspectives on change, and mentoring in teaching, architecture, and medicine. Students also might pursue relevant coursework in sociology, anthropology, women's studies, and other areas in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.